Do you ever cuddle up with your children and share memories of your childhood – special moments, trips, or family traditions? Do you remember your parents doing the same with you? I clearly remember loving to listen to my parents tell stories as we looked through family photo albums. As we prepared for our Seder, I also remember my mother and grandmother telling me stories of their youth, and what Pesach was like for them. I loved when my parents and grandparents shared their memories, and I like to think my children enjoy it too, when I share mine.
Why do we love stories so much – especially stories that evoke family memories? Because shared memories give each of us a sense of belonging and stability. Often, these memories help us to understand what we value and what is important to our individual families. They establish our roots, and, more often than not, our purpose and direction.
In little more than a week, Joan and I will be telling family stories and sharing memories around the Seder table once again. As we all prepare for Pesach, I am hopeful that many of you will be doing the same. Many of us will be reuniting for the first time. Even more poignant, vaccinated grandparents can be at the table again, feeling safe.
As Jews, around the Seder table, we will be retelling 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. For me, the Seder is much more than simply all of the beautiful rituals – It is the powerful and compelling shared memory, spoken aloud, of how we became the Jewish people, or more personally, how we became a Jewish family. The Seder is not an academic exercise to recall historical facts or events. It is personal. It is about us – our parents, grandparents, and all those who came before us. It is about all that the Jewish people went through together to remain a family that can live our values and traditions.
In the Haggadah we read, “In each generation, every individual should feel as though he or she had actually been redeemed from Mitzrayim (Egypt).” We relive the story every year, and we insert ourselves into the collective memories of our people.
The story is ours and has the power to remind us that we are tied to one another in a deep and meaningful way. For all that we have been through, this story is our foundation, enabling us to go forward, generation after generation. This year, let us remember all that we endured in the past year, the sacrifice and the loss, and yet here we are, filled with gratitude, appreciation and hope.
Ultimately, this seminal story of our people reveals our purpose – to remember, imprinted in our minds and souls; once we were slaves and we were oppressed. 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. When remembering that portion of the story, share how your family helped those in need during the worst of the pandemic.
Tell these stories to our children – the story of our people, your personal family stories, and the story of last year – 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, we are now beginning to see the end of the pandemic and the light ahead of us.