Passover, the Hunger Games and Our Nation

As the first night of Passover approaches, I have been thinking about how to bring meaning to the Holiday. The Passover Seder recounts the story of the Jewish people's Exodus from Egypt. Importantly, it is also an annual ritual for reaffirming core values and transmitting these values from one generation to the next.

A central aspect of the Passover Seder is the idea of expressing its universal meaning. It is not just the story of the Exodus from Egypt. It is an affirmation that certain rights and beliefs are important to people throughout the ages. The ideas of freedom and equality, which are central to the holiday, are as important in our society today as they were in ancient societies thousands of years ago.

A question for parents and grandparents is always how to I make the Passover story meaningful to young children. The story of an Exodus from Egypt is inspiring but may not be viscerally meaningful to kids. In my experience, the key to any successful ethical education is to make it as "real" as possible for children and young teens.

After some thought, I have concluded that this year there is a natural theme for discussion: Are the residents in District 12 in the Hunger Games like the Jews in Egypt?

The comparisons between the events in the Hunger Games and the story of the Exodus are clear:

  • How is the Capital like the Pharoah in the Passover story?
  • In the story of the Exodus, the first-born is spared. In The Hunger Games, the people are forced to watch children perish. The people in the districts don't have control over their own lives. Is this a form of slavery?
  • The story of the Exodus stresses that extreme inequality is also a form of slavery: When many work hard so that a few can live well. In the Hunger Games, the residents work to supply the Capital with coal and timber while they live in shacks. At the same time, the people in the Capital live in splendor. Is this a form of slavery? And importantly, what does it say about our own society? How do we rationalize our own bounty when a large percentage of children grow up in poverty?
  • Finally, is it right that the residents of the Districts engage in a rebellion? Is a rebellion against tyranny the same as the Jewish people fleeing Egypt? This, of course, raises the larger question: When is civil disobedience justified? Are some systems so corrupt that the only solution is rebellion and chaos? Moreover, how does anyone know whether it's better to reform from within as opposed to active rebellion?

To raise these questions is a form of teaching. To me, the goal is not to provide my answer but to ensure participants in the conversation have heard enough challenging questions. Then, they viscerally relate to the questions and begin to formulate their own answers. At this point, the purpose of the Passover meal begins to be realized. The questions associated with the ideal of freedom and equality are passed from one generation to the next.

One final point. As I think about these questions and the problems they symbolize, there is only one consistent answer: They are enduring. They are as real today in our nation, as they were to the Rabbi's who long ago made the Passover Exodus an enduring part of the Jewish tradition.

We see the themes of freedom, sharing in the bounty of our labor, hunger and poverty, and ultimately the meaning of equality in the story of the Exodus, in The Hunger Games and in our society today. Yes, the story of the Exodus is placed thousands of years ago. And, yes The Hunger Games is a work of fiction. But, as a nation that has increasingly become a place of have's and have not's, a land of abundance mixed with poverty, a place of extreme wealth for a few, they both have a powerful message for America today.