are also defining ourselves rather than letting our
oppressors or our oppression define us; we are
liberating ourselves, and ensuring our future.
How will this year’s seder be different from
all others? Who will sit at our seder? What
questions will they ask and what stories will we
tell? As we gather our families and friends
around the table, many of us will be sitting with
children raised in interfaith households and
young adults who have returned from Taglit-Birthright Israel trips to Israel. Those children
and grandchildren may be asking surprisingly
spiritual questions. (A recent study found that
the next generation of Jews is actually more
spiritual than the last and that the children of
intermarriage are the most spiritual of all.) And
Birthright, like the seder itself, is a sipur
experience — a personal journey during which individuals begin to experience Jewish history by
traveling the land and meeting their peers. So
our Birthright returnees may well ask questions
about their history and what ties them to the
What story will we tell them at our seder in
5770, when they ask: What is this service, this
story, to you?
so that our children and grandchildren
will have spiritual options to fill their lives
with light and joy.
In a time of greed and selfishness, our
stories are part of an old — a very old —
tradition of caring for strangers, the poor
and oppressed, the widows and orphans,
the elderly and handicapped.
In a time of forgetfulness, our stories are
part of a living chain of learning and liter-
ature, allowing us to be inheritors of an
ancient and hauntingly beautiful culture.
In a time of anomie and loneliness, we
carry the secret of community building
that provides our children with a sense of
caring and belonging.
In a time of rootlessness and alienation,
our stories are connected to a religious
civilization with a 3,500-year-old history
and an infinite future and the ultimate
responsibility for the betterment of human-
kind in the name of the God whose story
is at the heart of our existence.
● Barry Shrage is president
of the Combined Jewish
Philanthropies of Boston.
In a time that lacks vision and prophecy
and that yearns for meaning, our stories
carry an ancient faith in an ancient God
Our capacity to tell this new story will test our
strength as leaders and storytellers, mothers
and fathers, grandparents and teachers. Much,
though, depends on how we elicit and respond
to questions — to the stories of our children
Restoring the Sacred Story: Can Judaism’s
Master Story Survive the Age of Information?
Amichai Lau-Lavie is the
founder, artistic director, and
executive director of
Storahtelling, an international
organization restoring ancient
stories to new generations.
Ten minutes into the seder, an iPhone beeps. I look up from the Haggadah and there’s Nicky, 15, sitting across from me,
texting away. Her brother, to my right, is busy
with his smartphone, and his wife of four
months, new to the family and new to Judaism,
whispers, a tad too loudly: “Stop tweeting.”
Seder stops. Everyone’s yelling.
This (familiar?) snapshot describes a 2,000-
year-old storytelling ritual and its contemporary
woes. But it’s not just about Passover or the
perils of technology. This snapshot reveals a
crucial challenge facing each and every nation
and culture today, just as it has challenged each
and every previous generation: How do we
make new meaning of our inherited past? Can
humanity’s sacred stories survive the fast evolving modern marketplace of myths and ideas?
The seder, even though it is the most popular Jewish activity, according to the United
Jewish Communities’ National Jewish Population Survey of 2000, is also an example of
how the inherited past of rites, symbols, and
narratives no longer feels personally relevant
for more and more people like Nicky.
But, unknowingly, Nicky was perfectly
playing her part in the seder story, embodying
the fourth child of the Haggadah, the one who
keeps silent, not knowing enough to ask a basic
question. The original authors of the Haggadah
didn’t have to deal with Twitter, but they did
face the challenges of transmitting cultural values. The parable of the four children demonstrates an early pedagogy in which values are
examined through the medium of storytelling.
Each of the four children represents the various