A Passover story for my three-year-old
by Sachi Feris
There was once a little baby boy named Moses. Moses was Jewish and he lived in Egypt where the king, who was called the Pharaoh, did not like Jewish babies. So Moses’ mother wrapped him up and put him in a small basket and placed it in the river where she knew the princess (the Pharaoh’s daughter) would see it floating down the river. The princess saved Moses and adopted him as her son, protecting him from the Pharaoh.
Years later, Moses grew up and figured out that he was Jewish. He learned that his people were still being treated badly—the Jewish people were slaves and didn’t have freedom. So Moses went to someone he called God and asked for help. (Side note for my daughter: Mami and Papi don’t believe in God—but some people believe in God, and other people don’t.) God sent ten plagues to the Egyptian people, things like insects, and darkness, and other ugly and scary things—until finally, after the tenth plague, the Pharaoh said, “Okay, okay, the Jewish people can go free.” (Side note for my daughter: These plagues hurt many Egyptian people who were not hurting the Jewish people—which is very sad.)
The Jewish people celebrated but they didn’t want the Pharaoh to change his mind, so they packed up all their things and left Egypt to find a new home. They needed to bring food so they didn’t go hungry on their journey—but since they had to leave quickly, they didn’t have enough time for their bread to rise so it became “matzah” which is like a flat piece of bread.
Today, we eat matzah to remind us that the Jewish people were once slaves—and to remind us that there are still people today who are slaves, and/or who do not have the same freedoms that you and I do. So we have to fight for the freedoms of other people so that everyone has the same freedoms. For example, today, people who are Black are treated differently because of the color of their skin and that isn’t fair. And there is a whole movement called Black Lives Matter that is trying to stand up and fight for the freedoms of people who are Black. So as Jewish people, we can stand with people of color (internal and external to the Jewish community), and say “No! That’s not fair.”
In the hours after telling this story to my daughter, she asked me to re-tell it a few times, requesting “the story about baby Moses.” At the beginning of this exchange, I told my daughter that Passover is a Jewish holiday, reminding her of when we lit Chanukah candles and that I am Jewish. This led to an interesting confirmation of her identity:
“And I’m Jewish, too?” she asked. I affirmed.
“And Papi, too?”
“No,” I told her, “Papi isn’t Jewish. I’m Jewish and you are Jewish, but Papi isn’t. Just like how Papi is Argentine and you are Argentine, but Mami’s not.”
In one of these follow ups, in talking about fighting for the freedoms of other people (who aren’t Jewish), she offered up, “Like Papi!”
“Sure,” I played along. “For example, what if someone decided to treat all people who are tall like Papi badly—would that be fair?”
“No,” she replied with serious face.
I’m looking forward to further conversation with my daughter through our Passover seders this week.
Addendum to this year’s Passover story for my now almost five-year-old:
“As a Jewish person, it’s important to me to keep fighting for justice because even though Jewish people are no longer slaves, there are many other groups of people–like Muslims and people with Brown skin–who are treated unfairly. So Passover is a time to think about all the different people who need justice and how we can use our voices to demand justice for all people.”
For more information on bringing social justice values to your Passover seder, please see these Haggadahs from Jew for Economic and Racial Justice: Racial Justice Haggadah and Black Lives Matter supplement as well as the Liberatory Passover Haggadah from the Jewish Voice for Peace.
Sachi Feris is a blogger at Raising Race Conscious Children, an online a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. Sachi also co-facilitates interactive workshops/webinars on how to talk about race with young children. Sachi currently teaches Spanish to Kindergarten and 1st grade at an independent school in Brooklyn.