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A PASSING ON DURING THE NIGHT OF PASSING OVER

Miriam Kosman

Seder night is a night where the eyes of the Jewish nation, rest unwaveringly on their children.  The mah nishtana, the rituals that need to be explained, the question and answer format—all put our children at center stage.

It is a night where we stand or fall as a nation. Will we have succeeded in igniting the souls of the next generation? Will they walk away from this night bored and uninspired or excited and passionate about their Judaism? Seder night is a night where our history meets our destiny.

At Nefesh Yehudi, every night is Seder night.  On a daily basis we meet apathy and disinterest in Judaism: Israeli students whose greatest dream is to move to America; students from traditional homes who consider Judaism a collection of lifeless rituals, Jews who have no interest in their Judaism.  And on a daily basis, our goal is to create our destiny, by investing in these students who are the future of the Jewish Nation.

Often, we feel that we are standing at the edge of a waterfall, trying to stop the torrent of water-- thousands of Jews—from falling over the cliff in to Jewish oblivion.

And often, thank G-d, it works.

***

On the last evening of the semester, one of the students asked to speak about her experience in Nefesh Yehudi.  Her name is Maya H. and she is studying psychology at Tel Aviv University.

"There is a story in our family that I have heard since I was a small child. It is a story that my parents tell us every year, and as a child I always loved hearing it, and it always made me cry.  But lately, I find myself questioning the story.

"What made my great-grand mother act as she did? Did she do the right thing?  If I was in her position would I act the same way?  Maybe she had no right to risk her own life and the lives of her children---and as a matter of fact—my very existence?

"After this semester of intensive Jewish studies at Nefesh Yehudi, I feel like I have some answers. Instead of being a story about my past, I feel like this is a story about my future.

"My grandmother came from a tiny, little village in Romania. There were very few Jews in the village, and the relations between them and the gentiles were excellent.  The gentiles decided that come what may, they would protect their Jewish neighbors and not let on that they were Jewish.

"My great grand father was sent to the front, and my great grandmother was left alone in the village, with her small children.  When the Nazis entered the village, of all the available houses, they chose the house of my great grandparents for their headquarters. They allowed the family to live in one room of the house while they appropriated the rest of the house for themselves.

"Life turned into a mine field.  Every meal, every conversation, every encounter in the hallway, was a disaster waiting to happen.  One small slip of childish prattle could spell death and destruction. One wrong step-- one hint of their Jewishness-- and their whole world would blow up.

"But Pesach was coming.  And her children, the future of the Jewish people, needed to know that they were Jewish. And they needed to know why. Who knows if she would even be alive next Pesach to tell them? Who knows if they weren't the last Jews in the world?  To hold a Seder, literally, under the noses of the Nazis was impossible.

"Not to hold a Seder, for my great-grandmother, was even more impossible.

"My great-grandmother got hold of one small matzo. She woke her children at three o'clock in the morning and they tiptoed down to the dining room.  Speaking in whispers, gesturing at the matzo, she told her children of how we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and how G-d took us out to be His Chosen Nation.

"No one in my family will ever forget the next part of the story.

"There was a noise in the hallway. My grandmother tells us of how their hearts dropped like bowling balls into their boots,  how their breathing  stopped, how their hands turned to ice, and how three Nazis pushed open the door of the dining room, and found the family sitting around the table.  She tells us of how my great- grand mother, to their utter relief, managed to laugh lightly and how she explained to the Nazis that her children had fallen asleep early without supper and how they had woken up in the middle of the night crying for food, so she had come down to prepare a meal for them.

"The rest of the Seder was celebrated silently in their hearts, as their unusual guests joined in the midnight snack with gusto, while my great grandmother kept a trembling hand, over the small matzo that was hiding under the table cloth.

"That is the story.  As I told you, it is a story that I have questioned in recent years.

"And yet, after this semester, studying Judaism, I am beginning to understand what they risked their lives for. Being Jewish is not just a small detail on my identity card.   Its richness is both my past and my future.  My great grandmother handed the torch to my grandmother, who handed it to me. "I realize this story is not really about my grandmother. It is about me and my children and my own grandchildren."

To paraphrase Maya: Nefesh Yehudi is about the children and grandchildren of the Jewish Nation.

©Miriam Kosman
A LETTER FROM PESACH SHEFER

Dean of Students, Ort Braude College

Shalom,

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