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To Be Both Slave and Soldier

The slave, the survivor, the soldier. These identities are the layered garments encasing my simultaneous vulnerability and power on Oct. 7 and in its aftermath. 
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April 18, 2024
Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

I know Moshe Frydberg mostly from the stories that my father told me about his father.

He was a Jew who moved from the shtetl to the ghetto to Auschwitz to Holon, Israel to Houston, Texas. Moshe told my father of sneaking scraps from his assigned labor in the kitchen to give to others in the camp. My father passed down this fragment and then added his own memory: of his father, a short, dense man, waking up at the crack of dawn, lifting massive sacks of flour onto his back, using his full body to turn thick dough into challah at his Kosher bakery in Houston.

It was these stories and all their implications that I inherited. As a child at the annual Passover seder, when I played the hunched-over slave leaving Egypt with matzah rising on my back as we sang “Avadim hayinu,” we were slaves, I saw Moshe. When I left home and put on the weighted IDF army vest that curled my shoulders forward, I saw Moshe.

And on Oct. 7, again it was Moshe’s image that surfaced through the shock and horror of that day and those that followed.

The slave, the survivor, the soldier. These identities are the layered garments encasing my simultaneous vulnerability and power on Oct. 7 and in its aftermath. 

Oct. 7 was supposed to be Moshe’s story. Mine was built in reaction to it. When Hamas broke the fence into Israel, they broke my story. And not only my story. This period has broken the personal and collective stories of Jews around the world regarding who we are and what keeps us safe in the face of skyrocketing antisemitism, questions around identity and status, and our own pain and concern over the suffering of war.

At a time when the Jewish people’s shoulders are being pulled to slouch, we will zoom out of our current reality to retell the quintessential Jewish story of freedom. 

It is these stories that we will bring with us to the Passover seder. At a time when the Jewish people’s shoulders are being pulled to slouch, we will zoom out of our current reality to retell the quintessential Jewish story of freedom. In this exercise lies an opportunity to uplift ourselves, our families, and our nation. We can do this by telling an intergenerational family story at this year’s seder.

An Intergenerational Story 

“In each and every generation, a person is obligated to see oneself as if they left Egypt, as it is stated (Exodus 13:8); ‘For the sake of this, did the Lord do [this] for me in my going out of Egypt.’”

The story of Exodus articulates who we are, where we come from, and what we yearn for. It is in this story that we find the rituals, values, and set of priorities that guide us through the present. It is in this story that we place this present within the intergenerational narrative that moves us from the past and into the future.

According to psychologists Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush of Emory University, an intergenerational narrative generates coherence in a crisis, and it’s this narrative which is articulated no more clearly than in the Passover Haggadah.

“How do you create a narrative that somehow is coherent and allows you to use that information in a way that you can continue to have meaning and purpose in your life?” Fivush recently asked and then answered. “The process of making sense of a senseless trauma begins to shape by placing the event as part of a longer history in which you start to understand the longer arc of the narrative.”

Duke continued, “An event, such as the war, the Holocaust, even as far as Egypt. These are all placed in a grand narrative, which is an oscillating narrative.”

Our family stories ground this oscillating narrative, giving particularity to the values, sense of moral clarity, and resilience that accompany every generation’s highs and lows. 

Duke and Fivush’s research shows that individuals who receive this narrative and build subsequent identity around it have a greater ability to pull themselves toward the light when all around them seems dark. By understanding ourselves as a culmination of layered generations, we can hold multiple truths within a resilient Jewish identity, a resilient Jewish people. 

This year, we will weave our experiences and questions from the last six months into the classic Haggadah text. We will then naturally connect them to the stories we were told, and to the traumas and the gifts that we inherited through these stories. We will then be given a choice that is fully our own regarding how we will pass this story on to the next generation on seder night.

Let’s choose to tell a family story articulating the oscillating nature of what it means to be a Jew. A Jew who is a part of a people with a past, a present, and a future. And a people that carries both weight on our shoulders and the strength to push them back.  A people that cares for our own while never wavering on our commitment to alleviate the suffering of others. A people with deep ties and loyalties to diaspora and homeland.

Let’s pass on a story that leaves us desperately yearning for “Next Year in Jerusalem,” along with the belief that we uniquely have the ability to bring it about.


Tracy Frydberg is the director of the Tisch Center for Jewish Dialogue at ANU: Museum of the Jewish People. The Tisch Center in collaboration with Dr. Robyn Fivush and Dr. Marshall Duke developed an intergenerational family seder guide for Jewish parents, grandparents, community leaders, and beyond to build family resilience and practice hope at the upcoming Passover seder.

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