Pesach Mission #9: The children are not the Passover sacrifice!
That is a quote from Rav Aviner that really stuck with me. What have our kids learned from this past week of vacation? Is Pesach a fun holiday for them or a burden? Are their parents spending quality time with them or are they constantly yelling? I grew up dreading Pesach because of all the back-breaking work involved. My oldest daughter, however, once told me that Pesach is her favorite holiday. Why? Because of all the fun things we do TOGETHER. That is when I realized that I was able to break the chain of suffering. I remember a woman wrote into a forum I belonged to saying that she broke her leg a few weeks before Pesach and was having 30 people at her seder. She was distraught that she won’t be able to get everything done in time. Several women offered time-saving tips, but one or two wrote in to say that she is not in Egypt anymore- she needs to tell her guests that it either has to be at someone else’s house, pot luck, or catered (with everyone contributing to the bill). It was the merit of the women in Egypt who didn’t give up on their Judaism that saved the Jewish people. By continuing the cycle of suffering before Pesach, we are showing our children that Judaism is pain and suffering, not joy and togetherness. It is time for a change.
What can we do with our children to help them enjoy these last few days of preparation? Give them tasks that are fun but useful and will make them feel important when they are at the seder table.
1. Decorations – kids of all ages can make pictures of yetziat mitzrayim, plastelina sculptures of the four sons or the ten plagues, pyramids, etc. One year we took haroset seriously and used it to build actual pyramids with matzot for walls. They can make “chametz” and “KLP” signs for the cabinets and around the house. One year we bought plain napkin holders and decorated them with ribbons, fake flowers, and glitter. Take a half hour in the arts and crafts store near you and you can have several hours of fun activities for them.
2. Cooking – are there foods the kids enjoy making? I have one who makes jello, one who makes charoset. One likes to arrange the desserts on a platter. Find easy foods for them to make and let them help. Believe me, you will get more oohs and ahhs from your guests when you say your 6 year old arranged the platter than if you did it!
3. Activities-how is your seder run? Fast/slow? Commentary/singing/divrei torah? Don’t be afraid to add a little fun to the seder. The plague bags on the Organizational Tools page never fails to bring a laugh to the young and old. This year we are adding games for older children. Some of our favorites include: Pesach Jeopardy by Rafi and Adina Goldreich as well as Grab Bag, Taboo, and more at Simchat Yechiel. We are going to try a Pesach Cranium game this year and “Guess the true Pesach story” by Rabbi Robert Scheinberg. We have a tradition of dressing in costume for the seder which makes it livelier (and puts less pressure on keeping the outfits clean). Another (Sephardic) tradition of ours is that we give each child a pillowcase with matzah in it and they go around the table re-enacting yetziat mitzrayim. Each child goes to one of the adults who asks them “Where are you coming from?” The child answers “Mitzrayim”. The adult then asks, “Where are you going to?” and the child answers “Yerushalayim.” The adult then asks, “What are you taking with you?” and the child answers, “Matzah (or unleavened bread).” This is a good ice breaker for the kids if there are a lot of guests and helps get their nervous energy out. For more information on Sephardic Pesach customs, click here. Have the children prepare the activities listed above for the seder or they can make their own- word search (tifzoret), pitzuchim (A-Z Pesach) and more. They can make up ice-breaker questions such as “What was the oldest piece of chametz you found?” Assign one of the children to hide frogs in various places (the washing cup, under napkins, etc.) for a little surprise.
Some of you may feel that these ideas aren’t appropriate for the seder, especially in Israel where we have only one chance to “do it right”. I personally think that we will have plenty of time in the future to be serious; when the kids are young is the time to laugh and do what it takes to keep them at the table. If you disagree, however, feel free to play these games during the day, on chol hamoed, or on the last day. They are still fun.