To Sing of Freedom
To Sing of Freedom
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
This week’s Torah portion is called Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16), and it contains the Song of the Sea. It’s the victory song sung by the Israelites after they emerged from slavery in Egypt. The famous Biblical scenes are probably more familiar to us from Hollywood movies than they are from Torah text; but, I’m not disappointed that the epoch event was captured on film and in pictures. It was a story meant to be told and retold.
In Judaism, emphasis is placed on memory and not just historical data. Memory has the power to evoke feelings of one who emerged from slavery in Egypt, though beaten and downtrodden, with faith enough to traverse the long and circuitous path to freedom and revelation. That’s why we’re not taught to examine Moses’ or Miriam’s feelings; but rather how to see ourselves in their places and how to be inspired by their experiences.
Many families, not just Jewish families, recall memories of their journeys when they came to America, which is its own genre of movies, pictures, and narratives told over generations. Bruce Feiler, a popular author, writes about “America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story,” with a focus on the quintessential migration story that appeals to all people who moved or were driven from one place to another to begin again. Families who left Europe for America on an epoch journey, often went from riches to rags. They changed their names, prepared documents, and took huge risks to arrive in a strange land filled with more promise and hope than the land they left. Now on this end of the journey and generations hence, some have gone from rags to riches. The history of their journeys might be recorded in databanks and Ellis Island websites. But if all we did was tell the facts about their ships and their manifests we would miss out on an essential part of their story: what prompted their move, what should their descendants know about them, and how should their story be told from generation to generation?
At the heart of every immigrant’s story is the suffering of physical, economic, or religious bondage that prompted them to seek freedom. In my family, my father’s parents came to America from the area of Kiev, to escape hardship and conscription. They entered the country through the port of Baltimore, though we always thought they had come through Ellis Island. My father’s father, David, for whom I’m named, changed his surname to Lyon, though another relative chose a different surname. He came to Chicago, where the family settled and grew. My father’s mother’s maiden name was Rosenberg, and through marriage, the Pincus-Rosenberg family was once the largest clan in Chicago. The once familiar Parade magazine featured the Pincus-Rosenberg family in a 1970-era cover story. From stories I’m told, my late grandfather didn’t come from riches, nor did he make riches in America. His was a hard story. But as it often happened, my father went to college to become an architect, opened his own firm in 1972, and raised his family with dedication to Jewish family values, and a stern focus on work ethic and honesty.
Today, the victory song we sing are the Jewish songs we sing in prayer, at holidays, and about Israel. They’re the songs of liberation, freedom, and hope. Before it’s too late, tell your story to your children and grandchildren, and those who need to know it. You don’t have to embellish your story, because it’s already a compelling story that will evoke emotion, build suspense, and deliver hope. Let them know that the goal isn’t just to go from rags to riches; the goal is to be free to go where your soul is awakened to all that God created in you.