Probably at no point in the school year is the partnership between Jewish homes and Jewish schools as evident as it is around Passover. In part, that is due to the skill-and-content-building role schools assume. During the past days and weeks, the children (depending on their ages) have been learning how to recite the four questions, the elements of the seder, various Passover songs and how one readies a house for the holiday.
But the preparation for the Passover holiday goes far deeper than that; it is not localized to the sederim that will take place in homes around our community next week. The central idea and mitzvah of the seder is that each person would see himself/herself as personally liberated through his/her connection to God and to a sacred community k’eelu hu. That preparation starts from the moment a child walks through our doors.
I love the way Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, put it in a speech a few months ago to the House of Lords. (I am indebted to a parent, Paul Greenberg, for sending it along.)
“If there is one insight above all others to be gained from Jewish history, it is that freedom depends on education. To defend a country you need an army, but to defend a civilization you need schools. Abraham was chosen, says the Bible, so that he would teach his children to practice righteousness and justice. Moses commanded, in what has become the most famous of our prayers, ‘You shall teach these things diligently to your children.’
“In ancient times the Egyptians built pyramids, the Greeks built temples, the Romans built amphitheatres. Jews built schools. And because of that, alone among ancient civilizations, Judaism survived. I wonder whether even now we value teachers sufficiently highly, for they are the guardians of our liberty. Schools teach us theories and facts. They help us answer the question, what do I know? Schools teach us skills. They help us answer the question, what can I do?
“But they also teach us the story of our nation, what freedom is and how it was fought for, and what battles those who came before us had to fight. They help us to answer the questions: who am I, of what story or stories I am a part, and, how then shall I live? They teach us about keeping faith with the past while honouring our obligations to the future. At best, they teach us collective responsibility for the common good.”
Next Monday night, each of us as adults has an opportunity and, indeed, a responsibility to attend to that sacred task of continuing the sacred chain, passing our story and our tradition down from generation to generation. I like to think that within each of our homes, the fate of the Jewish people rests. And it is through the efforts of places like our school that we help our families meet the challenge and flourish.
Best wishes for a Hag Pesach kasher v’sameach.