And Jennie Taught Me…

by Arliene Botnick, March 5, 2018

In Proverbs 22:6 we read, “Train (teach) a child in the way he (she) ought to go; The child will not swerve from it even in old age.”

My mother Jennie (may she rest in peace) was my teacher, my trainer. She could not read Hebrew; her English was, to say the least, creative. She rarely attended shul, but she imbued in me (and my sisters) a deep and abiding love of Judaism; showed and modelled for us how to live our lives Jewishly.

As we approach Pesach, the holiday during which we are both forbidden to eat any leavened bread, as well as to have no leavened bread found with [us] and no leaven be found in all [our] territory (Ex. 13:7). So my mother did exactly as commanded; she got rid of all the chametz, changed all our dishes, cleaned out all the food cupboards, even put up new fresh curtains and brought out the white tablecloths (out of the linen cupboard where they are stored each year just to be used for Pesach).

We are Jews. This is what we do to prepare for Passover. But, and here was my challenge, one year (many, many years ago) when I was 12, I was trying out to play Becky in the play Tom Sawyer. It was a great part, and thank heavens no performances were to take place during Seder or service nights. The only problem, one of the main scenes required the Becky character to eat a piece of bread and jam while she was bantering with Tom.

How could I take the role? Bread on Pesach!!! The guilt overwhelmed me, but I wanted the part. I was not going to tell my mother about the bread scene, but I was too guilty to keep it a secret. So, with trepidation, just before the final casting began, I told my mom about the role and its chametz demand, expecting her to say “Absolutely not”.

But Jennie, wise and caring Jennie – without any input from any child Psychologist, simply said, “Chanalah! What a wonderful opportunity! Of course try out for the part. Just ask the teacher if you can pretend to eat the bread!”

And so it was; I got the part. It was the 1st of many dramatic opportunities in my school life, and my lips never touched the bread! My mother knew that I knew who I was and that Passover was meaningful to me. She also knew I was a part of a larger world, a world in which I also had a role.

She lived dedicatedly and continuously as a Jew. Today, I know the world has changed and not all of us may be changing our dishes for Passover or cleaning out all the chametz, or putting up new curtains. But all of us, as Jews, know what Passover means to us, why, as much as possible, we should experience the Passover story and as we are commanded, we are to tell the story to our children.

As we are taught, so we shall live. In my case, Jennie was my teacher and my greatest gift to her is to continue the legacy she bequeathed to me. So as a teacher, a parent and a grandparent, I know “Train (teach) a child in the way he (she) ought to go; The child will not swerve from it even in old age!”

Chag Pesach!

Filed under: Educator's Message

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