by Becky Udman
TJP Parenting Columnist
Passover is right around the corner, and although my children have been excited buying the matzahs and other special Passover foods, I am a little nervous about the actual seder. We have many older relatives who come to our home for the seder, as well as teenage cousins, and even some of my husband’s co-workers. I want to make it a special night for our children, but my husband feels that we also need to be mindful of the other guests, as well. Any suggestions?
A. This is a very common challenge. Seder night, more than any other Jewish tradition, is supposed to center around the children, and much effort should go into keeping them attentive. It is the fulfillment of the commandment, “You should tell your child on that day....”
The guide for the seder is the Haggadah, and the Haggadah is full of opportunities to keep everyone engaged, regardless of age or background.
There are many strategies for doing this, but before considering any of them, you first need to be committed to this being your home and your seder. And the primary message you should be sending your children is, “Yom Tov (this holiday) is very important to us, and your involvement in it is number one on our list.”
Here’s one solution that we use at our seders every year, and it really works well in keeping everyone smiling, both young and old:
A few days before Passover (or a few weeks, if you’re very organized), sit down with an English translation of the Haggadah and a piece of paper. By the way, these days there are many editions of the Haggadah whose language is lively, rather than the stilted, formal versions of yesteryear. Finding the right translation with nice illustrations can be very helpful in keeping everyone interested (and awake)!
Go through the Haggadah and look for any catch-phrases or plays on words and write them down. Next to each of these, write down a cute prop or trinket that would match the phrase or word, even though it’s not a literal match. For example:
· “We were slaves to Pharaoh” – toy handcuffs
· “G-d took us out with a strong arm and an outstretched hand” – a plastic back scratcher with a hand at one end
· “We lived on the other side of the Euphrates River” - a plastic sailboat
· “With great wealth” – toy coins
· The 10 Plagues – they’re packed with ideas for creative props
Your local toy or variety store should have inexpensive toys to match the phrases. Buy one toy for each attendee, per phrase. Walking up and down the aisles may give you even more ideas for cute match-ups, take a Hagadah with you to the store.
Write each phrase on an index card, and put the toys that match that phrase in a small, brown bag, one for each person at the seder, including adults.
Before the seder, give out one card and its matching bag to each person. Tell everyone to go through the Haggadah and use the card to bookmark where his or her “part” is, but don’t show anyone what’s in their bag or say what their phrase is.
During the seder, the leader should go around the table and have each person take turns reading out loud. When a phrase is read that has been written on a card, the person who has that card should yell, “STOP!” and ask the reader to repeat the line. Then that person distributes (which may include tossing) around the table the toys in the bag.
It’s amazing how engaged everyone at the table will become, both waiting for his or her “part” to come up and/or waiting to hear what the next play on words will be.
In the end, everyone will be involved in telling the story of leaving Mitzrayim (Egypt) which, after all, is the focus of the night.
I’m sure that as a result of your dedication to making the holiday meaningful for your children, everyone will consider your seder a big success!
Wishing everyone a Chag Kasher v’ Samayach, a happy and Kosher Pesach!
Mrs. Becky Udman is preschool director of Torah Day School of Dallas (TDSD), a facilitator in the Love & Logic parenting method, director of Camp Kesher, and the mother of 13 (six boys and seven girls, ages infant through 20).