Children must be heard at Pesach and all times

Mah Nishtana - or the Four questions, in Rothschild Hagada. (The National Library of Israel. Wikipedia/יואל בן שמעון - via Jewish News)
Mah Nishtana - or the Four questions, in Rothschild Hagada. (The National Library of Israel. Wikipedia/יואל בן שמעון - via Jewish News)

As we prepare for Pesach and plan the seder to welcome family and friends, we will once again turn to the youngest member present to recite Ma Nishtana. Our tradition encourages the youngest to question. 

The seder is an educational opportunity, connecting inter-generational participation, emphasising to children they will be heard.

The seder presents the opportunity to read about the four children – the wise, the wayward, the simple – exploring the different types of young people not listed in order of moral standing but rather intellectual capabilities, ending with the child who simply does not know how to ask.

What we learn from this is we must not standardise our approach to dealing with these four young people. We cannot adopt a one-size-fits-all stance. This is true for each  organisation’s implementation of its safeguarding policies and procedures.  The organisation’s values must be reflected through trustees, staff and volunteers, all of whom must have a clear understanding of how to protect those who are vulnerable.

The strategies of listening, believing and taking action remain the same but to implement robust safeguarding, each communal organisation must adopt an approach that will engage with the individual and create safe spaces for people to talk and be heard.

The Charity Commission, which regulates charities in England and Wales to ensure the public can support them with confidence, has prioritised safeguarding for the past three years, We cannot be complacent. It is more than having the correct policies in place; it is about developing a culture of care from the top down.

The six main principles to safeguarding are empowerment, prevention, proportionality, protection, partnership and accountability.

It is vital we learn, reflect and understand how to embed those principles in every community setting. People have to feel safe to speak out. In creating safe and secure spaces within our community, we must acknowledge child neglect, bullying, social isolation, suicide, drug misuse, domestic abuse are happening. Many have not previously been openly spoken about.

As a community, we are addressing mental health. That is a tremendous leap forward and we know there is still more to be done. Safeguarding and mental health are inextricably linked through creating safe spaces and listening to those who need our support. Some who end up managing mental health issues say people needed someone simply to listen to the abuse they were struggling with prior to a mental health crisis.

At Pesach, we share collective memories, knowing we did not experience slavery in
Egypt personally.  We recite ‘in each and every generation b’chol dor v’dor’.  We as a community must be aware, speak out and act.

The Pesach story speaks of freedom but, as Rabbi Lord Sacks observed in an article written for The Huffington Post, the story of Pesach is not just about freedom but education. Moses spoke about education not freedom: “He fixed his vision not on the immediate but the distant future, and not on adults but children.”

We must educate, train and build confidence, allowing people a safe place to speak and community members the confidence, skills and knowledge to report something they feel
is of concern.

Ma Nishtana?  What is different? In this generation, safeguarding must remain high on our agenda. Kol Yisrael arevim zeh le’zeh, ‘all of Israel are responsible for each other’, is a core Jewish value. It is vital we recognise protecting all who are vulnerable from harm and neglect
is everyone’s responsibility.


About the Author
Shelley Marsh is Executive Director of Reshet
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