How was this Pesach Different?
For generations of Jewish children, one of the highlights of the Pesach Seder has been standing on a chair and reciting the Four Questions. And yet – in the Jewish state of Israel – the concept of the Ma Nishtana does not ring a bell with many young children from families that identify as secular. “It’s very unfortunate that in modern Israel there are so many families who are not acquainted with their culture and identity,” says Yigal Klein, educational director of OTS’s Yachad Program for Jewish Identity. “Over and over again we find that secular families are happy to learn about their heritage, but like the fourth child at the Seder, they often don’t know how to ask.”
In the weeks leading up to the Passover festival, Yachad’s 48 “Jewish identity coordinators” working in 108 community centers throughout Israel ran innovative activities designed to awaken the curiosity of Israel’s secular Jewish citizens and encourage them to embrace and reclaim Judaism on terms that are comfortable to them. “We’re here to reverse the trend; not just to make sure that the link isn’t lost with this generation of Israeli kids, but to make sure that it is strengthened in a meaningful way,” says Klein.
Skipping to the End
“Our family Seder has never really been very significant,” relates 32-year-old Moshiko Levy of Yavne. “We’ve tried to read parts of the Haggada but the kids complain that it’s too long and boring and everyone is so hungry, we usually just skip to the meal. Afterwards, I always remember my grandfather’s Seder and I’m wracked with guilt and sadness at being unable to replicate the feeling of majesty and significance that I was blessed to experience as a child.” This year, a flier from local Yachad facilitator Eli Mazuz caught Moshiko’s eye: “Osim Seder” [literally meaning “making order,” but also meaning “making a Pesach Seder”] promised attendees the tools they needed to make an experiential and meaningful Seder of their own.
“The workshop changed our lives,” attests Moshiko. “My kids loved the activities, games and songs I got from Eli. All those years I skipped through to the end, I thought I was saving them from boredom, but I was really depriving them of their heritage.”
Moshiko’s wife, Yaffa, compares the family’s experience to Pesach itself. “One of the names for Passover is the Festival of Spring,” she says. “We learned how the karpas represents the blossoming of greens from the dark coldness of the earth, and this became a turning point for our family as well. As we experienced for the first time a meaningful Pesach Seder, something sprouted within our souls, and we’re eager to continue our journey toward greater Jewish identity and connection to our roots.”
Like Eli Mazuz, other Yachad facilitators from Eilat to the Golan Heights also ran “How to Survive Pesach” seminars and organized pre-Pesach mock Seders for a variety of populations ranging from single parents to senior adults; from Seders in Amharic to Seders in Russian; for teachers eager to inject tradition into their classrooms and for secular professionals who realized that they were incapable of passing on to their children the traditions that they had grown up with at their grandparents’ knees.
“Our Yachad facilitators understand that the messages of our past have to be relevant, especially to the younger generation,” says Klein. The Yachad facilitators thus developed special programs designed to connect teenagers to the significant aspects of the Pesach festival.
In Yokneam, Yachad facilitator Shlomit Weber brings secular and religious teens together on a monthly basis. “Naturally, the onset of Pesach brought out a meaningful debate about the relevance of a religious festival whose roots are found in the Bible and developed in the rabbinic sources to a contemporary secular Jew,” she says. “The resultant conversation led to a fascinating exchange about the meaning of personal freedom to modern teenagers. Ultimately, the teens see that even the archaic words of Judaism have something to say about the struggles we face as modern people.”
Other facilitators focused on other aspects of the holiday: “The slavery of Egypt is not something we experience, but there are other types of slavery,” says Bat Yam’s facilitator, Roi Peretz. “We used Passover as a bridge through which to bring some of the teenagers recognized by the municipality as being at-risk to a drug rehab center, where they learned about the dangers of drug dependency and the modern ‘slavery’ it can induce.”
Thanks to Yachad, thousands of kids across the country dressed up in baker’s outfits and baked their very own matza,” reports Klein. “The children learned all about why we eat matzot on Pesach, how they must be baked and why. Then they rolled up their sleeves and prepared and kneaded the dough, watching it carefully in the oven and timing with a stopwatch to make sure that it did not become hametz. Each child went home with their own piece of history.”