The table is majestically adorned, with the silver candlesticks standing regally at its center. The flames dance with excitement and anticipation. Family and friends hustle about, making sure everything is ready. The children keenly observe and participate; you can feel their sense of wonder and joy. Tonight, we have gathered to tell a magnificent story: Our story. Our identity.
It’s Passover night; the Seder is about to begin. The children are the center of our focus, as it is our responsibility and commitment to tell our children this day: “It is on account of what G‑d did for me when I came out of Egypt.” From this verse our Rabbis learn “That in every generation a person must regard himself or herself, as though he/she personally had gone out of Egypt.” The word mitzrayim (Hebrew for Egypt) connects to the word meizarim, which means boundary or limitation. These boundaries and limitations, some internal and some external, are part of our daily experience. This is another lesson that we share with our children that is connected to Passover. It is the message that each of us has the competencies to cope with challenges and see ourselves as protagonists, and active participants in different situations that life brings to us.
The narrative is all about the meaning of having an identity, legacy and a compass about who we are and why. The Seder is one of the moments that obliges us to build our communal memory and our ethical compass as a people.
The story of Exodus guides us to realize that we can and must have our own exodus from our boundaries and limitations. Our path in doing so is through our identity and essence, and this is tied to our ability to transcend and to move beyond the known definition of who we are and what we can do.
In our pedagogical work with our children at Mequon Jewish Preschool, we believe in a research-based, value-based learning, and one of the ways we are using is to choose an annual Judaic concept and to connect it throughout the year with the Jewish holidays and with the daily life of the school.
One of the concepts that we chose was awareness, where one of the focuses was to connect awareness to our responsibility to remember leaving Egypt (yetziat Mitzrayim). We wanted to reach the essence of the holiday and to elevate the process to a place where the concept of remembering becomes a value.
We started by asking the children about what they know about Passover. After listening to their responses, we asked how they know so many things, and they said they remember from previous years. That opened the door for a long learning process about the meaning of remembering:
Gavin (5) said, “You see the book so you remember it. Like the Megillah and the Torah has a story.”
Morah Kreinie asked, “if we already know it from last year, why read it again every year?”
Gavin said, “So that every year when we read it again, we could remember it.”
Mia (age 4) shared, “The person is reading the Haggadah to other people. He wants them to know so they will tell other people and we will always remember.”
Rabbi Sholom Ber asked, “What is a memory?”
Evelyn (age 5) responded, “Memories in your brain.”
Gavin said thoughtfully, “Like your brain helps you remember where it is.”
Judah (age 4) offered, “I remember when Evelyn came to my house.”
Evelyn added, “I don’t remember.”
Rabbi Sholom Ber asked, “How does that happen?”
Gavin suggested, “People have different memories, some people remember when someone comes and some don’t.”
The point of different people having different memories is deep and strong, and it took us to the discussion about personal and communal memories.
The above process represents Mequon Jewish Preschool’s educational pedagogy that follows the educational vision of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson and the pedagogical vision of the Reggio Emilia approach. We believe that our role is to integrate the general and Judaic learning with supporting the social emotional processes of establishing their sense of self, and identities (personal and communal).
We see the learning environment as a field of relationships, wherein we must create the conditions for every child, boy and girl and their families, to bring themselves in the most authentic way. A field where every member is welcome to bring their thoughts, feelings and points of view, and together we continue strengthening our community’s identity.
These Torah thoughts are from Mequon Jewish Preschool Rabbi Sholom Ber Munitz; Mequon Jewish Preschool Director Rivkie Spalter; and Dr. Naama Zoran, Mequon Jewish Preschool Pedagogical Consultant.