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The Line on Passover

I’m not Jewish, but I’m no stranger to the Jewish culture.  The Jewish “tribe” is a strong and resilient group.  How else could it have survived more than 3,000 years of brutal abuse by nearly every group on the planet?  Between Pharaoh, Hitler, Constantine, crusading Christians and Hamas, Jews have had more than their fair share of challenging times.  Yet the culture has survived and prospered.

Last week, Jews marked the beginning of Pesach otherwise known as Passover, commemorating the Hebrew’s escape from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.  The Seder is the traditional dinner held on the first night of Passover.  This year we had the honor of being guests of some very dear friends (about whom I’ve written before).  One of the customs associated with the Seder is to invite the homeless or needy to show charity and compassion others.  Lisa and I became their homeless guests.  We joked with them that we were the TG’s or “token goyim”, the token non-Jews at the ceremony.

Our friends hosted twenty five people for the holiday.  The food was magnificent, the company unparalleled and the experience golden.  But the real significance and meaning of the evening’s events unfolded as each of the formal fifteen steps of the reading of a special book called the “Haggadah” were completed.  Each step was highly structured, full of symbolism and teaching and conveyed a sense of history and purpose to all present.  Everyone participated in one way or another, even the children.  Our friend, Sol, led the ritual from start to finish as he has for many years past.

I came away from the Seder with a greater understanding and appreciation for the Passover celebration and the traditional Jewish culture.  But I also came away with a much greater understanding of how a culture, any culture, remains strong and survives through deprivation and hardship generation after generation.  I’ll try and explain.

There were six small children at the Seder.  One of Sol’s daughters was raised in that time period when it was thought kids should be the center of attention and should be made to believe the world revolved around their every move.  A couple days before the event, she talked with her father about making the Seder more “kid friendly”, maybe some puppets or something more inclined to hold the attention of the children.  Sol argued for tradition and custom.  He had always done it the way his parents had always done it after learning it from their parents.

As the elder and host of the Seder, Sol’s arguments carried the day.  It would be the traditional Seder.  And as expected, the children’s attention spans weren’t always up to the challenge; they drifted off into diversions and distractions more than a few times.

Those of us that are parents remember how we learned that most sobering of responsibilities – “On the Job Training”.  Parenting is very much a “learn as you go” experiment.  For most of us, we resorted to the only real model for parenting we had, the image of a good parent given to us by our own parents.  It was our starting point as we embarked on the long, dangerous and arduous journey of becoming parents.  But it was only a “point”, a single data point, a dot on a page in the book of life.  We tried to stay close to it, but a single point of reference was hardly enough to give us all the knowledge we needed.

Our expectation of what a grandparent should be was similarly formed by observing our own grandparents.  Again, it was a single dot, a point of reference.  It had little depth in time other than relative to ourselves.  I was lucky enough to have both grandfathers for most of my growing up years.  I watched them and learned what a grandparent is, how a grandparent acts, talks, walks and carries on.

I feel extremely fortunate in that I had (and still have) a wonderful father.  From him, I had a starting point for what I was supposed to become when I became a father.  I was also fortunate to have two wonderful grandfathers.  They were my model for what I was supposed to be when I became a grandfather.  But at my friend’s Seder last week, I gained a deeper appreciation for those data points.

There were three generations gathered together.  The oldest endeavored to provide knowledge, wisdom, culture and tradition to the younger generations present.  The knowledge was joyfully accepted and absorbed by the middle generation.  The youngest generation witnessed, played, ignored, sang and passed the evening as youngest generations have for centuries on the night of the Seder.

As I watched, it somehow dawned on me I was witnessing something absolutely spectacular.  I looked at the solitary dot that represented the grandparent on the page of life.  Then I saw the data point for the model of a parent on the same page.  Finally, I saw the dot representing what children should be.  In a new and different way, I connected the dots and saw not just the individual roles of parent, child and grandparent; I also saw the relationship between them all.

I saw as history and tradition were made a part of the existence of each and every person there.  I saw as culture was being passed down from generation to generation.  I witnessed not only the strength of the Jewish people, I saw the force behind the survival of all cultures.  Without the strength of families coming together to share past, present and future, we couldn’t survive.

When I connected the dots I saw that I had drawn lines.  Looking along the line from one direction showed that it pointed toward the future.  Viewing the line from the other direction showed that it pointed into the past.  It became so clear that without a strong past there can be no assurance of a strong future.  Sol resisted his daughter’s request to make the Seder more “kid friendly”.  In so doing, he gave the children a memory and a coveted gift the value of which will only increase with time.

As Tevya sang in the Fiddler on the Roof, “The Papa, the Papa, Tradition!”  It’s worth a listen.

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