Each Pesach for nearly 60 years, my family in the UK has gathered at the same home for Seder. The same hosts, the same guests (new spouses, children, and friends are, of course, warmly welcomed), the same story. Sadly, one of our hosts recently passed away, and her husband is in declining health. My family, however, is still gathering in their home, determined to uphold this tradition. It will be a very different night, but the longstanding participants are committed to telling the Haggadah story, our story, in a familiar atmosphere. Yes, things have changed—in some way everything has changed—but the sense of connection, continuity, and family community softens the blow of this new reality.
Just as we are ending the Maggid section of the Hagaddah, we recite the famous requirement that “in every generation, each person is obligated to see himself or herself as though he or she personally came forth from Egypt.” The prooftext for this is Shemot (Exodus) 13:8 “And you shall tell your child on that day, saying, ‘Because of this, the Lord did [this] for me when I went out of Egypt.’” The phrase V’higadita L’vincha (tell your child) is the verse that gives us the name for our Seder text, the Haggadah (literally, the telling). The rabbis convey here that the act of telling the story of Yetziat Mitzraim (Exodus) is akin to re-living it. The obligation is to see oneself as a refugee, and the only way we can do that, especially within the gratefully warm settings of our homes, is through a communal storytelling experience.
The Jewish day school calendar follows a rhythm that is in tune with the cycle of holidays, and it is around Pesach that we start to feel the end of the school year in sight. Some of us are thinking about what story we will tell about this year for our school, our classroom, a particular student or two, ourselves. As we anticipate the end of school, we are already reliving the first days. For Prizmah, in our first year, we are also thinking about the story we tell and the power of that story, especially as it has the potential to transform the day school landscape.
The Prizmah vision is a thriving, passionate, engaged, and committed Jewish community—nurtured by Jewish day schools, for generations to come. Ensuring that day schools are a strong part of the narrative of the North American Jewish community is important for our community to become even more vibrant. We tell the story of Jewish day schools in order to keep alive Jewish life for the next generation. And this happens every day in every school.
Prizmah’s story in our first year pivots on the power of being together. At our Conference in Chicago, a team of graphic artists help “tell our story” with over 1,000 contributors. When recent security threats affected dozens of schools, Prizmah created opportunities for school professionals and lay leaders to access expertise, obtain information and training materials, and, perhaps most importantly, share, support, and learn from each other. By coming together, school leaders brought back to their schools best practices on topics such as evacuation drills, parent communication, and emergency procedures. Through vehicles like the Prizmah newsletter, we will continue to create and publicize opportunities for the day school field to learn from experts, gain cutting-edge information, and network with peers. Sharing our stories and learning from each other creates transformative potential.
The Seder table provides a dramatic setting for re-enacting the transition from slavery to freedom. For my family in London, gathering each year is a way to stay together and honor those from previous generations who are no longer present. Our rituals are meant to help each participant access the core story through a variety of sensory experiences, process it through collaborative dialogue and the words of trusted leaders, and reflect upon it in the comfort of family and close friends. Our aim for Prizmah is parallel to this in many ways. We invite you to our virtual year-round Seder table and to enliven your own with the joy and wisdom that comes from true freedom.