When Michelle Gittler was growing up, the traditional Passover Seder dinner was not a welcome experience. “We used to read through the whole Maxwell House book. It was terribly boring,” says Gittler, who lives in Chicago.
The coffee company has been providing free Haggadahs, the text for the Seder celebration, for more than 70 years. Not only has the blue-and-white book remained the same since 1934, it has been referred to as stifling and regimented. This is amazing since the Seder commemorates the flight of the Jews from Egypt—a dramatic chapter in history that includes plagues, pestilence and Moses parting the Red Sea. When Gittler and her husband, Lee, became parents they were determined to change that for their daughters, Aila, 11, and Hannah, 8. They are among a growing number of parents trying to infuse creativity into the traditional service. And there are many ways to do it.
For Buffalo Grove mother and Jewish educator Ilene Brot, a creative Haggadah is the focal point. She creates her own every year, adding developmentally appropriate activities for the children attending. Her Haggadah includes coloring pages and games. After the Seder, she saves the pictures colored by her two sons, Joshua, 8, and Daniel, 5, dating them and including them in future editions.
Rolly Cohen, director of the Board of Jewish Education Marshall Jewish Learning Center in Northbrook, suggests having the kids help you create a Pesach “Big Book” before the Seder to be held up during the service. She also encourages parents to use resources such as her center to help create placemats, bookmarks or other crafts to use and display during the service.
Gittler’s family follows another of Cohen’s suggestions by creating plays and songs for the children to help tell the story. Gittler says everyone at her Seder reads—even if it is only a letter. “I think it makes them feel important. They get huge applause even if they only say a letter. They love that.” Lenna Scott
Tips for a kid-centric Passover Seder - Create games. Rolly Cohen, of the Board of Jewish Education Marshall Jewish Learning Center in Northbrook, says even a simple memory matching game will involve kids. She also suggests creating a big board with the parts of the Seder and having children keep track of where they are in the service.
- Get kids to prepare the Seder. They can help make food, centerpieces or placemats.
- Make your own Haggadah. Use multiple resources. Ilene Brot, a mom and Jewish educator, searches the Internet and a variety of published books to find different items to include.
- Use music. Kids love to sing. The Seder has a number of songs that are very kid friendly.
- Use fun props. Whether it is throwing ping-pong balls to simulate the plague of hail or puppets to play Moses and Pharaoh, the visual reminders help keep kids involved.
- “Smell it, taste it, sing it.” The Really Fun Family Haggadah by Larry Stein suggests we “engage all of our senses. … This offers everyone, even those who cannot read, the opportunity to fully appreciate the Passover Seder.”
- Encourage questions. Go beyond the formal four questions that are part of the Seder and encourage kids to question and learn from what they are hearing.
- Set the tone. If the focus is one of celebration, fun, and learning it can keep the Seder fresh and entertaining for both parents and children.