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Telling Our Stories Around the Seder Table

Photo Credit: Margie Bogdanow
Photo Credit: Margie Bogdanow

Although Passover 2024 is supposedly “late” this year, it is now rapidly approaching.  Many of us have started our lists and our google docs, have dusted off the stained recipe cards from our mothers and grandmothers, have begun to explore a new recipe or two to add to our holiday meals, and are thinking about the Seder. There are daily emails describing potential challenges this year around the table. Passover is often a unifying night for families. This year, the war in Israel and the challenges in the United States threaten to divide families. Many individuals and organizations are creating resources to use at the Seder to address the challenging, divided, and fragile state of the world today.

Many of us feel powerless in finding ways to have a positive impact in this moment. I suggest that one very simple way that we can help our children, grandchildren, and families is to tell our own stories. It won’t solve all the world’s problems, but it will enable our children and grandchildren to become more resilient and give them the strength to continue the work that we have started in our lifetimes.  As it says in Pirkei Avot (2:21) “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

Howard Gardner, a psychologist and the founder of the theory of Multiple Intelligences, said this: “Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.” We are all leaders in our families – grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, or beloved family friends, and Judaism is chock full of stories. The Torah is made up of stories that we repeat year after year. Most of our holidays include stories. Passover is the ultimate story – a story of slavery to freedom, a story of triumph, a story of perseverance, a story of exiting from a narrow place, and so much more.  As we tell that story, we put ourselves in the narrative.  “Imagine as if you, yourself had escaped from Egypt.”

The Jewish people love to share stories. Stories and memory are central Jewish values. We cannot forget what has happened to us, we must share it with future generations. The past is one of our best learning tools.

For a long time, many of us thought that passing along these stories was for the sake of our heritage, for the sake of Judaism and dayenu, that would have been enough. It turns out that sharing our family stories is good for young people. The work of Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivash at Emory University has shown that there is a link between hearing family stories and thriving. Family stories strengthen connections, create family cohesion, build identity, and support multiple perspectives. Family stories let children know that they’re not alone, and that those who came before them celebrated triumphs and overcame struggles, just as they do.

Adults are keepers of knowledge from multiple generations.  Grandparents are generally the keepers of at least five generations. There is enormous power in generational knowledge, power that we should not take for granted. As Spiderman famously said “With great power comes great responsibility.” We all have a responsibility to share our stories.  We must not wait to be asked.  Many of us regret not asking questions of those who came before us.  We can’t and shouldn’t blame ourselves for that.  We may have been the 4th child at that time – the child who didn’t know how to ask.  However, we are no longer children. We must share our past, in age-appropriate ways, without waiting to be asked.

What better time and place to share our stories than around the Passover table?

The “Do You Know” Questions, developed by Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush, is a wonderful starting point. A few examples include: Do you know how your parents met?  Do you know where your grandparents met?  Do you know how you got your name?

These are important stories to tell, and they will promote important and healthy discussion. You can tell them in words, in pictures, with music – there are so many ways to share your stories.

Rather than focusing on what divides us this year, we can let sharing our stories unite us and strengthen our families. Wishing us all a meaningful Passover.

About the Author
Margie Bogdanow, LICSW is a social worker, coach, and consultant based in New England. Her professional work focuses on impacting adults to make a positive difference in the lives of those around them. She currently serves as the Senior Advisor to the BeWell Initiative at Jewish Federations of North America and as well as working on a variety of other projects promoting wellbeing in the Jewish ccommunity.
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