>I was born in England, the same country as only one of my grandparents. All four of my grandparents were born in different countries with different experiences. My mother’s mother was born in Romania, to a very Zionist family, who moved to Israel while she was still a very young baby. My mother’s father was born in Israel, after his family had made aliyah from Austria. My father’s mother was born in Germany, leaving there after Kristallnacht and moving to England, to stay in one of the WLS hostels. My father’s father was born in England – just like me.
The geography of the Jewish community has changed significantly in the last 150 years. Our centres have shifted from Europe to America and Israel. I am sure that I am not unique amongst my generation in having four grandparents born in four different countries. We Jews have always been travellers, moving cities and countries at regular intervals.
‘My father was a wandering Aramean, who went down to Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 26:5). In this week’s Torah portion, as we stand on the brink of settling the land of Israel, we are given instructions about what to do when we enter the land. We are instructed to bring our first fruits to the Priests (Deuteronomy 26:2-3), and then we are told to recite the line about our Aramean ancestry.
We say this line for ourselves, to remember where we came from, but we are also instructed: ‘you shall recite if before Adonai your God’ (Deuteronomy 26:5). God, who has witnessed our story, also stands as a witness to our remembrance of our history. It is important that we know our own story, but it is also important that we share it.
‘My father was a wandering Aramean…’ may sound familiar because we recite it annually at our Passover Seder. This passage, originally intended to be recited when entering the Land of Israel, was moved into the liturgy of Passover. It was considered so important that it was included and recited on an annual basis.
Passover is an annual opportunity to remember our people’s story. One of the main elements of the Seder is the education of our children; it is structured as an interactive lesson about our experiences in Egypt and beyond. Through the Seder we all learn about our people’s story, how we were slaves in Egypt and how God freed us; leading us towards the Promised Land.
Through the Seder we learn our collective Jewish story. Perhaps we should also introduce a separate family Seder for grandparents and others, to share our family stories and history. Ideally it will be interactive and engaging; but most importantly it will be personal and real, providing a tangible connection to our own family histories. We know that our father was a wandering Aramean, but we also need to know about our grandparents and where our individual families come from.
I would like to be able to share stories with my children, about their great grandmother who was born in Romania and moved to Israel, about their great grandfather born in the pre-State land of Israel, about a great grandmother who fled from Germany, and about a great grandfather born in England, just like me. I will have a responsibility to educate my children through the Passover Seder about our people’s history. But through a family Seder I will also have a responsibility to educate them about their great grandparents, and our family.