A Passover Note from Noah

The entire Passover story hinges on a single moment of wonder. Wonder is one of the core Jewish values of our school, something that we cherish, nurture, and sustain daily in our classrooms and community. And it is at the heart of the Passover story.  Moses, having fled his royal life in Egypt and taken up shepherding in the Egyptian desert, is herding his flock one day and sees something out-of-this-world – a burning bush. Moses says, “I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight; why doesn’t the bush burn up?” Answering Moses’ question is none other than God.  God calls out to Moses, who responds with a single word, “Hineni (Here I am).” (Exodus 3:3-4)

Moses, burdened with the memory of his tortured past, the enslaved nation that he left behind in Egypt, and tasked with the responsibility of tending to his sheep (which belonged to his father-in-law, no less), has a lot on his mind. Yet he is able to pause and wonder at the “marvelous sight” of a burning bush, ask what it is and why it is there, and respond to God’s initial outreach with the simple yet powerful “Hineni.” Moses is present, he is aware, and he is full of wonder. And a good thing! This connection between God and Moses, established at the burning bush as a result of Moses’ wonderment, forges the path to freedom for the Israelites, the exodus to Israel, and the birth of a People.

Our lives, like Moses’, are at times burdened with memories of failure, regret, and sorrow; our days, like Moses’, are filled with labor and responsibility. Yet the story of the burning bush implores us to pause, to wonder, and to respond to small miracles with the power of our own presence. The story invites us to shed the sense of burden and busyness with which we run our lives and instead see the every-moment with wonder. Who can we learn from about how to do this? Our children, of course. They are masters of wonder.

Alison Gopnik writes in her book, The Philosophical Baby (a must-read), that “awe” is “the experience of standing outside on a dark night and gazing up at the infinite multitude of stars. Many scientists who are otherwise atheists point to it as a profound, deep, and significant reward of their work. [They are] moved by this kind of pure amazement at how much there is to learn about the world.” She continues, “babies and young children experience this kind of feeling all the time. They may feel this way gazing up at Mickey Mouse instead of the Milky Way, but the experience is very much the same.” This sense of awe is perhaps the same as the moment of wonder that Moses experienced in the desert: “What is this strange thing I see?” Moses and young children, in fact, ask the same question and both find the capacity to say Hineni – Here I Am.

So what can we learn from our children during Passover? Look for wonder in the every day. Say hineni, I am here, when you confront a question or a small miracle. Respond not by moving on and keeping your New-York-pace, but by slowing down and asking, “What is this?” Kneel down with your child. Explore a collection of sticks at the base of a tree with your three-year-old. Marvel at the birds with your four-year-old. Wonder at the moon with your five-year-old – why can we see it some nights but not others, and when does it show up in the morning? Being present and finding moments of wonder led the Jewish people down the path of freedom. Just think of the possibilities that lie ahead if we can all find ourselves enjoying the present and paying attention to the small miracles of life.

Happy Passover,
(See below for the perennial favorite, “Ten Tips for Meaningful Seders With Children by Rabbi Joy Levitt”)


School closed Friday April 22; opening again on Monday May 2.

PA date change: The final PA meeting of the year has been changed to Friday, June 3rd, 9:00am, in the 7th floor Beit Midrash.

1.  Remember:  the mitzvah is to tell the story, not to read the Haggadah

2. Engaging children in the preparation--setting the table, preparing the Seder plate, placing name cards and haggadot at seats--helps them feel a part of the Seder.

3.  There is no rule that says the Seder has to be at the dining room table.  Consider beginning in the living room where children have more freedom and are less likely to think about food. (Note:  make sure you cover your carpets and consider using a bento box for Seder foods like parsley and charoset).

4.  Use the moment of karpas--dipping parsley into salt water--as an opportunity to bring out more dips--guacamole, salsa, etc. and raw vegetables.  This is entirely consistent with the rabbis' understanding of the seder as an imitation of the Roman banquet and will buy you at least 15 minutes of seder time before guests (including adults) starting clamoring for dinner.

5.  In advance, take a look at the web for fun videos for children about Passover and start showing them to your children.  Same with music. Update: check out Bible Players videos here here and here.

6.  A great Sephardic custom involves children (or adults) walking around the table swatting the backs of guests with scallions to simulate the oppression of the Jews.

7.  Check out the play in the back of A Night of Questions (Levitt and Strassfeld) for a fun way to present the story of the exodus.

8.  The central point of the Seder is to ask questions because that was the rabbis’ definition of freedom.  Encourage your children not only to learn the “four” questions but to think of one new question themselves.

9.  one way to encourage team work with looking for the afikomen is to hide multiple pieces of matzah in envelopes with each child’s name on it.  All the pieces have to be found before the Seder can continue.

10.  Remember: the mitzvah is to “teach your child.”  You are modeling the best of experiential Jewish education when you lead a Seder.  If you love it, so will they!