Is Passover your favourite Jewish holiday? If you’re in charge of the cooking, the cleaning or making a seder, the answer is probably no; but if you’re a child or teenager, you might say yes (by the way, if you are a child or teenager reading this column, I’m very impressed!). I believe that Pesah is our most child-focussed holiday. There’s lots of singing, many ways to help out, and during the seders at least, we’re not yet sick of matzah.
The rabbis who created the Pesah seder understood this, creating an evening–or for those of us outside of Israel, two evenings–that is not just child-friendly, but child-centric. The entire seder night is designed to keep kids interested. We change the order of rituals from a regular Shabbat or holiday meal, we eat different and unique foods, we remove and add things to our table and we close the long night with songs, an incentive for children to make it to the end.
It is easy to recognize how the seder creates a child-centric atmosphere; it is more challenging to take advantage of it and to figure out how to actually create moments, activities and tasks for children. Here are a few suggestions:
Involve kids with the seder preparations. They can help set the table, assist with simple cooking tasks–like tearing up parsley for karpas or pressing the on/off switch on a food processor full of haroset ingredients–and decide who will sit where.
Naptime is key. If you want to try and get to the end of the seder and have your kids awake when you get there, fitting in an afternoon nap is essential. Even kids who have outgrown regular daytime naps will benefit from an afternoon rest, giving them the energy to make it to the fun stuff at the very end. I remember being seven or eight years old and fighting with my mother about having to take a nap before the seder, but I always managed to stay awake and engaged until the wee hours of the morning.
Encourage children to prepare something for the seder. They might want to share something that they learned at school, show an art project to everyone, or even impress the room with their Hebrew reading–you can select a short passage of text from the Haggadah that they can practice in advance.
Give kids meaningful roles at the seder. There are lots of things to be done around the table. There are wine cups to refill, matzah to be broken in half and covered or uncovered, hand washing to facilitate and much more. Take advantage of children wanting to play active roles in the evening.
Ask children questions. The main purpose of the seder is to teach our children about the Exodus story. By asking kids to tell the story or by asking them what they think about certain parts of the seder, like why do we eat maror, why are we learning about four sons, was it right to punish the Egyptians with ten plagues, does matzah taste good or bad and so on, they remain engaged in the evening and begin to appreciate our history.
Create child-centric activities…for everyone. We know the moments of the seder that are tailor-made for kids: the four questions, the plagues, singing Dayeinu, searching for the Afikoman, opening the door for Elijah and so on. But how much more fun and fulfilling would these moments be if we joined our children in them? What if all youngest kids of any age sang the Four Questions together? What if kids and adults alike dramatized the plagues? What if there are two Afikomans, one for adults to hide and kids to find and another for kids to hide and adults to find? And if your custom is to give gifts to the Afikoman-finders, have kids think in advance about what gift they might want to give to the adults who find the adult Afikoman.
There are many more tips, tricks and activities online, and I encourage you to explore different resources. Of course, I am happy to share more ideas too. Feel free to call and I would be thrilled to brainstorm with you.
The best Jewish experiences are those that are most natural and organic, both for adults and for children. I hope that your seders this year are meaningful, relevant, fun, and full of the warmth and love that gathering around the table for a celebration should give off.
Rachel and I wish the whole congregation a חג כשר ושמח, a happy, uplifting and fulfilling Passover.