Jewish Heroes: Who are they and what makes them heroes? Often, finding the best ways to tell (and not tell) about the lives of our Jewish heroes and ancestors is a challenge. One of the great realizations about the Torah is that in the stories, people are simply told about with all their faults and imperfections. Each of our heroes was not “perfect” and therefore we can strive to be a hero without worrying about perfection!
We begin with the questions: Where did we come from? Who came before us? We are all searching for our personal stories and “where we came from” is essential to that story. For young children, it is difficult to understand great-grandparents and great-great-uncles and who married who and so on and so on…. However, by age 5 they are able to begin learning the long line of ancestors from the Torah. Each week, we begin our preschool Torah study with questions and answers — the children shouting out excitedly!
* Who was the first man? ADAM. Who was his wife? EVE.
* Who were their sons? CAIN AND ABEL. Who was the third son? SETH.
* Ten generations (and we count) later there was a good man in his time … NOAH.
* Ten more generations came the first Jew … ABRAHAM.
* His wife was … SARAH. They had … ISAAC.
* Isaac married … REBECCA. They had … ESAU AND JACOB.
* Jacob married … (trick question) first — LEAH; second — RACHEL.
* Now how do we deal with the handmaiden/concubine question? TWO MORE WIVES — BILHAH AND ZILPAH!
* And Jacob had how many sons? Twelve. How many daughters? One. Can you name them?
Each of our patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — had wives with names! What about the women who were heroines? We even know the name of the first woman, but who is Mrs. Noah? The story of Noah and the ark is one of the most famous for young children with countless books and lots of great songs. But who is Mrs. Noah? A very special midrash tells us that just as Noah had to collect all the animals, Noah’s wife had to collect all the seeds of fruits, vegetables, grains and flowers so that when the ark landed, they could begin again. To enjoy this wonderful story, look for “A Prayer for the Earth” by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso from Jewish Lights Publishing. Then add Mrs. Noah to your list of names. And we must all keep adding to the list of our heroes and each strive to be a hero for the future.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.