We recently celebrated Passover when we gathered in our homes with family and friends to remember the story of our Exodus from Egypt and read the Haggadah at the seder table. Haggadah means “the telling” based on the verse, “You shall tell your son on that day (Exodus 13:8). With its reading, we fulfil the biblical obligation of relating the Exodus story to our children. Passover is a holiday that truly revolves around the Jewish home, the Jewish family, and the duty of parents to pass on our history, culture and tradition to the next generation.
Jewish life comprises two components: the Jewish community and the Jewish home.
Jewish community life includes the synagogue experience, Jewish schooling, Jewish summer camps and the like. These are experiences that allow us to connect with our local and global Jewish community.
The second component, the Jewish home, is where a family experiences Judaism together, where Jewish values are strengthened and where a strong Jewish identity is fostered.
Although both components are essential, the Jewish home has always been the primary source where the Jewish family was fortified and where our connection to and enthusiasm for Judaism was nurtured.
It is in the home where parents instruct their children on how to keep kosher. It is in the home where parents teach children to kiss the mezuzah, recite blessings, place coins in a charity box and pass on Jewish tradition and values. It is in the home where families take one day out of each week to celebrate Shabbat together. It is in the home where Jewish holidays like Passover are celebrated. Whereas the focal point of many religions is their places of worship, the heartbeat of Judaism is in the home.
Many will tell you that the secret to Jewish survival is what happens in the Jewish home. Judaism holds the Jewish home and the purity of the Jewish family in great esteem, even greater than that of the place of worship. An illustration of this in Jewish law can be seen from the precedence that building of a mikvah (ritual bath) has over maintaining a synagogue. A community of limited financial resources is required to sell its synagogue building or Torah scroll in order to raise funds to build a mikvah. While the synagogue represents the community, the mikvah is a symbol of the family and the Jewish home.
The discussion continues as to whether synagogues are doing enough to attract young families and provide experiences for parents and their children on Shabbat morning. However, allow me to suggest that, along with the community component, we need to call attention to the Jewish home component. Doing something different in the home as a family on Friday night or Saturday in honour of Shabbat will have a lasting impact on the children. While it is true that a shul has to be more than just a place of worship, it is also true that the home has to be more than just the place in which we live. Let us bring the Jewish home and family spirit of Passover with us into the rest of the year. Let us allow our homes be permeated with Jewish experiences. For the Jewish home is where a strong Jewish identity is formed.