Photo credit: http://hagalsheli.co.il/

Background

What does surfing have to do with Pesach?

HaGal Sheli (הגל שלי, “my wave”) is an Israeli nonprofit that uses surfing to teach disadvantaged youth techniques for self-empowerment and personal development. After learning how to survive and navigate the tumultuous sea together, the youth are able to apply the same techniques to situations in their everyday lives. This combination of overcoming physical and mental challenges resonates with a deep current in the Jewish narrative: the story of Pesach.

Chag Sameach! חג שמח

How do we navigate currents?

A current is the force that creates a wave. Sometimes they are powerful, other times weak, but the ability to navigate them makes for success. For the fleeing Israelites, there were many current-like forces influencing them: from the Egyptians' attempt to harness the Israelites back into slavery, to the dynamics within the group of desert wanderers themselves.

  • What are some currents in your life? How do they influence you as an individual and as part of a community?
  • How do you navigate these currents? 
  • What are some currents that you see in our modern society? How do these relate to Judaism and Pesach?
  • When it comes to our individual relationships with Israel, what currents do we feel? How do we navigate them?
  1. Have students list out “currents” that they experience in their lives. Explain that there are currents we should follow, some we should resist, and some that vary by person. Ask them to label the currents as they see them, and demonstrate how they impact their life. Bring in Jewish values, tradition, Israel, etc. to this activity.
  2. Have small groups of students write and present skits showing currents impacting their daily lives.

What does it mean to be free?

Another name for Pesach is chag ha’cherut (חג החרות, “the holiday of freedom”). How do we balance individual freedoms with communal responsibility? 

Surfing is as much about the community as it is about the individual. The important lessons, taught throughout HaGal Sheli, of awareness, knowledge and the how to of rescuing a fellow surfer in need could mean the difference between life and death. Being free doesn’t mean being able to do whatever we want whenever we want; on the contrary, it can mean being empowered to help those who enjoy less freedom than we do. HaGal Sheli explores these themes in the context of teaching students how to save one another from drowning at sea. 

  • What is the difference between “freedom from” and “freedom to?”
  • What does it feel like to be in a position of freedom when others around you are not?
  • What freedoms do Jews in America and Israel share? Compare and contrast some of our individual and communal freedoms. 
  • What responsibility comes with freedom?
  1. Break students into small groups and do a short research project on Israeli efforts to help those in need. Then have the groups present to the class. Some resources to bring with might include: IsraAIDLatet, or Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  2. Ask students to list out the freedoms they have as Americans, then ask them to list out their responsibilities as Americans. Freedom is mentioned several times in Israel’s Proclamation of Independence. Have students complete a comparison chart examining freedoms and responsibilities in three columns: American, Israeli, and Jewish.

How do we keep our balance?

The trick in surfing – aside from getting up again after you fall – is maintaining balance amidst the currents. The HaGal Sheli curriculum discusses balance in the context of what balances us in life, what creates imbalance, and how to correct imbalances. The literal connection to surfing is obvious, but where does Pesach come in? The seder highlights the essential nature of balance in several ways: balancing luxury and servitude, celebrating miracles while empathizing with the victims of the plagues, and, as already mentioned, balancing freedom, and responsibility. 

  • Why is balance important? What does balance allow us to do? How can balance work with us and against us?
  • What does the importance of balance say about the value of differing opinions?
  • How do we see balance in Israeli society today? 
  • How does the meaning of seder ("order") connect to this idea of balance?
  • How do you balance the important things in your life? In what ways do you balance your relationships with America, Israel, your community, and the Jewish people?

Is it the journey or the destination?

Self-knowledge is essential in implementing the lessons HaGal Sheli teaches, but achieving it is a (life-long) process. Like the Israelites wandering the desert for 40 years to travel a distance they could have crossed in months, the journey to one's self is about the self that develops along the way, not necessarliy the destination. But in our narrative, the destination had ultimate importance as well. As individuals and as a community, Jewish holidays require us to check in with ourselves regularly and take stock of who we were, where we are, and where we are going. Pesach is the quintessential example of this tradition.

  • Some would say life is a journey toward one's authentic self. What does it mean for Israel to have been the Israelite’s final destination on their journey?
  • What does it mean to "arrive"? Now that we have a State of Israel after years of “wandering” in exile, have we arrived? 
  • Why do we say “Next year in Jerusalem” at the seder? Do you think its meaning today differs from its meaning to our ancestors?
  • What does it feel like to be on a journey? Can you be on multiple journeys at once?
  • Our ancestors traveled together to reach the Land of Israel. What is the difference between an individual journey and a communal one?
  • Some would say life is a journey toward one's authentic self. What does it mean for Israel to have been the Israelite’s final destination on their journey?
  • What does it mean to "arrive"? Now that we have a State of Israel after years of “wandering” in exile, have we arrived? 
  • Why do we say “Next year in Jerusalem” at the seder? Do you think its meaning today differs from its meaning to our ancestors?
  • What does it feel like to be on a journey? Can you be on multiple journeys at once?
  • Our ancestors traveled together to reach the Land of Israel. What is the difference between an individual journey and a communal one?