When you have youngsters from interfaith families at your seder table, it can’t help but up the Passover ante.
Maybe you are the kids’ auntie, or their grandparent, cousin, neighbor or friend. And maybe, just maybe, you’re their parent. Whatever your relationship, what you need to know is that this may be the first seder these children have ever attended. You are in the driver’s seat, having been given this precious opportunity to make sure it won’t be the last.
The entire purpose of the seder is to inspire the next generation with the drama of the defining moment when God set us free after 210 bitter years of Egyptian slavery — and to do it in a highly memorable way. That’s not to say you’ll need to don the costumes of Moses, Miriam and the Pharaoh (more on that later) and act out the Exodus. But it does mean that, for many of these kids, your seder will go down in their memory as the definition of what a seder is. So, you want it to have lasting impact. And that takes a little planning, so…
Plant the Seeds. Why not drop off (or if they live at a distance, pop into the mail) a copy of the Haggadah you’ll be using? Note: if the kids don’t know Hebrew, it helps if the songs are transliterated. Encourage the parents to teach the Four Questions to their offspring. For a refresher on the tune, visit YouTube and search for “Four Questions” to play the Shalom Sesame video. You can also ask all of the children to bring a picture they’ve drawn of something they’re looking forward to at the seder.
Play Hide-and-Go-Seek the Afikomen Way. Some families’ tradition calls for the leader to stash the precious bit of matzoh in a fiendishly clever kid-proof hiding place. Others allow the younger guests to squirrel it away, which turns into a game of wits as the kids team up to outsmart the adults. Either way, remember to have a special “prize” handy for redeeming this important ritual dessert.
Let Those Special Passover Foods Talk. Charoset resembles the bricks we were forced to make, and then build Egyptian cities with. Hot horseradish, for the suffering of slavery. Salt water, reminding us of our people’s bitter tears as we pleaded with God to set us free. Don’t just provide the necessary food items, take the children through what they represent. Seders wrote the book on multi-sensory learning as we literally eat the story of our freedom.
Keep the Noshes Flowing. Speaking of food (this being, after all, a Jewish holiday), since it can be a long dry spell until the meal is served, you’ll be investing in the kids’ cheerful dispositions — and their parents’ gratitude — if you keep a bowl of carrot sticks and dip or nuts at the table.
Why Stop at Four? As in questions, not cups of wine. Encourage each child who’s old enough to ask at least one question of his or her own. And then answer them patiently, honestly and with respect. This can turn into a lively game of “Stump the Leader,” as you issue a friendly challenge to the kids (and adults, too) to try to ask a Passover question you can’t answer.
Give it Over Simply. The traditional Haggadah tells the story of our people’s release from Egyptian slavery in the roundabout way we have come to love over the years. But, let’s face it: Simple it ain’t. Helping lend drama and fun to the telling are the pre-packaged plague bags (filled with small tchotchkes, each representing a plague) and assorted collections of plague masks and puppets. These have gained popularity for a reason: They work, delighting the youngsters and keeping them engaged. You may also want to have some scarves and sheets handy for dressing up as the key players in the Passover story so that, during the telling, the kids (and grown-ups who’ve had enough Manischewitz) can play a role.
Pass the Baby Moses. Wrap an ordinary doll in a towel fastened by a safety pin and voila! It’s Baby Moses. Give each child a turn to take care of him as you tell the story of his dramatic rescue by three heroic women — his mother Yocheved, big sister Miriam, and Egyptian princess Batya.
Sing it Loud, Sing It Proud. No seder is complete with rousing (and typically off-key) renditions of such traditional favorites as, Eliyahu Hanavi, Chad Gadyah, Adir Hu and Dayenu. The latter is a perfect opportunity to explain how grateful we are to God for each and every gift given us, even those we often take for granted. Again, if your Haggadah doesn’t have transliterations, here’s where an Internet search can prove useful in compiling song sheets to print out.