30 March 2012
7 Nissan 5772
The school is abuzz this week with excitement about our students’ Exploration Week experiences, both near and far. Whether through blogging and tweets or through animated anecdotes in the hallways, students and faculty are sharing moments and learnings that include, for example, visiting clergy from different religions, building homes in Dorchester, rock climbing, attending a Harvard Business School class, farming, creative writing, civil rights and travelling through the South, and, of course, helping to rebuild New Orleans.
One brief encounter with a small group of students shed light for me on the power of their experience. Three girls were sitting in the school lobby, clearly tired after a long day. They were spending the week with children at Head Start, an early childhood program for children of low income families, located in Hyde Park, a neighborhood in South Boston. When I asked them how the experience has been for them, one student responded, “It is amazing. I’m doing this every year.” Another exclaimed, “I am in love with these children!” The third added, “I want to volunteer here during the summer, as well.” Impressed by their positivity and enthusiasm, I certainly felt a sense of “Dayeinu” – “it is enough,” both for me as their Head of School and for them, that they have made a contribution to these young children’s lives and discovered something that they are passionate about and would want to pursue in the future. This is what Exploration Week is all about.
Yet, instead of stopping there and appreciating their responses, I asked them, “Why has this been so meaningful for you? What is something you have learned from this?” After thinking for a moment, one of the students shared a simple two word answer that connects beautifully to the Passover holiday we will celebrate next week: “Their stories.” She explained that the reason she feels such a strong connection to these children is not only because they are so adorable but also because she is hearing their stories, stories of children, parents, and families whose lives and backgrounds are extraordinarily challenging and complicated. These stories are giving her a deep appreciation of who these children are and the world in which they live. Because she sees them and appreciates them in this way, she is able to know them more authentically and, in turn, feel a greater sense of connection to them.
As we prepare for the Passover Seder, this student’s experience reminds us of why the telling of our story is the core mitzvah and heart of the Passover ritual. We tell our story and listen to other’s stories not only to remember events of the past but also because storytelling is a profoundly humanizing process. The history of our people brings to light the profound experiences that have shaped the consciousness of our ancestors and formed the traditions we have inherited.
Passover is an opportunity to listen more carefully to our own and to each other’s personal stories. Questions such as, “Where have you experienced slavery in your own life?” or “When have you emerged from a hard place like our ancestors emerged from Egypt?” or “When have you been one of the Four Children at your family’s table or in another learning environment? Which one were you and how did it feel?” invite people to bring their stories to the table. Taking the time to ask questions like these, paying attention to the people around our table as they answer, and then really listening to them, openly and non-judgmentally, can shed new light on the Passover story and help us discover ourselves and each other more fully.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher v’Sameach,
Rabbi Marc Baker