At its heart, the Passover story is about a journey: from slavery to freedom, from degradation to redemption, from subjugation to sovereignty, from a collection of tribes to a nation.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggests that "the journey" is a central metaphor of Jewish life. We've been on the move since Abraham left Ur. It's nearly a century since my grandparents, like so many "wandering Jews" before and since, embarked on the journeys of their lives.
As they sailed through the Statue of Liberty's harbor of hopes and dreams, they did not know what awaited them here in the new world, where the streets, they imagined, were paved with gold. Leaving behind the pain and sadness they would forever equate with the land of their birth, they, like the tribes of Israel, whose journey we celebrate each Passover, chose the unseen wilderness over an all-too-familiar Egypt.
My parents' generation had had enough of wandering - it was stability they sought. Still recovering from the Holocaust, the Jewish world I was born into was all about continuity. Each demographic survey accompanied the whispered oath to not grant Hitler any posthumous victories.
For the generation that followed, Hitler and Stalin were a distant memory. Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman says the "Age of Continuity" gave way to the "Age of Fractured Identity." Continuity for its own sake? For what purpose, to what end?
At Jewish LearningWorks we've been spending a great deal of time with young families, including families who have not joined synagogues and have not sent their children to Jewish schools. Continuity does not seem to drive them to engage in Jewish life and learning. Something else does.
Many seek community. They desire to be part of something larger than themselves, and to be in relationship with others with common interests.
Some seek meaning - a deeper sense of purpose.
And they seek the opportunity for their children to learn what it means to be a Jew, part of the Jewish people.
What these families have in common, with each other and with the rest of us, is that they (and we) are all on a journey. The Age of Continuity has given way to the Age of Exploration. Spiritually and intellectually, our people are, once again, on the move.
During Passover we commemorate a COLLECTIVE journey. We escaped slavery, crossed the Red Sea, wandered in the desert, and eventually entered the land together.
This is, in essence, what many young families seek - to embark on their Jewish journeys along with others. They want to own their journey, on their terms. And, it may look quite different than the journeys of those who came before them.
Our task as Jewish educators is to empower them to continue their Jewish journeys - equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to make the journey their own.
The discontinuity the demographers see is real and it may appear as if the Jewish people are headed for oblivion. I know that feeling - each year at our Seder table, we arrive at the banks of the Red Sea, the Egyptian Army in hot pursuit. And we feel what the children of Israel must have surely felt - destruction was imminent. And then, the Sea parts, and we realize that what seemed like disaster is, instead, another step in our Jewish journey.