Our youngest grandchild (#6), Yoavi (7 weeks old), played a special role in our grandchildren’s pantomimed (but still noisy!) Midrash on Yitziat Mizraim. He played Moshe Ba’teiva. His brother, Yonatan (a month shy of six and our oldest grandchild), played the elder Moshe (Quiz: how old was Moses when he first confronted Pharaoh?) and brought a hand-colored teiva (no pitch and slime were needed!) to the Seder. No sooner had Yonatan placed Yoavi gently into the teiva he built with such care and love – complete with a pillow and small blanket – than the little future savior of his people began to cry uncontrollably.
I must say that, had I been YHWH, I would have rescued B’nai Yisrael right then and there … without all the sturm and drang! In the event, our ‘Moshe Ba’teiva’ was quickly rescued by Bat Pharaoh (Savta Irith) and the epic cast of three middle grandchildren and some parents playing B’nai Yisrael, went on screaming שלח את עמי lead by rod-toting Yonatan-Moshe. Uncle Shauli played Pharaoh and had various ways of barking: “NO” while holding a round stone near his heart.
Apologies to a host of Tanai’im who were excluded from this year’s proceedings: Eliezer ben Azariah couldn’t make it since he is already כאילו seventy years old; Rabbi Yehudah had nothing to add, since all the kids knew the 10 machot in order without needing his acrostic; Yossi Haglili, Eliezer and Akiva seemed far too revengeful (or sarcastic!) for our tastes and, in any case were stuck in B’nai B’rak. Gamliel would have been satisfied since the kids trumpeted “Pesach (we emphasized what must have been a meal of lamb chops in Egypt rather than the splattered blood on the door frames), Matza, Maror”. Had they been at a kiosk in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehudah market they would have sold out their produce within 5 minutes! I was very surprised to see how great a job the kindergartens do with these 3, 4 and five year-old Israelis!
So our next generation has already assimilated a major part the narrative. They are into our story of wandering, settling, economically induced exile; slavery, leadership, revolt, redemption, re-settling. They’re not yet into the bitterness of servitude and can’t quite get their teeth into the “Hillel” (his Matza-Maror concoction). Neither does the violent, vengeful side of a redeeming God play well for these little bundles of absolute joy. So, for example, Eliyahu was greeted only with the song “אליהו הנביא” but without “שפך חמתך”.
It was relatively easy to keep their attention with a simple puzzle of סימני הסדר. “Once you put it together, we’ll sing: קדש, אורחץ ….” Also, we hid six Afikomans and let the four run around for them only during the meal. (The youngest two were ensconced in their mothers’ arms). They brought some of their ‘own’ songs like שמחה רבה, and their parents came with some Hebrew songs based on שיר השירים: דודי לי, אנא הלך דודך, and others. We celebrated זמן חרותינו, חג האביב.
It also occurred to me that some of the core pieces of our Pesach seder, like bitterness, that indelible part of the Jewish narrative, will need to become an acquired taste for these little, happy Israelis, almost like Tabasco sauce, Marmite and Indian food. They are getting there, of course. They are familiar with Pharoah, with Haman, with Hitler. I don’t think they’ve gotten to Babylonians, Romans, Crusades, Inquisition, Chmielnitzki yet. Is “Amalek” part of Israeli school curriculum?
It was a great seder. We certainly fulfilled everyone’s natural wishes to us for a Chag Sameach. It wasn’t classically traditional. I know that in the coming years I’ll need to help add to our grandchildrens’ natural sense of curiosity, of wonder, of love, trust and joy with many of the bitter collective memories of 3000 years.
And, of course, I’m wrong. Bitterness isn’t an acquired taste. It’s right up there with all the other collective memories as a built-in part of Jewish culture and identity.