My most profound Passover moment came while watching the movie The Prince of Egypt. It was released when I was a sophomore in college, and I went to see it with a Catholic friend when we were home on break. We wound up the only people in the theater (gotta love early afternoon mid-week showings!) and had fun mocking the previews, yelling at the screen, and providing…”helpful insights” to the characters throughout the movie. Let’s just say it wasn’t a kid’s movie anymore when we were done with it.
Then halfway through the movie something happened. I don’t know what, or which scene, or why that moment, but like a comet it hit me; if I was there, they would have done that to me. They wanted to do that to me. The only reason they didn’t do it to me was I wasn’t there. They did this to me.
Suddenly I was crying. Quietly – I’m not sure my friend even noticed, or if he did he made no mention. Everything quickly followed from there. The Holocaust, the Spanish Inquisition, the Pogroms; every time and place Jews were attacked, enslaved, and destroyed, those responsible also wanted to do it to me and only the fact I was born hundreds of years and thousands of miles away saved me.
Do you realize how embarrassing this was? I’d heard this story countless times. I’d seen more Holocaust movies than I care to think about. Schindler’s List? Completely unimpressed and unmoved. Sure, what happened was terrible but no worse than the mini-series I watched with my family when I was eight. I picked up Maus once in our Temple’s library thinking I was getting a funny comic book. The story inside was excellently written and drawn, but there was no emotional space left inside me for outrage about Jews being killed; it had all already been used. And now this, this…children’s movie reduced me to tears.
Maybe this is why we tell the story every year. Maybe this is why we tell the story in so many different ways; eventually one will connect. The first time I heard the story of the Exodus it was like some scary campfire story, complete with evil kings, magical events, and food to eat while we listened. We gasped when Pharaoh was cruel, laughed when Moses was tricky, and cheered when the Jews reached freedom. Then it was hunt for the affikomen, eat dessert, check Elijah’s cup, and go to bed.
This moment has stayed with me through the years. Now whenever I see Jews being attacked for being Jews, in fiction or in life, I hear that voice again reminding me they did this to me. Even now, in writing this, I am choked up with tears remembering that I was a slave and oppressed until HaShem freed me.
Thank G-d we have children’s movies.
Happy Passover, enjoy your matzah and marror (it’s a small price for freedom), and next year in Jerusalem!