Is Passover too Scary for My Kids?
When Catholic-born Cassandra Barry started dating her Jewish husband, she was hesitant to attend her first Jewish religious event, a Passover seder with his family. But once she finally attended his family seder, she discovered that she greatly enjoyed her boyfriend’s extended family’s riotous discussions, his colorful/difficult relatives, and the fact that Judaism as a religion seemed so much more all-around fun than Catholicism.
So when their first child, a boy named Laszlo, was old enough, Cassandra enrolled him in a Jewish pre-school. And she liked the pre-school very much…until the week before Passover when Lazslo came home with stories about the Israelite slaves being deprived of food and sleep and he started complaining to his parents about having frogs in his bed.
Cassandra was deeply disturbed.
In her article for the Huffington Post entitled What I’m not Telling My Son About Passover, Cassandra writes:
…I realized for the first time that the story of Passover through the eyes of a toddler is kind of surreal and pretty messed up. For starters, the Jewish people were slaves under a mean Pharaoh. Then there’s the part about a wrathful God unleashing ten plagues which included water turning to blood, lice, flies and disease for humans and animals. Also, there’s the killing of children….
As much as I love celebrating the Jewish holidays with my friends or with Joel’s family, I think I’m going to have to leave the biblical stories out of it as much as possible for now. Even though there IS something really cute about a three year old singing “Let my people go.” But I wouldn’t tell Laszlo a horror story or let him see a scary movie, and some of these biblical stories are even scarier…”
I was pretty stunned by Cassandra’s condemnation of teaching children about the story of Passover because it’s just too scary.
Like Cassandra, I also don’t let my 4-year-old son, Yoel, hear horror stories or see scary movies, but I do want him to know all the truly scary details of the story of Passover.
So what’s the difference between us JewishMOMs and Cassandra Barry? Why do we insist on teaching our children this upsetting story, enthusiastically going over the details again and again in the weeks leading up to Passover, while Cassandra Barry understandably prefers to fill her son’s head with positive messages from Franklin and Dora and Curious George?
About a decade ago I attended the first bris of my life for the son of a friend, and it was an experience I will never forget. It was an intensely spiritual crowd, and even the location itself was intensely spiritual–a historic Sephardic yeshiva in the Old City. But the most intense moments of a very intense event, for me, were when the mohel cut the baby’s foreskin and the baby began to scream. And when the father screamed out the words “Blessed are You, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with the commandment to bring him into the covenant of Avraham our Father.”
And hearing that combination of screams was one of the most intense religious experiences of my life.
It was so clear to me at that moment.
There is such an abundance of joy and light in this Jewish life. But the covenant of Avraham Avinu, the ancient covenant that binds every single Jew, is a covenant drenched in pain and self-sacrifice….Because we have held tight to this God-given covenant throughout the darkest chapters of Jewish history: the 210 years of brutal slavery in Egypt, and the savage Roman Occupation, and the murderous Crusades and the bloody Inquisition and the inhuman Pogroms and the genocidal Shoah and the never-ending grief of the Israeli Wars and terror attacks…
Hashem could have commanded us to wait until the age of 13 to expose that baby to the pain of circumcision. He could have said, “Until 13, only Franklin and Dora and Curious George. Only Smiley Faces and snuggly hugs from mommy and daddy.”
But He decided, in His infinite wisdom, that at 8-days-old, as early as possible in terms of safety, a Jewish child needs feel that being a Jew isn’t just about having fun.
Being a Jew is about serving Hashem in ways that place you across the river from the rest of humanity, just like Avraham Avinu. And sometimes that’s the source of joy and light. But sometimes that’s scary. And sometimes that’s painful.
And that mixture of joy and scary and light and pain is the very essence of being a Jew.
And that’s why I’m proud to teach my son and all of my children the story of Passover. Just like my parents taught me and their parents taught them, and their parents taught them, before them.
Image courtesy of Flickr.com user Center for Jewish History, NYC