I had a teacher who once said among the most important qualities every Jew needs to do is be a story teller. Think about how many of our traditions are about telling stories - Jewish history, the weekly Torah Reading, holiday observances and so much more. This may be why we have so many great Jewish books and so many rituals related to story-telling. Story telling is critical for our people throughout the year but all the more so in this season. Tomorrow morning, we will begin the new Hebrew month of Nisan and it is during this month that we observe two major commemorations that are based on this concept of story-telling - one that is ancient and one that is only a few decades old.
Two weeks from tonight, Jews all over the world will sit around the Passover Seder table and once again tell the story of the origins of our people - the years of slavery in Egypt and how God took us out of bondage. This story has been told by countless generations and we are required to re-tell the story every year. As we become the story-tellers, we speak as if we ourselves were slaves to Pharaoh and that we participated in the Exodus even though in reality, these events happened to our ancestors thousands of years ago. I find the personalization of these stories significant. As the Haggadah says, we must see ourselves as if we were there so that we can truly appreciate both slavery and freedom. It is all about putting ourselves in the moment and then recreating the magical moments by being the story tellers.
I remember years ago saying to the congregation, the fact that we continue to tell these stories every year is remarkable. The Rabbis of old who created the Seder based on the imperative to tell the story were geniuses and pedagogically brilliant. I wonder if they knew that thousands of years later we will still be telling these stories. I emphasize this because in the 20th Century our people had another experience that needs to be told to every future generation and we, once again, need to be the story tellers.
I am talking about Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Memorial Day, a difficult day that we will observe on Wednesday, May 1. Every year, Yom HaShoah falls just a few days after the end of Passover and the link between them is the story telling. Just like the Rabbis gave us a method to continue the tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt at the Passover Seder, I feel that our generation needs to create rituals and experiences so that we can become the story tellers of the Shoah. Our generation is the last who will know Holocaust Survivors and it is critical that the children and grandchildren of survivors and all of us who have been inspired by their stories, become the new story tellers.
Our Yom HaShoah Service and Program on May 1st will be exploring this challenge and helping the next generations learn to tell the stories of survival of the Shoah. Our speaker this year will be Mimi Werbler, who is the Second Vice President of the Board of the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights and Genocide Education (Chhange) at Brookdale Community College. As the daughter and daughter-in-law of Holocaust survivors, Mimi feels compelled to carry on their legacy and message of "Never Forget-Never Again." In response to the declining number of living survivors who can tell their stories in schools and public programs, and numerous requests by schools for survivor testimonies, Mimi has prepared her parents' histories so that she can relate them and perpetuate the power of their stories. Even though stories of the Shoah are at times difficult to hear, it is so critical that we learn these stories, allow them to touch our hearts and then become the new story tellers for the next generations. Please look for more publicity to come from TJC about this important program in the coming weeks.
We Jews tell stories. And we have so many stories to tell. Some inspiring, some challenging, some old and some new. In the weeks ahead, I encourage all of us to listen to stories of others and to share our own stories as much as we can.
Happy story-telling and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Adam Feldman