Saturday, April 15, 2006

Publish Day - Reflecting on Passover

Sometimes, this writing thing allows me to do some very neat things with a pen.

For the second time in a few months, I was asked by my editor to submit a column covering my thoughts and perspectives on a major Jewish holiday. The first piece, The puzzle of passing down faith, was published on December 24th (read it here). My column on Passover was published in today's London Free Press.

The column is entitled Passover marks journeys old and new, and it can be found here. I've also pasted it below:
Passover marks journeys old and new
Published Saturday, April 15, 2006
The London Free Press
Byline: Carmi Levy

MONTREAL, Que. - Passover, like so many Jewish holidays, is ultimately about a journey. It is a story that, although its roots are thousands of years old, continues to resonate in the lessons we teach our children today.

In its most outward guise, Passover, which started Wednesday at sundown and runs through next Thursday, commemorates the exodus of Jews from generations of slavery in Egypt.

It is perhaps best known as the holiday during which we're not allowed to eat bread. Instead, we eat matza.

During the Jews' hurried escape into the desert, they did not have time to wait for their bread to rise.

To keep one step ahead of pursuing Egyptian soldiers, they ate it flat and crisp. We remember their flight by eating matza today.

The Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years before finally making it to the land of Israel.

Passover commemorates the journey on a number of levels: the physical journey, the spiritual journey from an oppressed to a free nation, and the personal journey we take as we lead our own lives within our community.

Passover's rituals and rules are rich with stories like these. Our modern-day, tech-savvy kids are fascinated by what life must have been like for their ancestors, and how the learnings from that time are remembered in their actions today. It allows us to reinforce that these seemingly dry traditions of their heritage really do mean something to them.

Our children have been looking forward to Passover for weeks. After learning about it in school, they've come home virtually every day asking my wife what she's going to make them when Passover arrives. Visions of Mom's "Famous Sponge Cake" have been dancing in their heads.

The switchover to matza means no bread in the house for the entire holiday. It means our kids get to eat foods that wouldn't otherwise make it onto the menu the rest of the year. Our normally-picky children seem to step out of character as they eat things they normally wouldn't touch.

We had plenty of time to discuss the meaning and lessons of Passover while driving to Montreal earlier this week. The strength of family sits at the very core of Jewish life, and my wife and I have tried to use holidays to bridge the physical distance between our kids and their grandparents.

The kids bubbled with excitement all the way here, wondering what their bubby (grandmother) had cooked for them. They needn't have worried: Pretty much every food in my mother-in-law's kitchen made it to the table that first night.

Much of the holiday's focus revolves around the Seder, the ritual meal held the first two nights of Passover. Seder is the Hebrew word for order. By following the story of Passover through the Haggadah, we retrace a ritual that hasn't changed in thousands of years. Everyone takes turns reading passages from the book as we gradually work our way through the story of the holiday. Our kids' eyes light up when they realize Mom and Dad and their grandparents have been performing the Passover Seder since they were children, too.

This year, our eldest son, Zach, 11, participated in the reading for the first time. Although he is normally quite reserved, he came alive as he shared in the experience with his family. Dahlia, 8, also jumped in, carefully reading the sometimes-arcane ancient language.

My wife and I watched them with pride, knowing that this marked another step on their own journey to adulthood, to staking out their place in a chaotic, difficult-to-navigate world.

The Passover Haggadah offers them the structure and guidance to make it through the Seder in a phased, methodical manner. Not every holiday comes with a ready-made manual, and certainly few things in life are so well documented.

But for this phase of our children's journey, they had all the guidance and help they needed.

Your turn: No matter what holidays you celebrate, how do you get your kids excited about them? How do you ensure traditions are successfully passed down to the next generation?


Sarie said...

Carmi, what a wonderful article on Passover. It happens to be my favorite holiday. I love the seder (although I did not get to attend one this year).

Have a happy Passover.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Well, I love that I'm first Carmi...As a child we celebrated Passover with all the traditions you mentioned. I am one of four and so we all participated especially as we got older and could read...It was a beloved Holiday for us and we would sing all the songs in Harmony, because we loved to sing..(As we got even older we would continue our "group" singing sometimes even singing Christmas Carols...GREAT Harmony's there, you know?) The fact that this ritual of Passover had been handed down for century's I don't think we registered in an overt way but certainly it was always underlying this very looked forward to ritual in our house.
I have no children so no one to pass this on to and now, I don't even go to any Sedar's due to me health issues...But I have great memories of Passovers gone by...

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful tribute, Carmi. My mother's father was Jewish, and though I am Christian, the Hebrew traditions still have a special place in my heart. It is not only part of my ethnic heritage, but also the foundation upon which Christianity was built.

I don't have kids (yet), but I hope when I do I find ways to instill in them a love and respect for traditions, as you do with your children. May you have a blessed Passover and enjoy your time with your family.

Rene said...

What a lovely column.

My kids need no encouragement to celebrate a holiday. They get excited for any kind of holiday. My house is in a state of turmoil from October through January because we have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and all three of their birthdays. They love the fact we get together with our families and they love the food.

We didn't have a lot of traditions when I was growing up. I'm an only child and we always lived far from our family. But my husband and I do try to instill tradition. Both of our families are within shouting distance so my kids have been raised with big gatherings and because I host, they get a feel for traditions. And they themselves try to create traditions as well. My son insists that even though we are not Jewish we have to eat latkes during Hanukkah.

bhd said...

What a beautiful read. Thank you from the depths of my heart.

I am in the strange position of no longer having family rituals, and without children, no one to start rituals for or with. Sometimes it's hard to navigate the calendar this way, but the mainstay of my spiritual life always walks with me.

And today I will experience my first Seder ever, with dear friends who are making the event for out-of-town friends who also had no other chance. I will be that wide-eyed child, knowing how this gathering has taken place within millions of families throughout the millennia.

craziequeen said...

Unfortunately, the generations stop with me and MB.....and my siblings have their own traditions with their children.

Bless you all, Levy family, over Passover :-)


Plumkrazzee said...

I am trying to ensure my values, beliefs, and traditions by just being who I am. If nothing else, I am consistent, and my son at the tender age of 5 is already a creature of habit. This makes me so know that what I am doing, is something he would WANT to emulate. Holding true to your value system/traditions is the best way, in my opinion, to guarantee they will transcend the generations.

Raehan said...

Carmi, that was beautiful.

We celebrated the first night of Passover with friends last week.

Viamarie said...

I missed this year's Seder Meal. Joined other devotees to visit 7 old churches which is a tradition here in my country during Holy Week.

My daughter and her husband always brings along my grandson to all the church activities since he was 2 years old and since then, he has been actively participating in the youth sessions. We hope by doing so, he will continue to do so and pass it on to his future family.

Have a nice weekend and may your Easter season bring you unending joy.

barbie2be said...

carmi, i have been learning about the jewish holidays recently. my sister converted in 1994 and i want to be supportive of her, so it was interesting to read your article on passover and see your perspectives. thanks for sharing with us.

kenju said...

Carmi, you almost makeme sorry I am not Jewish...LOL. The traditions of the seder and Passover are wonderful and I love how your kids respond and eat things they normally wouldn't.

I cannot remember doing anything special for our holidays, except egg coloring and hunts, Easter baskets, certain foods associated with our particular family holiday meals. But it has been interesting to watch how they (and the grandchildren) make their own memories from whatever happens. My older grandson writes in school about "going to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving Dinner" and what he looks forward to. I suppose in spite of me, traditions are being formed - even if I don't consciously set them in motion.

BYW, these are very good, thought-provoking questions. I love how you involve us!

ribbiticus said...

great post, carmi. thanks for sharing that. i really learned a lot. hope you and your family have a happy and blessed passover celebration. :)

Unknown said...

Like you, I'm a celebrant of Pesach, and it's our favorite holiday in our house. I prepare starting weeks in advance by cleaning and more cleaning, and then shopping for an enormous amount of groceries to tide us over for a week. Our seders are usually small affairs punctuated with a lot of joy and laughter as well as the seriousness of the Haggaddah readings. We add plenty of conversation about modern interpretations of the story, and about how slavery is still going on today. My children have grown very observant of the connections between Pesach and real life.

Have a happy and kosher pesach.

DeAnn said...

That's very cool. But weird journalism question: Does your editor/publisher know that you copy and paste that here? My paper would SO not for that. I think they want the clicks at their site so they would only allow linking.

carmilevy said...

When I publish a piece in the paper, they pay for one-time publishing rights. I retain copyright, which allows me to do pretty much anything I want with my work.

Great question. I used to publish links only, but when they revamped their web site, it broke pretty much everything on my site. I decided that I'd rather have more local control over my work. So now I paste my stuff instead.

Journalism in the information age.

Unknown said...

Carmi: As a Christian, you really taught me a wonderful lesson here. I heard Paige Davis refer to the Seder, but I was lost on what she meant. You explained tradition beautifully. For reasons that elude me, my "Friday Movie Suggestion Night" pick for last wek was "Exodus" with Paul Newman. I had 6 responses. What do I make of this? Geez.

Sandy said...

Thanks for taking us on a bit of the journey, Carmi. The column was beautiful and touching. The love you and your wife with your family nearly leaps off the page.

As for our holiday traditions - the first step, the most important in my opinion, is to include my children in everything they're able to paricipate in. We make sure to continue the ritual (both specific religious readings, services and the more secular holiday elements.)

For me, perhaps the biggest part of any holiday is family. We do things as a family and we make those moments as special as we can. We share stories of when we were children doing these same things.

When my mother heard that my Sisters-in-law had our little ones sit at a 'child's table' this past Thanksgiving she was just shy of livid. She brings it up often and ends it with "*MY* grandchildren will never sit at a children's table in my house. They are part of the family. They will eat with the family. They will be part of it all."

Maybe that's where I get it from.

Danya said...

Hey Carmi!

I was just watching a special on the Discovery Channel about the Exodus. Very cool stuff! Was thinking about you guys too. Hope you had an awesome Passover!