Echoes of the Ancient and Tomorrow

Seder Plate
Image by Daniel Greene via Flickr

It’s been this way for years

Monday night I’m participating in a Seder at my best friend’s apartment and the following night he and his wife will do the same at my house.

My first Seder was 40 years ago when a group of socially aware and politically active teenagers gather to celebrate the “Freedom Seder.”

Although my grand parents were all Jewish, I was not raised in the Jewish tradition.

dying easter eggs
Image by PaperNest via Flickr

My family did not celebrate the rites of any religion, but we adopted the symbols of many.

At this time of year we would dye Easter eggs that my parents would put into little baskets along with fake grass, jelly beans, a chocolate bunny and, often, a dreidel. There would be a box of matzah in the house.

My maternal grandmother would come over to cook a meal featuring homemade gefilte fish, and chicken (bones and all) in a soup filled with carrots, celery and onion. She would also make a peppery, oniony potato kugel so dense it did not dissolve even when Grandma served it sitting in the middle of the soup bowl. (I have never found anyone else whose relatives put the kugel in the soup. If yours did please let me know)

P1040074.JPG

Image by PlaysWithFood via Flickr

While my father was still living with us we’d also have a happy Buddha or two somewhere nearby.

My parents had largely rejected the religion of their parents. That’s why we annually had a beautiful Christmas tree with hand-blown glass ornaments from in front of which we open presents before eating our Chanukah gelt, chocolate coins with Hebrew lettering on them.

There were symbols all over the place, but no one ever told us what they meant or connected them to any particular religion. If we wanted to know we were directed to several of the hundreds of books in living room.

Instead of deities, doctrine, ritual, and the other accoutrements of religions, we saw models of compassion, sharing, brotherhood, acceptance, and what I have come to identify as an echo of the ancient Hebrew sense of tikkun olam, acting to heal the world.

Earth
Image by Satoru Kikuchi via Flickr

Despite the lack of notions of God or Gods of any kind in our upbringing, our home rituals, such as they were, carried echoes of their ancient origins even if they lacked their rigor.

What we do as parents and teachers also echoes through generations.

When we teach our children, as parents and in our work in schools, our actions carry more weight than our words.

The same applies to our learning as adults. We act the ways we see modeled by others.

Collaborative principals create collaborative teachers.

School leaders who rule by coercion and threat get teachers who do the same.

Tomorrow night, and for the following eight days, I will celebrate freedom even more than I do on all days. Others will celebrate the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

When I return to work I will model leadership, collaboration, trust, ethics, taking responsibility for my actions and responsibility to heal the world.

I wish I could be around to see how that echoes through my students’ lives.

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2 Responses to Echoes of the Ancient and Tomorrow

  1. Michael J says:

    Deven,
    In the spirit of your post, I want to share that I’m a holocaust survivor kid, born in a DP camp in 46. I am not religious in a normal sense. For me, there is too much evil in the world to make sense of a beneficent God.

    Last week I took Mom to a sedar at hosted by a Survivor Discussion group, hosted by Queensborough Community College.

    The wonderfully liberating thing is that it was about freedom for any group that has faced the trials of being an immigrant. For many years, t’s been a source of much anguish for me to see how the tradition of liberation has been used by various politicos to reflexively justify anything Isreal does. Many arguments about being a “self-hating Jew”.

    My hope is that the meme will now shift to get back to what has always been the rich Jewish tradition of empathy with the least of us.

    • Deven Black says:

      Thank you for sharing, Michael.

      My father’s mother told me that Jews had a special place in the world because we could feel everyone’s suffering and were obligated to do what we could to ease it.

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