Who am I? Can I conceal myself for evermore? Pretend I'm not the man I was before? -- Les Miserables
In the past couple of weeks there has been a confluence of events where my past came shooting back into my life. It started with an email from Perry -– the younger of two boys who grew up across the street from us in a very Jewish neighborhood in Toronto. Like many, he found me online. He was always a good hockey player and athlete, which has served him well as he has gone on to be a well-known sports writer up in Canada.
Not long ago I was asked helping a friend who was officiating at a wedding. Turns out the bride's mom was Judi, my second cousin from a part of our family that we had little contact with. There was lots of Jewish geography to be had, and I found out that Judy's ex-husband ended up marrying the sister of my good friend from junior high school days, Joel –- another guy I have not seen nor heard of for over 30 years.
And then just a few days ago, Carey facebooked me. I've always wanted to get in touch with Carey and ask for forgiveness for making his childhood miserable by dubbing him cabbage-head. On one occasion he had the gall to retaliate and called me carrot-top, so I beat him up. This lead to his mother calling mine, and they became friends.
With Passover just around the corner, the timing of all these past personalities popping up in my life is very appropriate. On Passover we not only recall the past but we are asked to relive it. We are not to just remember the slavery and redemption of the Jewish people, but as the Haggadah points out, we are told that we must try to experience it once again.
"In each and every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he personally had come out of Egypt."
Passover reminds us that not only can't you escape your past but you have to cherish it too. No matter how hard you try or how far you run, your history is with you. It's not only with you –- it is you. You are a product of the layers of all of the years and events that have been part of your life. This is true both on a personal and on a national level.
That's why it's so important for Jews who have little connection to their heritage to discover the glory and greatness of our past. Through knowing how the Jewish people contributed so much to civilizations and defined them, all while our hands were tied behind our backs, one cannot help but want to learn what the secret is to this tremendous phenomenon. Our history is inextricably linked to our Torah and to the broad spectrum of Jewish wisdom.
Last week my oldest daughter, Atara, called me from the airport in Israel. She is spending the year studying in Jerusalem (well not exactly because every time I speak with her she is on a bus coming or going to somewhere else in Israel). Her school had just returned from their trip to Poland where they visited death camps, synagogues and Jewish towns that are no longer. We talked about it and she kept asking how Zeida (my father) could have survived such hell. Her questions, her energy, the new level of appreciation apparent in her voice -– it became obvious to me that the trip had given her a whole new understanding of who she is and from whence she comes.
This is what we are trying to accomplish on Passover and on the Seder night. To once again give ourselves, our family and our guests the opportunity to understand who the Jewish people really are, where we have come from, how far we have come, and to appreciate that despite all the slavery, all the hardship and all the pain, we are the most God-blessed people on earth.
My soul belongs to God, I know I made that bargain long ago, He gave me hope when hope was gone, He gave me strength to journey on, Who am I? Who am I?