Happy Passover everyone! Yesterday I went to an early Passover celebration at my friend's house. Her and her husband hosted a feminist seder inspired by The Wandering is Over Haggadah, a modern take on the text and traditions read and performed on Passover. The Wandering is Over Haggadah honors the role of women in Judaism and questions patriarchal norms. While I've been to a few seders before (with all of them very different from each other), there was something that especially caught me by surprise last night: there was an oral history component. The open-source modified Haggadah text my friend downloaded had this on its eighth page:
Oral history is an important tool for transmitting one generation's experiences, memories, and dreams to the next. During the Maggid portion of the seder, traditionally the youngest person present asks four questions about the rituals of Passover. By asking these questions and retelling the story of the Israelites' liberation from Egypt, Jews have ensured that the traditions and history of our people have been preserved for thousands of years.
Just as the Jews as a nation have a story to be told, so too does every community, family, and individual. The seder is a time to gather, celebrate, and remember. What stories do we at this table have to tell? Is there a tale of liberation or a memory for us to share tonight? What lessons can these stories teach us?
I started to wonder if there are any oral history traditions in my culture(s) and I couldn't really think of any days or events that were specifically reserved for asking your elders questions about the past. But I think the whole point of observance and tradition in general--whether it's Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or just another night at the family dinner table--is that it can be used as a time to remember and reflect, and it's really up to us to recognize the special meaning behind that. Oral history is just a new name for an idea that has existed since conversation. I just hope the more we can flesh out and identify that idea, the more we can appreciate the value of its persistent existence.