The daffodils begin to bloom, the tulips peek out from their stems and we find ourselves celebrating both spring and the Passover holiday. The story of Passover, as we all well know, is a story of freedom. In fact, there are those who say that it is two stories of freedom, based upon how we wish to commemorate the holiday. There is the traditional story in the Hagaddah, the story of Moses and the escape from bondage in the land of Egypt. And there are more contemporary stories that some use, or incorporate in their Seders, focusing on those who today are oppressed and for whom freedom is also an elusive dream.
There are proponents and opponents of both of those directions and, in truth, as with many things, I think the choices have to be based on what is right, what resonates, for each person and for their family. The core message is, in many ways, the same. What varies is how we choose to both understand it and to teach it, both to our families and to future generations.
In my high school youth group days, I decided to write a Seder that would be more relevant for my peers. I called it a “radical Seder” although how radical it was I don’t know. I used music of our time rather than traditional songs and my messages were more around equality than freedom. We conducted the Seder as a youth group and it played well with them. In fact, I felt pretty good about it until I came home and showed it to my father, whose firm commitment to Orthodox practices did not provide any room for this kind of creative endeavor.
Nonetheless, this year I find myself thinking about writing a Seder again. But the freedom that would be my central theme, and even my reason for undertaking this project, is not the traditional story, the contemporary direction or even my old equality script. Rather, it would be a Seder dedicated to freedom for our older adults.
Do I think our older adults in the United States are being held in bondage? Do I think that they are oppressed as a “people”? To some extent, I do think that is true. We hold our older adults back when we minimize them, when we see them as less than they are only because of their chronological age. Lest you think that doesn’t happen, watch when someone talks with an older person, shouting because they assume they cannot hear; simplifying language because they think they cannot understand; ignoring them because they think they do not matter. We harm our older adults when we infantilize them, when we take away their control and their choices. If someone breaks a hip, we rush to fix it without asking the older adult what they want. We take control of their choices, whether we do it as well-meaning family or professionals with expertise.
The time has come to remember that older adults, regardless of disease or disability, remain individuals and remain individuals with choices. When we all respect that, and give each of them a chance to express their preferences, needs and concerns, we will have not only gone a long way towards conquering ageism but we will have freed a people long deserving of their freedom.