“I’m going to Florida today!” The four year old student looked at me over the arts and crafts table and stated this with glee.
It must be Passover – the nursery school has been filled with talk of family, time, and food. These are the themes I have heard over and over again for the past several days, and they are emblematic of our approach to Jewish holidays and Passover specifically. While our students have learned a lot about the seder plate, the afikomen, the exodus story, and more information about Passover, it is not these factoids that represent the power of communal celebration. It is our ability to use ritual and tradition to come together as family and loved ones, to use time in meaningful and intentional ways, and of course, to eat delicious food. Family, time, and food. This is what I have felt around Passover in our school for the past couple of weeks.
"And I'm not going to be at school anymore. I'm not at school today or tomorrow because I'm going to Florida for Passover with my family." She was very excited about the prospect of spending time with family. Yet the neighboring student was flummoxed:
"But you're here now. You're in school today, not in Florida!"
"Well, today I'm going to Florida today. So I can't go to school today. I'm going to Florida today and not going to school today or tomorrow."
"So maybe you're going to Florida at midnight, so you can be at school today and at Florida tonight."
They went back and forth, trying to figure out how someone could both be going to Florida today and be at school today. Later, I sat in on our preK seder on the 7th floor. I saw next to a five year old student, who leaned over and whispered to me, "I really like matzah pizza. The last time I had matzah was so long ago!" I asked her, when was the last time she had matzah? "At last Passover, silly! Last year. A year ago." Holidays are a way of marking the passage of time, of making sense of seasons, of understanding how one can be in school and be going to Florida in the same day.
This morning, as our students and their families flowed into school, we heard countless exclamations about the fantastic smells emanating from the kitchen and classrooms. There was an intermingling of two powerful Passover smells - chocolate covered matzah and matzah pizza. The smells this morning brought many of us back to our parents' kitchen and reminded us (as if we needed it!) that food brings us together. I couldn't help but replay in my mind the annual ritual as a child of melting chocolate chips, smearing them on matzah, carefully layering them on wax paper in the fridge, and then smashing them into bite-sized pieces with siblings afterwards. Chocolate covered matzah, one could say, has a certain pull on me! It is not only blessings, rituals, and laws that remind us of who we are and how we celebrate. It is the foods we prepare and who we prepare them with that make our celebrations meaningful and personally relevant.
"I'm so excited to see nana!" A three year old exclaimed as she left at dismissal today. Her body displayed her excitement, as she danced and jumped into her caregiver's arms. We believe that holidays are here as an opportunity for communities to come together. Each of our classroom communities have bonded during their exploration and celebration of Passover leading up to today, and now it is your turn to continue this communal celebration. Your children will be bringing with them something from the nursery school: hand-made matzah, or a student-created haggadah, a painted matzah cover, or other items. Our hope is that these items can be the fulcrum within your familial interactions around the holiday: use them to stimulate dialogue and loving interactions among family members and more.
Your children are leaving school today with a sense of knowledge around Passover and the seder; more importantly, they are leaving having explored family, time, and food. These are more than peripheral modes of celebration, they are the heart and soul of our holidays.
From our family to yours, we wish you a happy Passover and chag sameach.