The Resilience of Passover
Jewish educators and communal professionals often note the fact that for many Jewish people who don’t participate in regular observances or rituals, the observance of Pesach (Passover) remains important in their families, second (or third) after Hannukah and the High Holy Days. Simply put, if you are Jewish but not particularly connected, chances are pretty good that you still sit down for a Seder meal or eat a piece of Matzah.
What? Why? Why not Sukkot? Why not Purim? Those holidays are much more fun – on Sukkot you eat outside and shake the Lulav, and on Purim you dress up and are actually supposed to drink heavily! On Pesach you have to eat strange foods, recite passages about the exodus from Egypt, and the desserts are usually terrible.
What is it about this holiday that makes it so resilient?
The central observance of the holiday is a family/communal meal. Since the dawn of humanity, breaking bread together has been the glue that helps relatives and neighbors bond. In fact, food-sharing is even central for non-human primates – this practice is as primal as it gets. So what happens when you get together to eat and tell this story about your people? Marshall Duke, a psychology professor at Emory University, reports a fascinating result of his study of resilience in children – he found that one major factor resilient children share is participation in regular family dinners. When that result emerged, he wanted to understand how that could possible impact resilience, and in further studies he came to the conclusion that those who eat regularly with their families learn their family’s narrative.
Family stories typically have peaks and troughs; times of plenty and lean times, struggle, failure, success, and everything in between. Children who feel connected to those stories understand that they are links in a large chain. They gain the crucial skill of taking a big-picture approach to their own lives, and begin to understand that facing trials and tribulations in life isn’t unusual. They learn to rebound from struggle. They feel a sense of obligation to something larger than themselves.
Maybe this is why Pesach is so powerful. It brings families and friends together to tell the story of the Jewish people, and it gives us the perspective we need to move through life with resilience and strength.
I hope you have a fun and meaningful holiday, and encourage you to make a regular practice of telling your own family story to your children!