Leading a seder can be daunting enough, with tricky tunes to sing, a horde of tough questions to answer, and bitter herbs to swallow.
But when your seder is packed with youngsters who get fidgety before it’s even time to recite the Ma Nishtanah, the evening may feel longer than those years of bondage in Egypt.
Fortunately, some local teachers and rabbis have dozens of creative ideas that will help frazzled parents create a Pesach to inspire every kind of child, including the wise one, the simple one, the one who is too young to ask, and well, let’s not even mention the fourth one.
Rabbi Jeffrey Fox of Cong. Kesher in Englewood, whose seders typically include a minyan of small children, employs numerous strategies for making his table child-friendly. Fox and his wife, Beth Pepper, invite the children to bring their school-made Haggadot to the table and share what they have learned with the adults. Fox gives them further motivation to pay attention by announcing that all good questions will be rewarded with candy. This puts everyone on alert, including the adults.
The couple set the scene (and the table) with Pesach paraphernalia – such as plastic frogs, red colored water (blood), table tennis balls (hail), and other plague-related toys.
Fox charges the children with the task of producing a Pesach-related skit at the seder. Last year, they performed a skit about the 10 plagues. This activity has the added benefit of requiring a certain amount of planning away from the table, affording the adults an opportunity for higher level conversation, Fox noted.
Lauren Greene, a mother of three and a teacher at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, said that she and her husband begin the storytelling at their seder by distributing masks of a plague or character in the Haggadah. It makes the evening much more entertaining when people look around the table at all the colorful characters, she said. Most important, she said, the entire focus of the evening is on the children. All of the childrens’ Haggadahs, pillows, seder plates, and crafts that they created in school this year and in previous years are displayed prominently on the table. The children are urged to pay attention to the readings in the Haggadah so that they can bring up any related songs, stories, or questions.
Seating is also important, Greene points out. “My husband and I rarely sit next to each other seder night. There are always kids on either side of us so that we can read along with them and sing together. The whole night is really about the children.”
Rabbi Akiva Wolk, a teacher at the Moriah School in Englewood, tends to leave his pint-sized seder companions in awe. That’s because mid-seder, he stands up and marches around the table with a piece of matzoh on his back. This custom dates back to Maimonides, who said that to fulfill the mitzvah of the seder, Jews must feel and act as if they have personally experienced liberation from slavery. Similarly, some Jews have the custom of dressing up like slaves and walking around the table to re-enact the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt, Wolk pointed out.
|Ten ways to counteract the plagues of boredom and restlessness|
1. Make sure the kids take a nap in the afternoon so that they can stay up late and enjoy the seder.
2. Assign them the task of creating decorative Passover place cards.
3. Have older children prepare in advance a “Treasure hunt” with clues as to where the adults can find the missing afikomen.
4. Display colorful Passover items on the table to make it more interesting for the children to look at.
5. Invite the children to wear costumes to the table – even just a white sheet, robe, or funny hat.
6. Sing anything in the text that can be sung and have the children lead the singing.
7. Act out the Exodus story using props and/or costumes.
8. Invite the children to build the Egyptian pyramids using sugar cubes or other items as bricks.
9. Play paper-bag dramatics. Make parts of the Haggadah come alive by giving kids a bag of random materials to use to tell the story.
10. Assign texts for people, including kids, to read aloud. You can find moving stories, jokes, and insights in different Haggadot and/or on the Internet.
But Wolk doesn’t end with his journeys through the dessert around his table. He also brings the plagues to life by playing Ten Plague Charades. Like Fox, he also creates the plagues’ likeness by using red food coloring in the water (blood), plastic frogs on peoples’ chairs (frogs), sunglasses (darkness), and other items. Wolk suggests a scavenger hunt through the Haggadah to keep people on their toes: He hands out a list of words or characters to find as everyone reads through the Haggadah. Wolk’s family always ends the seder with an energetic round of “Who Knows One,” complete with elaborate hand motions. Just don’t ask him to show you the hand motions unless he’s had at least four cups of wine.
But generating enthusiasm for the seder can begin before the charoset and matzoh are even brought to the table, said Lisa Lesnick, director of Camp Cupcake, a private camp in Teaneck for pre-schoolers, and an assistant teacher at Yavneh Academy. She notes that when children are involved in seder preparation, it gives them a sense of ownership. “They can help get the salt water ready or prepare the maror…. It may even encourage them to stick around at the table longer,” she said.
Acting out the Haggadah is another great way for the kids to feel involved in the seder, she said. Everyone at the table can be given a part from the Haggadah to play, along with props, such as toy frogs and plastic bugs to add realism and dramatic flair.
Even adults are not left out of the fun at Lesnick’s seder. Her older children prepare a “treasure hunt” in advance, with clues of where the adults can find the missing afikoman. The adults are forced to participate whether they like it or not, because without the afikoman, the seder cannot be completed.
If you successfully follow some of the suggestions above, you might get the ultimate compliment at the end of the meal. Instead of reciting “Next year in Jerusalem!” the children just might forgo Jerusalem and, instead, declare “Next Year” at your table.