Today is December 14, 2019 -
By Hazzan Michael Krausman
While I prowl the supermarket for Pesach purchases, prepare to shlep boxes of dishes around the house and try to figure out how many chairs we will need for the Seder, I am reminded of one of the most significant and unique facets of our heritage: the focal point for the practice of Judaism is the home, not the synagogue. While it is certainly true that our synagogue serves most effectively as the hub for communal worship, education and support, the most important aspects of Jewish practice take place outside of the walls of the shul, in the Jewish home.
As I alluded to above, Pesach is the prime example of this phenomenon. In fact, the main Mitzvah of Pesach is to transmit the story of our enslavement and subsequent redemption to our children. We fulfill this vital commandment by an experiential re-enactment of the travails of our ancestors through the medium of the Seder. Not only do we transmit our Jewish history to the next generation during the Seder, but the gathering of relatives and the collective experience of traditional foods and rituals affords a golden opportunity for the sharing of the family history and customs that make each individual Seder unique and unforgettable. But even beyond the Seder, the whole preparatory process of taking in different foods, using different dishes and removal of Chametz (leavened products) creates in the home a wonderfully spiritual atmosphere in a particularly Jewish context.
The significance of the Jewish home goes far beyond Pesach. Chanukah with the lighting of the Menorah and Sukkot, with the building of the Sukkah (booth) are two other festivals whose chief observances take place in the home. Moreover, Kashrut (the Jewish dietary laws) adds a special dimension of spirituality to the way our families approach food. Of course, Shabbat — the cornerstone of Jewish practice — is centered on family experiences and observances, the majority of which take place in the Jewish home.
But the importance of the Jewish home is not only limited to rituals. A wise Hazzan once observed that the best way to ensure that the next generation remains firmly connected to Judaism is through effective Jewish education, including Jewish summer camp, and a strong Jewish home.
This goes beyond making sure a Mezuzah hangs on each doorpost. A Jewish home must be replete with Jewish symbols; Judaica must grace the china cabinet and Jewish art should be proudly displayed on the walls. Jewish music should be played, not only on the CD player but also in the context of piano and other music lessons. Jewish history and culture can easily be transmitted in the context of the stories read at bed time. Naturally, Jewish food is a huge part of this equation; not only in terms of eating but also in cooking and baking. Taking time, for example, for family Hamentaschen or Challah baking is a vital part of creating a Jewish home. Even arts and crafts projects can become so much more meaningful when a Jewish theme is employed.
Maintaining an authentic Jewish home is vital for the continuation of our culture and the transmission of our Jewish values and observances to the next generation. The home is not only the focal point for Jewish ethical and ritual practice, but it is the root of meaningful spirituality. As we celebrate the beautiful and evocative festival of Pesach, we should aspire to extend the experience of the Seder beyond Pesach, and to enjoy our freedom to create a Jewish home environment, not only on Shabbat and festivals, but all year round.
On behalf of myself, Laurel, Zev and Zachariah, I would like to extend our best wishes for a Zissen (Sweet) Pesach to all members of the Beth El Mishpocha and their dear ones.