From Generation to Generation Activism is Alive!

Bo | Pesah By :  Jonathan Lipnick Rabbi-in-Residence at the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, JTS Posted On Feb 3, 2017 / 5777 | דבר אחר | A Different Perspective | Holidays Social Justice

Rabbi Jerome Lipnick (1918-1977)
(JTS Rabbinical School ’45)

My son Noah and I like to take walks together. It affords us time to connect—to talk about food, sports, relationships, and politics, and, once in a while, to explore an existential question.

“If I had never met my grandfather,” Noah once asked me, “is it true to say that I will never really know him?”

Parashat Bo addresses this conundrum by insisting that we retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt to our children as if we had lived it ourselves: “And you shall tell your son on that day, saying: “It is because of what Adonai did for me when I came forth out of Egypt” (Exod. 13:8).

In the Haggadah, we read that seder participants are obligated to see themselves as having personally left Egypt. In this way, our constructed collective “memory” becomes a tool to help us preserve the past.

And yet this process might feel contrived. After all, we weren’t really there, were we?

Thankfully—and quite intentionally—the creators of the Haggadah wrote these instructions to help us foster a greater sense of empathy. Indeed, they insisted that we look not only to the past to understand slavery, but to recite: “This year we are slaves.” By personalizing these events, the Haggadah suggests, we understand them better.

I vividly recall how, when I was a boy, my father would bring a map of the world to the seder table and identify countries run by “modern-day Pharaohs.” He wanted everyone gathered to become global citizens, responsive to the needs of people living in slavery today. He would also frequently stand vigil during his lunch hour, just across from the Soviet Embassy in the early 1970s, as a gesture of personal protest. On occasion I would join him.

Noah and I carry on that tradition. Along with our walks, we now march together as civil activists. On one of these occasions, Noah asked me how his grandfather would have responded to this tense moment in our history.

I didn’t have to answer. We simply looked at each other and knew instantly that, although my father was not with us physically, he was there spiritually, marching right alongside us.