Zehavit Meltzer

Story Bearers Needed

Have you encountered the online trend: “I was today years old when I found out”? 

In case you haven’t, let me explain. 

When people learn the meaning and rationale behind common things we see, use or say, they share this moment of clarity with their online community by completing the sentence above. Here is an example: “I was today years old when I found out ‘if you’re not there you’re square’ because you are not ‘a-round’.”  

I had such a moment of clarity several years ago while reading “vehi sheamda” in the Haggadah. I sang it year after year almost my entire life and never gave it a second thought. I was 36 years old when I found out what does vehi sheamda mean.

Vehi sheamda translates to: “And it is this that has stood for our ancestors and for us”. This raises the question, what is this ‘it’ that we are referring to?  What has stood for our ancestors and for us? The answer is given to us in the preceding paragraph: 

“Blessed be the One who keeps His promise to Israel, blessed be He” 

The paragraph continues with a quote from the book of Genesis (15:13-14): “And He (God) said to Avram, ‘you should surely know that your seed will be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. And also that nation for which they shall toil will I judge, and afterwards they will go out with much property.” 

Hence, the slavery in Egypt was part of our collective destiny as a people and the ‘it that stood’ was the knowledge that God will always keep his promise to redeem us. This knowledge has been our source of strength then and throughout any affiliations we endured as a people since. 

The word Haggadah comes from the word ‘Le’hagid’ — to tell. We are commanded to tell the story of the exodus to our children. We are also commanded to feel as though we are the ones God freed from slavery. Us, not our ancestors. Today, this feeling manifests itself in knowing that no matter how shaky the future may seem within the borders of the State of Israel and uncertain for Jews living outside of it, the promise is eternal and will forever stand. 

Dr. Zohar Raviv differentiates between being a storyteller and a story bearer. As a story bearer, one puts themselves in the story, he or she feels that they are part of the story. According to Raviv, a story bearer asks themselves what is my personal stake in the story? What is my vested interest in the story? They add their values and beliefs as they share the story with others. They reach a state of mind and heart where they experience the story and develop a profound interest in the outcome of the story. 

It is irrelevant whether one believes God made the promise to Avraham or not, what matters is for one to accept the idea behind ‘vehi sheamda’ as a core belief within the collective Jewish narrative – we will always be redeemed!

It is our responsibility to retell the story to our children in a way that we convey the feeling our people carried with them for thousands of years. We must also instill in them the desire to join us as story bearers, the next chapter of the Jewish story must be written by a group of people who has deep profound interest in its outcome.

About the Author
Zehavit is the Director of Judaic Studies at JPPS-Bialik school and Director of Y City Day Camp at the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA in Montreal, Canada. She holds a Graduate Certificate in Israel Education from George Washington University in partnership with The iCenter and a Master's Degree from McGill University in Educational Leadership. Having previous experience working at Jewish overnight camps, Zehavit believes in providing learners of all ages with opportunities to connect to their Jewish identity, Eretz Israel and Am Israel through various educational opportunities.
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