Over the weekend, millions of us around the world are gathering with our families to celebrate Easter and Passover. To all my Christian and Jewish friends, I wish you a very gratifying and heartfelt holiday with your families and friends.
I hope my Sunday story will interest you. I hesitated before putting my fingers on the keys of my keyboard to muse about religion. And then I reconsidered because I believe gaining insight into every practiced religion is exciting and can be beneficial.
How my Faith was Taught in Kankakee by The Sea
As most of you know, I grew up in, Kankakee by the Sea, a small town in Illinois in the middle of farmland. I gave Kankakee that name to romanticize it because when I left for college, I realized I took many positive lessons of importance with me.
One lesson I learned while growing up in Kankakee by the Sea was to respect all religions. For you see, my friends were all Christian. I was their only Jewish friend. Yes, I grew up a minority, and it was not always easy. The feeling of never entirely belonging turned out to be a positive lesson, but I did not understand this until I was a bit older. My tolerance of all types of people and beliefs, paired with the ability to stand up with pride for my values, ultimately became a mighty strength.
My parents and extended family had a profound and positive influence on me. I learned early on that my religion was also a culture, a culture that began 4,000 years ago. I hold Judaism very close to my heart.
The Story of Passover
AND THAT BRINGS ME TO THE MEANING OF PASSOVER. PASSOVER IS A HOLIDAY ABOUT FREEDOM AND GOD. THIS FESTIVAL COMMEMORATES THE ISRAELITES LIBERATION FROM SLAVERY AND BONDAGE FROM EGYPT, 4.OOO YEARS AGO, AND THEIR TRAVELS THAT TOOK 40 YEARS CROSSING THE DESERT INTO THE PROMISED LAND, ISRAEL.
The Importance of Remembering
From early childhood, I recall my grandfather telling me stories about his life, his travels, his values, his everything. He would often tie stories to a religious holiday or a spiritual lesson. After all, he was a Talmud Scholar.
My grandfather would tell me stories about our family history and explain the importance of REMEMBERING because he wanted me to pass the stories down to my children.
One day, this kind man said to me, “Do you know keeping ‘memories’ began with Passover? The Lord said to Moses,’Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Remember that the Lord took you out of the bondage of slavery.”
My grandfather explained that the Israelites recorded their history, first in their minds, and finally in books. And, history was born. How profound of God to stress ‘remembering.’
I remember my grandfather’s teachings and I taught my children, in the same manner, telling them stories they would not forget, so they would pass the lessons on to their children.
The Importance of Family and Faith
My grandfather was a grand man. I am not bragging about him. He walked across Europe on foot to escape the pogroms at age 18, then boarded a ship that sailed to America, like many of our grandparents.
He married my grandmother, Sarah — my namesake. They went on to have five sons who gifted him with fourteen grandchildren. He visited each of our homes every Sunday.
This brave man traveled the world with wanderlust, bringing each of his grandchildren and daughters-in-law little token gifts from different countries.
I still have a little ring he brought me from — you won’t believe where — Egypt.
Our family came first, and he was determined to leave us with his legacy.
He and my grandmother had Shabbat dinners every Friday teaching us the importance of tradition and giving us a real sense of our identities and religious values.
Everything in my grandfather’s life centered around the family and the children.
THE FAMILY PASSOVER dinner, 4,000 years later, interfaces with the first Passover. It is devoted to family togetherness; answering the children’s questions, because God said, “THE FAMILY AND THE CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE.” From generation to generation.
The Importance of Optimism and Faith
My grandfather was poor as a child, like most immigrants.
His faith in God and study of the Torah gave him the belief that everything in life is possible.
HE WAS OPTIMISTIC AND HAD COMPLETE FAITH IN GOD.
He expressed this repeatedly to his grandchildren, and I do believe that a part of my optimism is the result of my grandfather’s teachings. It was marvelous to observe his confidence and his faith in God.
Another Miracle of Passover: Jews Became Filled with Optimism and Faith
With God’s help, Pharaoh was defeated, and the mighty nation of Egypt overthrown. The Israelites, who were slaves, learned to become freemen. God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and The Oral Torah on Mount Sinai… and the Jews set foot in Israel.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GIVING A HELPING HAND
Over the centuries, the Jewish people have been victims of terrible mistreatment. Those who suffer understand the suffering of others. We become committed to righting wrongs. The Passover Seder begins by inviting in the hungry and the homeless. We are our brother’s keeper. This is taught to our children around the Passover dinner table.
My grandfather at Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, would rent the Grand Ball Room at the Kankakee Hotel and invite all his friends and some of the needy. It was a grand time!
I observed faces filled with happiness and decided, as that young girl in Kankakee by the Sea, that my door would always be open to those who needed me.
Trying to explain the profound religious significance behind Passover would take pages. From the time God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to the time they arrived in Israel, the Jews traveled for 40 years across the desert. 40 years of history is impossible to explain in one story.
The Lesson of Passover
I am leaving you with my interpretation of Passover in a tiny nutshell…
All people should have the freedom to live their lives without restraint. We should put our family first. Offer a helping hand to those in need. Live with optimism and be grateful for our blessings, large and small. Record our history for the generation to come. And have faith.
I have faith. I stare up at the stars and greet the sun and gaze at the mountains and love the Sea and smile at the flowers and love the color green, natures color green. There is a God. In this, I have ultimate faith. And that changes everything.
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