Who are your heroes? It’s a question that we adults don’t ask ourselves often enough. These days, I’m reminded of my heroes most often when they pass away; I mourned Joan Rivers death last year not only because of her amazing wit and humor but because of how her example of believing in her abilities has inspired me to continue to push my own limits.
Heroes embolden and motivate us; they lift our spirits and call our best selves forward. While we can dwell on the negative examples of human beings that fill the nightly newscasts, we can also choose to open our eyes to the heroes in our communities and in our Jewish traditions.
Young children naturally—and in some cases quite frequently—think about heroes. Developmentally, children ages three to five, face the challenge of learning so many new skills at once and may feel small compared to older siblings and the adults who surround them. Superheros, by contrast are strong, even all-powerful—and so it’s no wonder children are drawn to them. For my son at that age (now 12) it was Spiderman, all the time—books, toys, clothes. I thought I might wake up someday to see him climbing our walls.
With the Passover holiday approaching, we have an opportunity as parents to frame the characters in the Exodus story as another set of heroes for our children. Miriam, Moses, Yocheved, Bat Pharoah–each act with extraordinary tenacity and selflessness in the face of great danger. When we show our children that the people in our Jewish stories act with courage, we inspire their own bravery. Like any other developmental skill, it takes practice to act with courage when we are scared. I don’t know about you, but this has been a life-long process for me—not something mastered in childhood.
As you get ready for Passover, here are a few ways to get you and your kids building up your courage muscles:
- Read about your Passover heroes: PJ Library offers so many wonderful books that focus on Passover heroes and a bonus is the discussion questions in the bookfold. Check out Nachson Who Was Afraid To Swim, inspired by a midrash about the first Israelite to enter the Sea before it parted and Miriam’s Cup, that portrays Miriam’s many acts of courage.
- Notice when your kids are brave: Naming their feelings gives children a vocabulary to help them express themselves. When they seem scared or anxious, you can name that feeling without making a judgement “Going to the doctor can be scary.” Likewise, name it when you catch them being brave. “You were so brave when that dog barked, even though I could see you were startled.” See how many acts of courage you can catch your kids in—facing a “small fear” may seem insignificant to us big people, but can be take enormous courage for them.
- Talk about your heroes: Our kids are listening to us even when it doesn’t seem like it. Find ways to share about the people who inspire you. Mention them in conversation—show them pictures in books or online. Talk about what your hero does that helps to bring out your own strength. I first learned about Joan Rivers because my beloved Grandma Min of blessed memory was always kvelling about her.
Passover is an opportunity to remember that once we were slaves and now we are free. With our freedom comes endless opportunities to act with kindness and courage, strength and compassion. As you begin to foster these skills in your young children, you set them on a course of resilience and tenacity for the years ahead.
Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, Director of Whole Community Inclusion, counts all four of her grandparents as her biggest heroes.