Holiday stories’ deeper meanings
By Laura Seymour

seymourforweb2The Jewish year is filled with markers — some we celebrate, some we commemorate. The rhythm of Jewish life flows through the holidays especially. As the Jewish educator of the Aaron Family JCC’s Sherry and Ken Goldberg Family Early Childhood Center, I get to celebrate and commemorate again and again as I move from classroom to classroom.
Purim has passed — what a great holiday. Too often, we focus on the costumes and the food — hamantaschen certainly is a wonderful part of the holiday. However, there is so much more.
In preparation for Purim, I spent two weeks telling the story to toddlers through our seniors and many groups in between. Of course, there are parts of the story that we don’t tell the children (sex and intrigue wait until we get older, and we are never too old for sex and intrigue). However, as well as telling the stories, we must always talk about deeper meanings even with little ones.
Today, the news is filled with stories about bullies, and bullying is certainly not new nor confined to the young. The Purim story is a perfect story to talk about standing up for yourself and, especially, for others. We focus on the important value of ometz lev, usually translated as courage. But the actual words mean strength of heart.
Courage is about knowing what is right in your heart and acting on it, even (or especially) if you are afraid. Being brave does not mean you have no fear, it means you have conquered your fear. Esther didn’t say yes to Mordecai right away — she had to gather strength and make a plan.
The rhythm of our Jewish life moves quickly into Passover. We begin preparing immediately, it seems, as the hamantaschen leaves the store shelves and the matzah takes its place. Again, we have the message of courage, along with many others. Planning for Passover is more than the cleaning and the food. It is about telling the story and learning the messages.
Leave the grocery store and go to the bookstore — find a new Haggadah, read the book of Exodus, get “America’s Prophet” by Bruce Feiler on your iPad or phone. Create a new tradition for learning at your Passover seder.
As Jews, we are believers in story and memory and through both we form our lives and our new memories. Keep the story going.
Laura Seymour is director of Jewish life and learning and director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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