Very happy to be part of Multicultural Kid Blogs’ Passover for Kids—mothers from many parts of this world have teamed-up to bring you eleven different posts. Nothing will be the same–it is all for learning and sharing, whether you are Jewish or not. Pretty neat. They do this kind of thing for many kinds of celebrations, beit Dewali, the Chinese New year, or here, Passover.
The wisdom and gift of historical fiction is that it brings real people to the surface, pinpointing real feelings, dialogues, and relationships. Real blood, real people. Real tears and real laughter. Other wise, we’d only have timelines, history books, and maps that lay flat. Kids drooling on their bored, floppy hands, if they are anything like I was in 9th grade history class (truly sorry for everything, Ms. Wooster).
Judaism is much about passing-on the prayers, the stories, a recounting of God’s provision. Passover, or Pesach, is like the ultimate culminating time for storytelling. It involves a man named Moses, generations of brutal enslavement, and the desire, God’s desire to take slaves out of that life and bring them into freedom. It would be dramatic.
These ideas build every year, as we retell the story, but you need refreshment. A family needs a new recipe to serve at that seder (Passover dinner). Light stretching at a new angle for a new understanding and a wider glimpse at history. Aren’t children’s books the thing to call in?
Enter Nachshon. נַחְשׁוֹן Apparently, he was a boy living in the time of Moses, Pharaoh. His parents and grandparents, and great-great…grandparents had done the work of building the pyramids and getting whipped. They were oppressed and probably pretty used to it; they were slaves for 430 years.
How do you take courage and tackle fears when you are merely property, and for so so so so long?
Well, author, Rabbi Deborah Bodin Cohen, knew the premise and promise of this young man, Nachshon. There isn’t so much about him at all in the Torah, but the Midrash, the ancient commentary on scriptures, provides enough for us to know the following:
*He was leader of the tribe of Judah, and son of Aminadab.
*He was Aaron’s brother-on-law, brother to Elishevah/Elizabeth. (This introduction is mentioned in the Torah when Aaron marries and we meet Elishevash’s brother).
*He was reported to be the very first to jump into the Red Sea, or Sea of Reeds, which was said to be swirling, its currents, powerfully strong. When everyone else was more than hesitant, he jumped in.
*The sea did not famously part, creating safe passage for some 600,000 men; adding to that, at least the same number of women and children, making it at least 2 million people, until Nachshon first put his toes in and not until the water was the bridge of his nose!
She fleshed-out a character and made a celebrated story, one
Kirkus Reviews calls, “A stirring tale of courage and faith.”
So what if this man, the one to lead his people into the waters of freedom, was actually terrified of water? What story would that be? (I can’t wait to learn more about Rabbi. Cohen’s process)!
And this boy was not an avid, no-problem, broad-shouldered-butterfly-stroke swimmer, shaving his legs and working on slicing off milliseconds on his freestyle kinda guy. The author reveals a shy, nervous boy around the water. In every other area of his life he was brave. Not around water. She is a crisp, clear storyteller. It works.
So the point is not for children to know more facts, necessarily. Let it be that their heart is stirred by an example of someone who had very real fears, but who acted to break them down, shake them off of him. Let it be that we see our kids’ fears, our own fears and we initiate change by enacting faith, but doing our part to take the first steps and make the first splashes. Everyone else will jump in.
I see this book as one to compliment our understanding of history, our take on the Exodus and Passover.
Use this book to delve into the main character, whom many rabbis call an absolute hero. Use it to discuss little and big fears. Use it to discuss the next levels of freedom you’d like your family to experience and cultivate.
Freedom takes habit. You can’t go from a borrowed, beat-down, abused mentality, to full-blown poster-child for courage. You can’t just put on a cape. It takes many laps around the pool, much encouragement, many seders talking about our freedom today. It takes showing your daughters brave women and then, showing-up big. It takes a dad exercising kindness day-in and day-out–kindness that can be tough and tender, valient, and cozy like a sweater. Sweet, motivating, huggy words–we need them daily.
In fact, I just learned from the author that her daughter was actually a big part of the writing process. Debbie’s daughter, who was three or four at the time, was dealing with her fear of swimming. Toddler-aged or adult, this desire to bring our fears to light so that we may crush them with courage is so primary to our human experience. I love how Debbie captured that time in her daughter’s life as she tied it to something much older and bigger. She spoke a little bit more about the process.
“I had always felt drawn to the Nachshon story and started putting my daughter’s experience and Nachshon’s story together”.
Nachshon has come to mean, “initiator”. Use his story to initiate something in you.
This is a book that can be part of your big family picture. It can be an intermission in the children’s seder, a break from a big person’s hagaddah, or Passover prayer book. However you use it, it will be good (unless it’s, say, an accidental coaster). Books like this one bring art and truth to the surface, faith as real as the flaky matzah layered on your table.
PS I forgot to mention something massive. These pictures are from the masterful, Jago. His art is bright, detailed, and transcendent. Visit his instagram or even Etsy. What a beautiful pairing is this author and illustrator. I just want to collect all of his work!
PPS Want to purchase this book? Instead of using the big book carriers, how about this smaller, wonderful e-bookstrore? Kar-Ben is a neat choice, right?
Or, if you find yourself in the fabulous neighborhood of Mt Airy, Philadelphia, get yourself to The Big Blue Marble, where I first found & bought this book!
So Happy Pesach, dears! Happy learning and happy freedom. May it be so for all of the families of the earth.
Melissa/Melibelle in Tokyo