I have a friend named Mark. He was actually my first friend in this world. We met in kindergarten…46 years ago.
Mark was special and everybody knew it. Tall, bright, studious, witty, athletic, and well-mannered without being nerdy -- which was a big deal then, since this was the 50's and pretty much everyone was nerdy. If kindergarten would have had yearbooks, Mark would have been selected many times over in the "most likely to…" categories.
And so it was. Excelling in just about everything, Mark eventually chose law and climbed his way to the top in seemingly effortless fashion. No one blinked when, soon after graduation, Mark landed a top position as a litigator in a world class Manhattan law firm. He had married, had children and was now making "a few bucks."
All seemed well…until one Passover. Mark was sitting at the Seder with his immediate family, some less-immediate relatives and several guests. And not unlike many a Seder experience, the afikomen tradition was again a hallmark of the evening's majesty and spiritual glory. Adhering to the time-honored custom, Mark's children "stole" the broken piece of matzoh from right under their father's nose and then refused to return it unless he granted them their most special wish. The preparation, the act of larceny itself, and the ensuing, most-contrived investigation kept the children involved, energized, and most importantly, awake for the long night's service and unforgettable grandeur.
A hush descended upon the shimmering dining room as Alex, age 7, approached his father for the revered annual afikomen negotiation.
"What would he ask for this year," everyone wondered? "A two-wheeler? A first baseman's mitt? Perhaps dinner at a semi-fancy eatery?"
It was anyone's guess. All eyes were fixed upon the angelic youngster. You could see his exuberance dripping from every expressive feature he possessed. Mark steadied his long arm around Alex's tiny waist and looked lovingly into his soft eyes.
"Tell me, Alex, what is your wish?"
Alex returned his father's gaze and swallowed twice. The old grandfather clock ticked louder than ever before. He blinked a few times and then spoke. His voice quivered ever so gently.
"I have two wishes," he announced with increasing resolve. "First of all, I want the Moshiach to come."
The guests laughed quietly. Mark smiled.
"I share your wish, Alex. I really do. Now tell me your second request."
Alex looked down and swallowed again. He seemed awkward and tense…almost afraid. His voice dropped, but he got the words out.
"I wish so much that your office would burn down."
No one spoke. The collective gasp was inaudible, yet shattering. Eyes darted to every stimulus in the room. A cousin cleared his throat. Someone poured an unnecessary glass of grape juice. And Mark slowly slipped his arm from Alex's waist as shiny tear balloons crowded Alex's huge eyes.
Mark excused himself and retreated to the den. He understood the request. He understood very well. It had been four years since he first took the position. The hours were long…very long, at first. 7:30 A.M. to 11 P.M. was not an unusual occurrence. But that would stop, he knew. They told him so! And his wife -- she understood too. It was the price they had to pay. But the long days never ended. Perhaps they never would. And meanwhile, the years were slipping away. And Alex just couldn't stand it anymore.
Most of us do not work 15 – 16 hours a day, although most mothers do. And few of us have an expressive child like Alex to shock us into sanity. But the kids around us -- be they our own, our nephews and nieces, or those in our neighborhoods -- have had a pretty tough year. Threats from al-Queda ring in their fearful little minds. Snipers appear in their dreams. Gas masks replace lunch boxes. Unemployed fathers snap at the slightest provocation. Green, yellow, orange, and red are no longer playful colors -- they are frightening codes.
- Who will comfort them?
- When will we soothe their increasingly fragile psyches?
- How will they rebound from near-constant terror and develop to their full and secure potential?
In response to the collective concerns of American citizens, The United States Congress, this year, created an entirely new division within the Federal government known as the Department of Homeland Security. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been allocated to help Tom Ridge and his staff ensure our safety and security.
But our fears, somehow remain. And our children still feel exposed and in danger.
The Jewish People are no strangers to this frightening phenomenon. Indeed, it has been part and parcel of our every day frail existence for thousands of years. Even the Haggadah, read at the Seder when we celebrate our most dramatic emancipation, reminds us that, "In each and every generation there are those who hover over us to annihilate us."
But the sentence that follows reminds us of the comforting reality. "The Almighty continues to save us from their hands."
Perhaps Passover can be dedicated as the occasion to make our kids feel safer. After all, this is the holiday that highlights the significance of transmitting every miraculous detail of our flight to freedom -- to our children. This is the festival that underscores the generational bonds that have kept our People vibrant and our traditions meaningful. The entire Seder, in fact, is predicated on a process of questions and answers, of story-telling, of capturing the interest of the children, so that they will inquire, understand, and some day, relate the story themselves.
Maybe Passover, then, can become the Homeland Security for the Jewish People, especially the children, with the Seder its main arena.
Give them attention -- undivided. Give them love -- unconditional. Give them time -- unrestrained. And give them hope -- unending.
No matter how long, elaborate, or spiritual your Seder is -- it is certainly a rare and special opportunity. How often during these most hectic times, do we get a chance to gather peacefully, with family and friends, for several hours, and celebrate life?
Why not use the opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to our future -- our children? Give them attention -- undivided. Give them love -- unconditional. Give them time -- unrestrained. And give them hope -- unending. They need it now more than ever. And Passover is the perfect time to do it.
By the way, a few weeks after that impassioned plea, Mark gave notice at the firm. He entered the non-profit sector and today uses his talents to benefit the worldwide Jewish community. He's a leader and a role model for thousands of admirers. His office did not burn down. It was just re-furnished.
Alex is a bona fide Torah scholar -- happily married with children of his own. His second prayer was answered. Now we are hoping for the first.