Two weeks ago I participated in a class on the kibbutz on how to successfully lead a Passover seder with children.
The facilitator mentioned a number of possible common struggles that people may face during the seder such as the “struggle” of sitting through the seder (on an empty stomach) and where the focus may be more about getting to the meal than it is about caring about meaning of the evening itself; and the struggle of figuring out ways of keeping family and guests who may not be interested in the seder engaged.
I identified with a lot of these experiences and was inspired by the dozens of suggestions that were suggested to us.
From all the ideas that were shared, I decided to choose 4 to bring to our seder this year. (Seemed like a holiday appropriate number… Plus, I didn’t want to overwhelm the family with too many innovations at one time.)
I chose to:
1) Create a distinct gathering place to read the Hagaddah other than the table in which we would later eat the meal. Not only would our guests be able to recline (literally!), they wouldn’t be sitting at a dinner table staring at their empty plates and anticipating a meal being served for hours on end.
2) Encourage the children (and adults!) to ask questions by offering incentives (one chocolate chip for each question asked) throughout the entire seder.
3) Put out an array of cut vegetables and lots of interesting home-made dips (after the blessing of karpas), in order to help keep those who are “starving” from wanting to rush through the seder just to get to the meal.
4) Create a group scavenger hunt for the children to find the afikomen and offer prizes for all.
Besides the whole evening, I really wanted these four things to go over well.
I wanted this year to be different.
I wanted this seder to be a success.
I wanted my husband’s family to go along happily with my innovations to their family seder and have the ideas turn into new family traditions for them.
And a few days before the seder, I realized how stuck I was on all of this.
I knew I had to let go so that I wouldn’t be disappointed.
And instead chose a different perspective.
That instead of trying to impress or win over my husband’s family with ideas that I think are fabulous, I should just focus on my own children and know I am doing this for them.
And so, I went into the seder with no expectations from the rest of the family.
However it would go, it would go.
As long as my kids enjoyed and got something out of the evening.
But, it was (thank, G-d!) a success!
And of course, I’m thrilled out it.
The top 10 things I learned about this year’s family seder.
1) Create a separate place to do the seder (other than the place where we eat). It offers amazing possibilities. Not only does it allow people to rest/lounge/recline in an enjoyable way, it creates a sense of intimacy that you just don’t get when you sit at a long table and only have a chance to speak to the person who randomly sits next to or across from you.
2) Start at 6 pm. It’s ideal for this family (who has lots of kids), even though the holiday technically doesn’t start until later. If the guests come early, have the kids make drawings and hang them up on the wall for decoration.
3) Offer incentives (chocolate chips) for asking questions during the reading of the hagaddah. It completely engenders people to ask questions (which is one of the points of the seder in the first place). So, it takes off the need to create a didactic atmosphere, and instead offers possibility for people to be genuine and ask any question related to that evening. Questions asked last night went from the youngest (pointing to the seder plate and asking, “What is this?”), to the 9-year-old who asked “Why didn’t Pharoah let the Children of Israel leave after the first plague?” to one of the adults who questioned some of the choice of words of the ancient text of the haggadah. At some point, I felt I had to stop the questions so that we could continue the seder, otherwise we would never have finished!!!!
4) Put out cut vegetables and dips after the karpas blessing. It’ll save the night. First of all, it was unexpected and the guests went wild over the bean dip, the honey/mustard dip, the hummus, the tahini, etc. Secondly, it kept people from “starving” and wanting to rush through the seder just to get to the meal.
5) If we’re going to do #4 next year, and there’s chicken/matzah ball soup for the next course and then gefilte fish for the next, people will get full!!! And they’re not going to eat much more. Make half of what you would ordinarily make!
6) The Gura family prefers my Sephardi charoset over my Ashkenazi charoset.
7) Definitely create a scavenger hunt for the afikomen. The kids went wild over it. They loved the various missions (dressing up as ancient Israelites, building pyramids from blocks), the little kids took turns reading the clues, and finding the afikomen as a group is much more fun (and takes off a lot of stress) than finding it on your own. And definitely prizes for all. (Note to self: Go to marzipan museum next year for prize ideas.)
9) Let the kids fall asleep in the “tent” even if the end of the seder is still going on, and let them sleep there for the entire week. (The kids are off from school anyway, so why not?)
10) Offer to host again next year knowing that if I have even more ideas that I want to implement, it’ll be much easier to do implement them on my own turf than on someone else’s.
Chag Sameach to all!