Shadow seder

By Rabbi Tuvia Bolton / From

In New York City there is a program called ‘Released Hour,’ in which any child who wants to can get released from public school once a week one hour early, and go to participate in a class about his religion with a priest or a Rabbi, etc.

Azriel Wasserman, Nechama Laber’s father, was a very gifted and devoted teacher in a variety of Jewish educational institutions, and he was one of the volunteers that gave such classes in the 1970s.  He loved teaching and his once-a-week pupils, who were, for the most part, from totally non-observant homes, loved him.

The session before Passover he met with his class and he made a ‘practice’ Seder for them; Kool-aid and crackers were in the place of wine and matzot, and the kids and he really enjoyed it. The next time he met with his class was the following week, in the ‘intermediate days’ of the holiday after the Seder night, and he noticed that two of the pupils, two little girls, kept falling asleep in class.

He asked them several times if they felt alright, and they answered each time that it was nothing. Finally, they hinted that they wanted to speak with him privately after the class.

“Please don’t tell anyone what we are telling you now,” the older sister begged after all the other children left.

“We have to tell you, though. Do you promise that you won’t tell?”

While she was speaking, her younger sister was watching her, but now both of them were looking up at him with wide eyes. He stared at them for a few seconds. Then he nodded and said, “I promise.”

The girls looked at each other one more time and the older one began the story, while her little sister alternately looked at her and then at the teacher.

“Last week you made for us a Model Seder.  Well, if you remember, my sister asked you why are we doing all this and eating all these different things, and you said because that is what G-d wants.  You also said it is to remind us how G-d is very very good because He took us out of Egypt, right?”

He nodded his head in agreement.

“So, that day we went home and told our mother what you said, and that we want to make a Seder the night of Passover just like you showed us. And guess what? Mom sort of liked the idea.”

“But our father didn’t. Dad is not Jewish, so when we asked him he got really mad and said no. When I asked him why, he got even madder and said that if we even talk about it again he would give us a spanking.”

“Then he went over to Mommy and started loudly yelling at her because he thought that she told us to ask. He said other very angry things and we got real scared.”

“But afterwards my sister and I talked alone, and we decided that if G-d said to do it, we are going to do it. So we figured out a plan. We took money from our animal banks and on the way back from school we went to the store. We bought two bottles of grape juice one day, and the next day we bought a box of matzas and the day after we took some lettuce from the refrigerator. We hid everything in the basement.”

“Then, on the night of Passover, instead of going to sleep we just pretended to be asleep.  After Mom and Dad were really asleep and it was already around one in the morning, we got out of bed, lit a flashlight, and snuck down the stairs into the basement. We were really scared because the stairs are creaky, and we were afraid that Dad would wake up.”

“Also in the basement it’s really dark and scary–we even saw a rat down there once! But we made it downstairs and we took out the matza and the grape juice and everything. Then we lit two candles, and turned off the flashlight.”

“And then we made…a secret Passover Seder!

“We did everything just like you said. We ate the matza and drank the grape juice, everything. And then we snuck back up and went to sleep.  And nobody knows.”

Rabbi Wasserman could barely contain his amazement. But then she continued.”Do you want to know what we did the next night?”  “Yes! Of course.”  “We did the same thing over again! But the second night we weren’t so scared, and we even laughed once because my sister made funny faces.” They looked at each other and grinned briefly.

“That is why we’re so tired today,” she continued.

“But you won’t tell anyone will you? If dad finds out he’ll break our bones!” They looked at him pleadingly. He promised once again and they said good-bye. After they left he closed the door, sat down in the teacher’s chair and began to cry.  “I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do the same thing that they did,” he said at a later time.  “I was really inspired by those two little girls.”

May we all have the courage this Passover to break out of our own personal Egypts to experience true liberation and freedom.

– Rabbi Tuvia Bolton <