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Passover: Eating from the Kid's Menu #773

04/07/2023 01:43:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Intermediated Passover Shabbat
Passover: Eating from the Kid's Menu

This past week, as clergy throughout the area were asked by the media for their Passover or Easter messages, I was particularly moved by the words of one rabbi.

Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz noted, “Kids today are spiritually ravenous, but institutionally suspicious.”

His words cut to the core of what many term a crisis within religion.Kids today are more wired than ever. They are exposed to more information at a faster rate than any generation in history.

Then why—according to many psychologists—are today’s super-connected kids more depressed and lonelier than ever?

Can you blame them? They are faced with so many threatening issues, including gun violence, racism, anti-Semitism, environmental deterioration, political conflict and many institutions they feel they cannot trust.

So, many turn to social media for answers, somehow believing that the happy online images represent the real world—when they do not. These posed memes, videos and photos are everywhere, but they are not real. And, as a result, many children feel inadequate.

In past generations, young people could turn to their role models and institutions for support.

But these days, many kids understandably feel that everything from news coverage, to sports and entertainment, religion and government, are increasingly about money.

But then, perhaps just in time, Passover arrives. And as the Torah instructs us, it is time for us to gather with family and friends, and—in today’s terms—“reboot.”

Early in the Passover Haggadah, a paragraph instructs us to raise a sheet of matzah and recite Ha Lachmah Anyah.

In most versions of the Haggadah, these Aramaic words are translated as, “This is the bread of affliction.” But more accurately, the word anyah means “poor”—as in, “This is the poor person’s bread.”

It inspires us to consider that at this time of the year, when our post-winter souls seem cluttered with too many complications and by the plague of cynicism, that we need to “flatten“ our souls and acknowledge our inner poverty.

For the Promised Land—as depicted online—does not actually exist, creating dissonance between fantasy and reality, which so many young people are having trouble distinguishing.

So, what does Passover offer?

It demands that we flatten ourselves, address our inner chametz (yeast) and return to those things that are meaningful. 

Young people want to make a difference. And we, as parents and role models, can offer guidance as to how to achieve this.

I am not a big fan of the Maxwell House Haggadah. For adults, it may represent fond memories of generations past. We remember the old melodies and rituals.  That’s a good thing.

But if we are to restore our children’s faith in religion—its institutions and its relevance—we need to lose the rote Maxwell House Haggadah, and further evolve Passover’s core message.

Passover is the story of liberation and freedom, but it also needs to answer the evolving question, posed by children thousands of years ago, in the Torah, and today:

“What does this mean to me?”

From the time of the Jews’ liberation from Egypt, we have been on a journey toward our Promised Land. More than 3,000 years ago, that was Israel. That was then.

Over the centuries, Passover has provided a gathering point for our scattered Jewish people to cling to a set of standard traditions. That was also then.

But now, in a world where everything is questioned, we need to expand the Passover story. It is time for new discussions about what is on the minds of the younger generations.

Gun violence, war, poverty, homelessness, human trafficking, online bullying, deterioration of the environment, to name a few.  These are the new plagues weighing upon our children, and they are looking for antidotes.

It’s not that they don’t care. It’s just that in their eyes, there is a new Promised Land. It is one of authenticity, truth, empathy, social justice and internal happiness.

Noted Rabbi Gewirtz: “It’s not that they don’t want faith, but that we need to offer it from a menu that they are going to eat.”

One time at my former congregation in Canada, a family offered peanut butter sandwiches, mac and cheese, fish sticks and French fries for its bar mitzvah communal meal.

It was the “kids’ menu Kiddush,” and it was the most popular meal ever served at our synagogue—for children and adults alike.

Too often, we as adults become so tangled in life’s complexities, traditions and history that we forget the world is based on progress.

We as adults, need to develop and even eat from a simpler menu. We are all happier when we do.

This period of renewal and gathering presents an opportunity for all of us to focus on what is truly important. It is not about cold words on a page, but rather new visions based on new shades and new realities.

We need to focus on a new Promised Land. What is that for your family and for the generations you are raising? 

Our children are so starved for meaning. This is a period to count our blessings and return to the basic Jewish menu that rests at the heart of our families.

Kindness. Empathy. Tradition. Meaning. And yes, fun.

It is a core message during this Passover week, a time of renewal, a time to turn off needless technology and to talk and to listen a bit more. Doing so will make our world a bit simpler and ultimately more meaningful.

That is the symbolism of matzah—the poor person’s bread.

For within its flatness and simplicity—away from today’s bloated world—I believe we can truly reach a new Promised Land.

It begins at the family table. It extends to the world. Let us use this time, as families gather, to listen to our kids, and to truly absorb what is important to them.

Pesach is a time to simplify our lives not by just teaching, but also listening.

It is time for us all to eat from the kids’ menu.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Fri, September 29 2023 14 Tishrei 5784