You’ll Never Know If You Never Ask
The author is shown here with her brothers.
Hello, my name is Sally Mundell and I confess that I am the “simple child” at Passover. At age 41, I have come to the realization that I have spent most of my life not knowing how to ask a question and more sadly, not believing that I deserved to. In preparation for Passover, my brother Stan and I decided to work on our version of the Haggadah for our family and quickly learned that we had a lot to learn. Why was Elijah a part of Passover and not until the end? Why do we drink four cups of wine and how does the Seder connect to Israel? What parts of the ritual are important to us and why do we pass them down to our kids? And even more importantly, what answers do we believe to be true to us? While I may have fooled others and maybe even myself into thinking I was knowledgeable and open in the values of my faith, at 41 sitting with my younger brother, I realized that I had spent most of my life doing as I was told without wrestling, challenging and ultimately connecting with my own religion.
I grew up Jewish, studied for a Bat Mitzvah, completed Confirmation and celebrated 40 years’ worth of Jewish holidays. I thought only devoted scholars of Torah had a right to have an opinion and it was my job to simply take it in. Along the way I listened, but I didn’t really hear.
Six years ago I lost my husband to lung disease, catapulting me into a deep search for more meaning in my life. I learned through experience that the hidden blessing in loss is the ability to rebuild better than before. I built a new career, re-birthed my bond with my daughters, reconnected with friends and family and am now in the midst of rebuilding my house. But the most important rebuild I’ve taken on is the relationship with myself. I realized that while worrying too much about everyone else’s opinion and voice, I somehow lost the value of my own.
I was fortunate to receive a gift to study leadership, Judaism and the Torah within the Wexner Heritage Program and it was there that I learned that when it comes to my spiritual journey, my opinion matters most. I learned from my teachers and peers the importance of really absorbing and challenging what I was reading because otherwise, how would I know if I really believed it? I grew to appreciate and accept my own perspective and those of others and developed a deeper value for the opportunity to be open, to evolve and to make Judaism my own.
I now have a renewed faith in myself, in God and my Jewish community and do my best to continue to question, learn, grow and share while hopefully inspiring others to do the same. And I humbly stand before you only knowing a fraction of what I wish to know. Sometimes a profound message comes from a simple child.
I have now learned, as we approach Passover, it’s important to remember and tell the story from generation to generation and really understand the meaning behind the rich symbolism. Let’s remember that our people have overcome slavery and oppression and that resilience, survival and evolution are in our DNA. Let’s remember why Israel is key in preventing the repeat of history and that when times are tough, we must rely on God and each other to get us through. Let’s also teach our children so they know where they come from – they too are survivors and they too were slaves. This story is ours. This story is why Jews are successful today and have continued to shape the future of humanity and why we must pay attention to the treatment of all minorities.
And what does it mean to be a Jew today? The Seder tells you within the story if you pay attention and ask questions. If you are the simple child too or just want to reflect, I’ve laid out the values of our people told through the symbolism of the Seder as I, the simple child, sees it:
- Brokenness and Healing: Breaking of the matzah for the Afikomen reminds us that all of us are broken in some way and once we are aware, we can open ourselves for healing. One must repair themselves before they can repair the world. This ritual is particularly meaningful for me, as my brokenness led to rebirth and resilience, my path to help others through The Packaged Good, a non-profit I started, and most recently the search to connect to something bigger.
- Soul Searching: Searching for the Afikomen emphasizes the importance of one’s search to find themselves. Looking for a hidden piece of matzah whispers to us to search for something we can’t see. I didn’t know I was disconnected from my soul until my husband died. Soul searching never ends. We should continue to strive toward enlightenment knowing it will never be reached. The journey is the purpose.
- Tzedekah and Tikkun Olam: Opening the door for Elijah, a Jewish prophet, reminds us to open the door to those in need. We can’t celebrate our freedom when there are hungry people outside our door, so we must do good deeds, give tzedekah and make sure the hungry are fed. Our people believed it was our responsibility to take care of others and that we can’t rejoice without doing that. For our Seder, our family decided to open the door at the beginning to symbolically invite those in need to join us and to brainstorm ways we can do more to help others.
- Education and Torah: Our people have long known that the key to evolution is education and curiosity. The four questions asked by different types of children teach us that education is critical and that we must learn how to ask questions and how to answer them. Just like these children, each of us is in a different place in life and will bring a different perspective.
- Gratitude: We celebrate our freedom with wine and song at the end of the Seder as if we just escaped slavery. When times are good, it’s easy to forget the sacrifice of previous generations in much tougher times. Let’s be mindful of where we’ve been and grateful for where we are. We stand on the shoulders of Abraham, Moses, Holocaust victims and survivors, Israeli soldiers and many others who have sacrificed to give us what we have today.
Passover is an opportunity rise up the spiritual ladder, but like our ancestors, we must first wrestle with the stories. We must connect them to our people, our values and to ourselves, and then we must teach them to our children. The good news is that if you’re ready to evolve and grow, you simply have to ask yourself one question, which child am I?
Wexner Heritage Member Sally Mundell (Atlanta 18), is an author, philanthropist, innovator and an e-commerce and direct marketing strategist. She has built teams and revenue-driving programs from the bottom up for company’s such as Spanx, Home Depot, Delta, Georgia-Pacific, Coca-Cola, Carter’s and Kids II and is currently at Kids II leading the Direct-to-Consumer Strategy. Sally is the Founder and Co-President of the Board of The Packaged Good, a non-profit in Dunwoody, GA, with a mission to empower kids of all ages to do good. Sally recently wrote her first book called Packaging Good, which details Sally’s journey from grief to creation. Sally has also recently started a chapter of The Founder’s Institute in Atlanta to support entrepreneurs. Sally supports the Jewish community by serving on the Front Porch committee for The Jewish Federation of Atlanta, is a Wexner Heritage Program member, heavily involved in her synagogue Temple Emanu-El and frequently speaks about the benefits of giving, helping others and spiritual development. Sally likes to volunteer often with her two daughters Ruby (11) and Matilda (8). Sally can be reached here.