August 22, 2019

Table for Teens: Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?

Hannah Poltorak
Shalhevet High School

As family and friends gather at the white table covered with a layer of thin plastic, they prepare for a long night of being told to think of when they were slaves. The scribbles from the youngest children are held up by proud parents, displaying beautiful artwork drawn in a colorful kindergarten classroom. The teenagers talk and fidget among themselves, counting down the minutes until they get to eat. The fathers and mothers talk about politics, domestic and abroad. Others chatter quietly, then the “head of the house,” whoever it might be, begins to read the script. This seems ordinary. People sitting at a long table together, recalling their history. The unique thing about this night is, wherever you come from, it is the same story. This is the same story that has been told from generation to generation. In the 1500s and during the Holocaust, there was always some way of retelling this story. Now, this might not be your family dinner. You might go straight to the meal or talk all night and wait for dawn to begin your meal. The main focus of this one night is not to focus on whether or not you and your family eat corn. The purpose of this night, I believe, is to put away our differences, along with our chametz. This is a night separate from communal or social controversy. We embrace and enjoy sharing the unique story of all Jewish people — this one, single story.

Eli Adler

The Mah Nishtanah asks why we recline at the seder, and the haggadah’s answer is that we are celebrating our freedom.

The inherent casualness of reclining at a formal seder creates an especially comfortable and relaxed feeling. This Passover, however, is different. The looseness symbolized by our reclining must not serve as an excuse for us to become complacent, even for a short time.

The Book of Exodus tells the story of the Israelites playing an active role to achieve a long-held goal — to leave Egypt. In the spirit of the Book of Exodus, we must remember how important it is for us to take control. Seeing 14 innocent students our age gunned down last month hurt us all. However, students across the country mobilized. Young visionary leaders arose. We made it clear that we want to be heard.

After participating in the March for Our Lives rally last weekend in Washington, D.C., I realized that, on this Passover especially, we must not sit back. Young people like us are driving a national conversation right now; we are the faces of a movement. We have the chance to cement change that will last for generations to come. Thus, on this night, while we will all recline at our seder tables, we must not use that as an excuse to just rest. Instead, this is our chance to rise, be leaders and honor the commandment of tikkun olam to help repair our world.

Jesse Miller
Polytechnic School

Every year on the first night of Passover, my mother, the matriarch of my household, leads us in the prayers and traditions of the seder. From the beginning, my mother wanted to forge her own relationship with the holiday. She built her own seder books to reflect the values she felt were important to Passover. Key to those pages was a deep understanding of what freedom meant and means to the Jewish people as well as a scientific understanding of how the story came to be. For instance, when reading the plagues on the first night, we always read an accompanying justification for each natural event. This is not to disprove the actions of God, but to frame God’s actions within the scientific order of nature. And as my sister and I have grown up, we have contributed to forming the tradition of the first seder. Incorporating my own values, I introduced a vegan menu for our Passovers. As I grew into a Zionist and Jewishly concerned adult, I have sought to adjust our prayers and traditions to reflect my belief that freedom from slavery and pilgrimage to the land of Canaan means that Jews have a right (to some extent) to a Jewish democracy in the land of Israel. In our home, the first night of Passover is different from all other nights because, on the first night, everyone at the table has an equal stake in establishing our tradition.

Ari Willner
YULA Boys High School

The Talmud (Pesachim 116a) states that a child should ask adults the Four Questions at the seder. If there is no child, an adult should ask. If one is alone at the seder, one should still ask the questions of the Mah Nishtanah. Why is there such an emphasis on asking questions?

George Orwell’s “1984” tells the story of Winston, a man struggling to free himself from a tyrannical society. The police capture Winston and brainwash him to accept false, unquestionable truths dictated by the Ministry of Truth’s slogan: “… freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” Winston becomes enslaved to ideas of tyranny — his freedom to doubt squashed.

The ability to ask questions is the underlying concept of the entire seder. According to Rav Yosef Rimon, the seder night is different from all other nights, not because we abstain from eating chametz or because we recline and tell the Pesach story, rather it is different because of our ability to change. By sincerely seeking true answers, we open our minds to different perspectives that we never could have thought of on our own because we are clouded by our underlying biases. That is why one must ask the Mah Nishtanah even if no one else is present: It demonstrates one’s freedom and ability to change.

The seder night has the potential to change us from “slaves” to “free people.” We must ask questions to free ourselves from the bonds of our biases and elevate our minds with ideas from multiple perspectives.

Leah Alkin
Palisades Charter High School

What is different about this one night from the 364 others? Sure, the maror, charoset and afikomen are all variances to every other night. But as my family, friends and I make our way through the seder, it is not those special foods or my aunt’s classic matzo ball soup, or my mom’s famous brisket that makes this night different for me. Rather, four words spoken at the end of the evening make this night different: “Next year in Jerusalem.”

I’ve read it over and over again, not entirely comprehending its weight. This phrase, added to the Passover haggadah during the Middle Ages, reminds us of the importance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people. Over the years, as I have become increasingly aware of the happenings in my homeland, these four words have become more meaningful to me.

One can look at it and think about literally boarding a nonstop El Al flight to Ben Gurion Airport, but personally, I believe it has a more symbolic meaning. When President Donald Trump announced his decision to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it was a monumental step toward the acknowledgment of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. Just like in the Passover story, today, Israel represents freedom for Jews around the world. The right to determine Jerusalem as the Jewish capital represents the pinnacle of freedom. That is what makes this night different to me.