Today I thought I’d share a few photos and experiences of Pesach here in the Bowen home. I was invited to attend two different Pesach seders, however my wife’s work schedule made it impossible for me to attend. That’s the harsh reality of Project Conversion: I can’t do everything. What I can do though, with the help of my ever-willing kids, is get creative and make things memorable for the whole family.
The idea behind Pesach is to remember the night the angel of the Lord passed over (Passover, get it?) the land of Egypt and slew the firstborn of all the Egyptians. This event broke the will of Pharaoh and thus precipitated the emancipation of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Aside from the symbology of the seder plate, the entire evening is filled telling stories about the Exodus. Everyone gets involved in this process and while things can get very ritualistic depending on your degree of orthodoxy, the end is the same: propagate the memory of where we (the Jews) came from, how God delivered us from slavery, and established us as his people.
My kids are 5 and 6 years old, so their eyes started to glaze over as I went through the rituals and parts. Remember, my wife is at work by this point so it’s just the three of us. I want them to learn something from all of this, so why not bring things down to their level?
Of course if we are re-enacting Pesach, we need to look like the Biblical Hebrews, so we played dress-up.
Okay, now we’re Hebrews awaiting Pesach. Now we can get into the story of the Exodus! With great gusto, I recounted the struggle of the enslaved Hebrews and their epic flight from the land of Egypt. We soon established a tradition in which every time I took a sip of wine, the girls would yell “Matzah!” and take a bite each of the unleavened bread.
The girls had tons of questions, which is great because question and answer sessions run throughout the traditional method. Soon we run up against bedtime, but everyone is so into the story that we decide that the show must go on!
Matzah crumbs are all over the floor by this point. I tasted the “bitter herbs” which were decidedly too bitter because I used too much horseradish. Story time soon ended and it was time to hit the sack. I gave the girls a quick quiz before tucking them in. They both know Passover as Pesach and that it celebrates the freedom of the Hebrews from Egypt.
Mission (and mitzvah) accomplished.
As the night deepened, I sat back and thought about the evening as I nursed a glass of wine. There’s such a build-up for Pesach; getting the food ready, gathering family and friends, orchestrating the events of the Haggadah…it’s exhausting! One of Judaism’s most endearing qualities is the heavy focus, both religiously and socially, on the community of family and friends.
But what if you don’t have much of those? What if you are isolated? My wife had to work and no one else around me is Jewish, so I had to celebrate with my kids. This got me thinking about contemporary society; of how prevalent single-parent homes are now. What if I was divorced and this was my Pesach with the kids? Is this how we’d spend the holiday?
The real question is, with all the focus on the crowd, does a Pesach like the one my kids and I just celebrated hold water where it really matters? I think the answer is yes. The mitzvah associated with Pesach is to remember the slavery of the Jewish people in Egypt, the Exodus God initiated, and his subsequent covenant with the people. Our little gathering accomplished that, and we also managed to create some memories along the way. My daughters now know what Pesach is (give me another non-Jewish 5 and 6-year-old who does) and can say they experienced the holiday.
No, I’m not discrediting the traditional process. What this all means is that in the rush and hype of tradition we often forget the “why” of it all. Our unique Pesach experience became another reminder that God and his lessons are found where we look for them. The most important thing is to look with sincerity and to remember.