By Lesley Machon
(Calgary) – Rituals of togetherness are powerful because they connect those who gather in one space, but they also connect people across time. For generations, Jewish families have come together on the first night of Passover to recount G-d’s deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, thousands of years ago.
Students at the Calgary Jewish Academy are preparing for this celebration through art, story, and practicing the ritual of Passover. The younger students (nursery to kindergarten) are making painted origami frogs, as they learn about the plague, as well as Afikomen bags, seder plates, cups for Eliyahu, and matzah covers. Their creations are focused on making the table beautiful because Passover – Chag HaAviv (the springtime holiday) – marks the beginning of the spring season. This is a time to celebrate renewal, regeneration, and new beginnings.
Young students are learning to tell the story of Passover in an interactive way, through story sticks and theatre. Story-telling is how little minds make sense of the world, and being able to track a tradition’s narrative is an important part of meaningful celebration. Art and stories are the scaffolding that supports culture, enabling us to pass traditions from one generation to the next, and connect shared experiences as a community. Perhaps, especially in recent years, it’s helpful for the kids to understand what a plague is and how it changes your life, as well as to experience community and togetherness as we move through these trials.
After much anticipation and preparation, the children will attend a model seder. Tiny hands will lay their creations out on the table, and small, enthusiastic voices will sing and pray together before enjoying matzah on handmade plates.
Each grade from 1-9 will learn the story of Exodus, prepare key parts of the seder, and learn how to carry out this sacred ceremony. This includes reciting blessings and narrating the feast. The Four Questions distinguish this night from all other nights; the Four Children make us aware of different ways to approach the celebration; and the Ten Plagues bring our attention to suffering. This last element will be accompanied by a moment of reflection for the many contemporary plagues we face, such as war, hatred, and illness.
Through this process of preparing for and learning to conduct a seder, students are readying themselves to participate in their own family’s seder. As the expression goes, “in every generation we must feel as if we too were slaves in Egypt.” These cultural traditions and ceremonies are an important part of identity and belonging, and bond us together across time and place.
As recent B’nai Mitzvot, and our oldest student group, the Grade 9’s are leading the school’s model seder. The celebration will again be in a virtual format, and will help them cultivate leadership skills such as organization, delegation, and communication. At CJA, we focus on making learning tangible and experiential whenever possible. These opportunities are an important part of helping students gain confidence and embrace their roles as key contributors to their family and school environments. This helps students acknowledge their maturity, and accept greater responsibility for their communities and their lives.
The staff and teachers at CJA believe in the power of Passover as a symbol for freedom and social responsibility. By embracing one another as members of a unified body, we forge deeper connections with our shared roots, our ancestors, our spiritual selves and each other. These moments of connection and meaning equip us to navigate challenges in the world, knowing we belong together.
CJA wishes everyone a Chag Pesach Kasher V’Sameach!