The connection between Shorashim projects and Pesach By Shani Abed
Very recently, our 5th graders completed and shared their Shorashim (roots) projects. For the past six months, our students learned, researched, and dug deep into the history of their very own families. Out of all the remarkable projects, two projects were selected and sent to compete in the international Shorashim competition in Beit Hatfutzot Museum in Israel. In this competition, I believe that each one of our students is a winner.
The American writer Bruce Feiler recently published a best-selling book entitled The Secrets of Happy Families. It’s an engaging work that uses research largely drawn from fields like team building, problem solving and conflict resolution, showing how management techniques can be used at home also to help make families cohesive units that make space for personal growth.
At the end, however, he makes a very striking and unexpected point: “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.” He quotes a study from Emory University that the more children know about their family’s story, “the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, the more successfully they believe their family functions.”
A family narrative connects children to something larger than themselves. It helps them make sense of how they fit into the world that existed before they were born. It gives them the starting-point of an identity. That in turn becomes the basis of confidence. It enables children to say: This is who I am. This is the story of which I am a part. These are the people who came before me and whose descendant I am. These are the roots of which I am the stem reaching upward toward the sun.
Nowhere was this point made more dramatically than by Moses. The tenth plague is about to strike. Moses knows that this will be the last. Pharaoh will not merely let the people go. He will urge them to leave. So, on God’s command, he prepares the people for freedom. But he does so in a way that is unique. He does not talk about liberty. He does not speak about breaking the chains of bondage. He does not even mention the arduous journey that lies ahead. Nor does he enlist their enthusiasm by giving them a glimpse of the destination, the Promised Land that God swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the land of milk and honey.
He talks about children: And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this rite?’ you shall say . . . (Exodus 12:26-27)And you shall explain to your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt’ (Exodus 13:8)
And when, in time to come, your child asks you, saying, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him . . . (Exodus 13:14)
This is wonderfully counterintuitive. He doesn’t speak about tomorrow but about the distant future. He does not celebrate the moment of liberation. Instead he wants to ensure that it will form part of the people’s memory until the end of time. He wants each generation to pass on the story to the next. He wants Jewish parents to become educators, and Jewish children to be guardians of the past for the sake of the future.
But Moses’ point wasn’t simply this. God wanted us to teach our children was a story. He wanted us to help our children understand who they are, where they came from, what happened to their ancestors to make them the distinctive people they became and what moments in their history shaped their lives and dreams. He wanted us to give our children an identity by turning history into memory, and memory itself into a sense of responsibility.
The long walk to freedom, suggests in the Pesach story, is not just a matter of history, let alone miracles. It has to do with the relationship between parents and children. It is about telling the story and passing it on across the generations. It is about a sense of God’s presence in our lives. It is about making space for transcendence, wonder, gratitude, humility, empathy, love, forgiveness and compassion, ornamented by ritual, song and prayer. These help to give a child confidence, trust and hope, along with a sense of identity, belonging and at-home-ness in the universe.
As we approach the holiday of Pesach, I hope that each one of you will find the opportunity to pass the story of your own family to your children. Embrace these stories and pass them Mi’dor Le’dor (from generation to generation). I’m sure your kids will treasure these moments and stories forever.
Here are video links to the two winning projects by Sandy Cohen and Galia Dondisch: