Celebrating A Family Festival

Learn from the Four Sons in the Haggadah, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

The family that celebrates together, stays together. The author with her brothers and parents: Avi, Ilan, Jackie, Leah and David Scher.  

I once read a short anecdote about a man who was checking into a hotel. As he was filling out his registration card, a friendly man came up to him and asked the typical travel question, “Are you here for business or pleasure?”

The man responded, “Business.”

So the friendly man asked, “What business are you in?”

And the man responded, “The same business as you — the people business.”

If you think about it, we’re all in “the people business” — at home, school and everywhere in between. Your ability to interact, engage, persuade and get to know others determines the extent of your influence. If we allow it, influence has power and incredible impact on ourselves and on those around us.

Pesach is a great time to start influencing friends and family in Jewish ways. Everyone is together at the traditional seder. If your family gathering is anything like mine, it’s a pretty diverse event.

“My Pesach experience would definitely be different if my family didn’t have it with yours because the diversity of our family and getting to see it in a more Orthodox light helps me connect to my Jewish roots more and be thankful for the opportunities we have now,” my cousin Emily Nassir, a senior in high school from Great Neck, wrote to me in an e-mail.

In the Haggadah we read about the Four Sons and the unique ways each one should be taught. Interestingly, we can look at the four sons as the four generations of Jews in America.

The first generation is the Eastern European Jews who immigrated to America at the turn of the 20th century. They, like the wise son, grew up with strong Jewish roots. It would have been inconceivable to many of these people to work on Shabbat. They knew why Judaism was important, and their commitment was unbreakable.

Their children, the second generation, are likened to the wicked son. Not that they were evil, but the first generation considered them rebellious. Members of the second generation wanted to succeed in their new life and adopted Western values. Although they grew up in homes with strong Jewish values, they lived an integrated life. Some stayed true to their Jewish roots, while others rebelled and assimilated.

The generation after them is reflected in the simple son. The simple son spent seder nights at his grandparents’ table, picked up specks of Jewish knowledge from Hebrew school or yeshiva, but he doesn’t know the real meaning behind all the rituals and is not motivated to look beyond what he sees.

This generation may be represented by our parents or sometimes even the more observant teens of today. They grew up in a Jewish environment and perform Jewish rituals by rote but may not necessarily understand the reasons behind our customs or feel as Jewishly inspired as the previous generation.

Next, the fourth generation resembles the son who does not know how to ask. They barely have any memories of their grandparents’ traditions, they celebrate American holidays and have no connection with Judaism. This generation is like today’s Jewish teens who have no Jewish friends and associations. They are not connected to Judaism because their parents never grasped the importance of Judaism from the previous generation. The fourth generation sits at the seder and doesn’t know what to ask because the ritual is so foreign. 

Today, a fifth son exists. This is the generation on vacation or out with friends on seder night, not even aware that it is Passover. Although similar to the fourth son, members of this generation are more distant from their roots. They don’t even have the basic foundation or interest in participating in the seder. There’s no possibility of inspiration and becoming curious enough to ask that first question; there are no doors to be opened for them.

For the past six years, our first seder is comprised of my dad’s family, who come from varying levels of Jewish observance. My dad insists that having them at our seder each year has some kind of positive impact on them religiously, even though we might not necessarily see this immediate result.

“Our family seder shows all who attend that Judaism is a vibrant part of daily life, and that great effort is required to obtain great results,” my dad, David Scher, told me. “I believe the retelling of the Pesach miracle is very important, as it reinforces the concept that Jews could have been lost to history had not Hashem redeemed us.”

Every family gathering brings me closer to understanding and connecting with the different levels of observance that exist not only in my family, but throughout the Jewish world.

“I love having Pesach at your house because it brings the family together,” Emily Nassir wrote. “The environment makes me feel both comfortable and excited because our family spreads through all sects of Judaism, and it’s really eye opening and interesting to see how a holiday is observed from the different perspectives of Jews practicing differently. I learn how important it is to be unified as a family.”

Our annual seder reminds me a lot of the four (or five) sons from the Haggadah. I feel that every seder, and family reunion in between, helps return each “lost” generation to their Jewish roots. These gatherings bring my family members closer to each other and to Judaism — to understanding the reasons behind our rituals and to accepting each other for who we are.

When you stand near an overtly more observant Jew, do you ever get this peculiar feeling, that you feel somewhat smaller or maybe even judged in a kind of way? Perhaps it seems like the more Orthodox Jews are less accepting of people from different levels of observance. But there’s a quick fix to this, and it’s right in our hands: the power of influence.

I’m positive my extended family’s participation in our seder has some kind of influence on their faith and character, as well as on mine and my family’s. There’s no room for hopelessness in Jewish life and we should never give up on someone who may seem to be a lost cause because in the end every influence — no matter how seemingly negligible — can have a great impact.

We’re all in the people business. In the end, it’s our influential powers that will inspire those third, fourth, and fifth sons.

author's bio: 
Leah Scher is a sophomore at the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County in Long Island.