It seems like yesterday when I would run home from school to greet my mother and grandmother, busily in the kitchen, preparing for Pesach. The pots and pans that they brought out just for Pesach were already old, as my grandmother would tell stories of her mother using them on Pesach. Some of the old pots dated back to the beginning of the twentieth century, others from the great depression. Every year, when my grandmother was making gefilte fish in the pot her mother made it in, she would tell stories of going to the fish market, buying live carp with her mother and putting it in the bathtub until they were ready to cook the fish. She had a way of taking me back to her own childhood and I loved her stories.
In a flash it became my mother preparing Pesach with my wife, Joan in our kitchen. The same pots and pans were passed on from my grandmother, to my mother, and now to Joan. Every year when the pots come out, I am transported back to my childhood, my grandmother, and our stories.
After my grandmother died and we would pull out the Pesach pots and pans and dishes - my mom would lovingly think of her grandparents and mother and comment on how our loved ones come and go, but the shmatas, the things, remain behind.
Fast forward to today, and now it is Joan, the grandmother, preparing holidays with her daughter and daughter-in-law, and still the same pots and pans are with us. Many dear loved ones are long gone - my great-grandmother, my grandmother, and even my mother, but the shmatas, the things - the pots and pans remain and are now the props that bring the stories and memories back of the many Pesachim they witnessed in our family.
As I have written before, memories and stories are incredibly powerful. Shared memories give each of us a sense of belonging and stability. They establish our roots, our values and, more often than not, our purpose and direction. They also remind us of how quickly years come and go, time passes, loved ones die and a new generation is born. We travel that road of life bringing the past with us and looking to the future, and it is our stories and memories that help to keep us on that road.
In little more than a week, around our seder tables, we will once again be sharing stories of our own youth and memories with our families as well as sharing stories of our extended Jewish family - sharing our collective memories of the slavery we experienced and the exodus to freedom by the “outstretched hand” of God.
The seder is not an academic exercise to recall historical facts or events. It is personal. It is about all of us – the many generations that came before us, grandparents, our parents, our children, and children yet to be born. It is about all that we went through together to remain a family so that we can live our values and traditions and continue to pass them forward, with love, from generation to generation.
In fact, we read in the Haggadah, “In each generation, every individual should feel as though he or she had actually been redeemed from Mitzrayim.” We relive the story every year, and we insert ourselves into the collective memories of our people. And like my family’s old pots and pans, the many symbols on the seder table serve to ignite our collective memories so we never forget how precious freedom is, what it took to achieve it, and what our responsibilities are to preserve it.
The story of our people implores us to remember, imprinted in our minds and souls; once we were slaves and we were oppressed, now we are free. And so, as the Haggadah reminds us, we must, with this memory as our guide, act with hesed (loving kindness) to feed the hungry and help all those in need.
Our memories need to inform the present, and today those in need include the people of Ukraine. Once again, we are reminded that in every generation there is a tyrant who rises and seeks to destroy and rob people of their freedom. Today, we Jews are blessed to be free and secure, but in Ukraine we bear witness, in the 21st century, to a tyrant trying to oppress a nation and at the same time watch this nation, presumably the underdog, fiercely defend their rights to live as a free people.
Hence, we should never forget how precious our freedom is - May we be blessed with the strength to continue to tell our story of redemption and freedom from year to year, generation to generation, and may we also be blessed with the strength, courage and vigilance to defend and preserve the freedom of the Jewish people here and abroad, to stand up and support our freedoms and democracy in the United States and to support, in anyway we can, those fighting for their freedoms today.
Our stories and memories are essential to our identities - tell these stories to our children – the story of our people, your personal family stories - and be intentional about it. Explain to your children why we tell stories, and how these stories inform who we are, and the actions we take. And just as we went from the darkness of slavery to the light of freedom, may all people, one day, bask in the glory of freedom, telling their stories from generation to generation.