It’s spring and time again for Jews to celebrate Passover and Christians to celebrate Easter. It’s a time when both religions reflect on their combined history, and a time for all to remember the importance of history in gaining insights and empathy for growing as a civilized society.
It’s especially important this year to reflect on how religion can be used instead to divide, But, if we remember that early religion was a form of governance, or series of laws to help organize the tribes, then it can help put current and past times in perspective.
Most religions traditions are at their heart rituals to remind us of a shared history. In the Passover Seder, Jews reflect on their time in bondage in Egypt and how they, too, were slaves at one time. The Seder ceremony asks Jews to always remember that bondage and Pharoahs continue to exist just in newer forms. In today’s world they are called Dictators, Authoritarians, and lack of access to freedoms many of us take for granted – public education, a fair justice or environmental safety and health in our neighborhoods.
The Easter holiday, sans the Bunny part, commemorates the resurrection of Jesus and celebrates his life’s work. Both the Old and New testaments are considered sacred by orthodoxy of both religions, but by modern standards could be equally considered our earliest historical texts.
More than ever, this appears to be a time when revisiting history is important, wanted and needed. Philosopher George Santayana wrote in the Life of Reason in 1909: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” An atheist with a strong Catholic background, Santayana also said “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” It seems this might be a very appropriate time to invest in living history or just bring history alive again.
This year’s area of extreme bondage seems centered in Syria, with civilians being bombed by modern day Pharoahs, refugees close to enslaved in refugee camps, and war definitively on the horizon both in the Mideast and in cities around the world. Even in the United States, there’s a growing war of words and ideals between political camps, and a President who has little sense of history and has appointed an education secretary not committed to public education.
John F. Kennedy popularized the saying “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The concept is that when an economy improves, everyone’s economic well being is also likely to rise. However, this doesn’t seem borne out in an environment where the rising tide has been dammed off so that only the reservoir around the wealthiest homes are benefiting.
So how do we reconstruct a respect for history, morality, and empathy is times increasingly dominated by fear, militarization, and terrorism? As with all Little Hinge efforts, it has to start at home with yourself. Here are some little actions to get started:
- If you have a child in secondary education, send a note of thanks and special gift to the school history teacher — not aligned with any holiday or parent-teacher event. Let him or her know how much you value his or her struggle to teach history to students who, by age, are prone to discount it.
- If you are in a school with an active PTA or HSA, advocate for newly invigorated civic studies in each level of eduction — elementary, middle and high school. Volunteer to head up a club, and/or lead events related to key holidays such as Presidents’ Day, Election Day, or Memorial Day.
- Consider asking the PTA to raise funds for special scholarships for student essays on key historical or civics topics, and/or scholarships donated by local organizations for history students going on for their college educations. When my children graduated high school, I remember tons of scholarships for volunteerism, science and language studies, but few to none for history and social studies.
- Read George Santayana’s Life of Reason, especially if you’re in a book club. Take a break from fiction, and discuss philosophy.
- If Jewish, consider making your own Haggadah, the story of Passover. Similar to all historical teachings, if the text is in another language or in stilted ancient English, it is difficult to inspire future generations. In original oral traditions, the Seder is based on passing the story down from generation to generation — l’dor va’dor — but in a way that engages children rather than disengage them. They even have versions written especially for children.
- Reflect on the story of Moses, and the historical significance of saving just one child’s life.
- Regardless of your religion, pick up a modern Haggadah, the story of Passover, and read the Exodus story. Or, just read the original Old Testament text of Exodus and reflect on its relevance to today.
- Pick up any history text, biography, or essay and read it. History, if dead to any of us, is in danger of being dead to all of us including American History and moral history.
- Consider joining any historical society to preserve and support their work. Given that today Neil Gorsuch was confirmed as the newest Justice, it may be appropriate to consider aligning with The Supreme Court Historical Society.
Image Credit: Image at the top of this post is The Finding of Moses, circa 1500s, oil on canvas by Jacopo Tintoretto. It is provided courtesy of the Open Access archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, available via creative commons.