Pesach (Passover) is the story of our exodus and redemption from Egypt. It’s an important story to keep telling and passing down to our children and our children’s children. It is a story that is best handed down by our elders.
The Olam Jewish Montessori of Beth Jacob in Irvine and Bubbe & Zayde’s Place (A Jewish Assisted Living Center) in Santa Ana realized the importance of this concept and decided to bring both groups together to enjoy a shortened version of the Seder.
On Friday, March 30, just before the traditional lunch hour, Bonnie Curkin, owner of Bubbe & Zayde’s Place, hired a bus and with the help of three aides brought over 11 residents to Congregation Beth Jacob to share this special time with the 16 children enrolled in the pre-school. The class ranges in age from 2 to 5. It is the only Jewish Montessori School in Orange County.
Isabelle Harris, director and co-founder of the school, feels it is so important to create intergenerational events. According to Harris, “The two age groups have so much in common. We need to keep things short and fun for them. And according to several articles, the Montessori teaching methods are one way to help the elderly population retain their new memories, which tend to be forgotten sooner than those of their own youth. And this is such a major part of our culture to give tribute and listen to the older members of our community. It’s a very natural combination that I hope we are able to do on other holidays.”
“We were so thrilled when Isabelle called us for this mitzvah project,” Curkin said. “Our residents sometimes feel very down and ask me why they’re still alive. I tell them that it’s up to us to pass on our knowledge of Jewish history and our feelings on to the younger generations. Outings like this, where we get the little ones and the elderly together, help to take away the fear on both sides.”
She added, “Small children don’t always know what to make of older people, so this gives them a chance to get to know them on an intimate level. And it gives hope to our grandparents and great-grandparents that they still have something wonderful and exciting to teach and share with them. That puts a smile on their faces. More importantly, it really gives them hope. And we all want to live with hope.”
Robyn Farber, another one of the school’s co-founders, explained what the hope is for events of this nature: “Right now, it’s hard for both of these groups to stay up late and sit through a traditional Seder, so we want to make it a fun event that’s easy for them all to follow. The children need to know about the story, why the Seder plate has the items it does and we need to give them a sense of the importance on the need of family and community. This intergenerational component fulfills all of these points.”
It is no easy task to get a group this large and of this nature together. It was fun to watch the little ones doing the kiddush with their older counterparts, the explanation of why they need to wash hands, the blessing and the faces given over the tasting of the salted parsley, the reading of the Maggid (the group didn’t get to the four questions in a formal manner), both the blessing over and the hiding of the matzo. The group explored the significance of why we eat the unleavened bread over the course of the entire holiday.
While Harris served as the “leader,” teachers Sonya Neutel and Symone Sass got into the excitement of acting out the story, getting themselves and the children who helped with the ceremony into costumes.
Sass said it took several classes to prepare the children as to what to expect, letting them hear the story, listening to the music and talking to them about the change in their schedule, as well as the idea that they would be having visitors. As she explained, “At these tender ages, it’s hard to change what the kids feel is their norm. It upsets their sense of security. We need to get them ready as much as we possibly can.”
Congregation Beth Jacob’s Chief Operating Officer Adam Reingold was on hand to help the preschool staff keep the morning Seder running smoothly and on time. According to Reingold, “It’s an amazing school. All the parents involved had a hand in creating Olam Jewish Montessori of Beth Jacob. They have truly made it an important part of their lives to create a great community for all the families and, of course, the children. This is a wonderful way to keep the ideals of the Jewish culture continuing from one generation to another.”