“How does food turn into babies?”
“What are brains made of?”
A mother walked into school yesterday morning and told Felicia and myself that her 4 year old son had asked her these two questions recently. She was struck with the depth and complexity underlying them both, as were we.
The evening before, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a Parents’ Association meeting, in which Rabbi Joy Levitt, executive director of the JCC, presented her “10 tips to make a kid-friendly Seder.” One of her tips is to have your children engage in asking questions – something our nursery-aged students excel at! While the Four Questions are a good start, we can encourage our children and ourselves to go further. She says, “The central point of the Seder is to ask questions because that was the rabbis’ definition of freedom.” Only a free person can truly question the world around them.
The Jews, as slaves in Egypt, lived a limited existence. Their knowledge, perspective, and experiences were limited to what their masters allowed them. For generations, questioning was outside of their world view. As the Israelites fled Pharaoh, they fled not only physical oppression but the narrowness of experience that robbed them of their ability to question.
Moving through the desert on their flight from slavery, the Jews struggle to find comfort with this newfound allowance to ask questions. When Moses climbs down Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, he sees his tribe had revolted – they questioned the existence of God. Given the chance to ask, the Jewish People pretty quickly take advantage. They ask one of the “big” questions. And ever since, we haven’t been afraid of asking the tough ones!
Inquiry is a treasure of our freedom. To remind us of this, it has become a hallmark of our Seders. So following Rabbi Joy’s tips (which are included in full below), I invite you to begin to record some of your children’s questions. From now until Monday night, challenge them to bring you their big questions, and present them together at your Seder table. Perhaps someone will have an answer for one; perhaps a lively discussion will ensure; perhaps there will be some head-scratching. Most importantly, the questions will be asked. Our freedom will be confirmed, our tradition of inquiry will endure.
Shabbat shalom and happy Passover,
TEN TIPS FOR MEANINGFUL SEDERS WITH CHILDREN by Rabbi Joy Levitt
1. Remember: the mitzvah is to tell the story, not to read the Haggadah
2. Engaging children in the preparation--setting the table, preparing the Seder plate, placing name cards and haggadot at seats--helps them feel a part of the Seder.
3. There is no rule that says the Seder has to be at the dining room table. Consider beginning in the living room where children have more freedom and are less likely to think about food. (Note: make sure you cover your carpets and consider using a bento box for Seder foods like parsley and charoset).
4. Use the moment of karpas--dipping parsley into salt water--as an opportunity to bring out more dips--guacamole, salsa, etc. and raw vegetables. This is entirely consistent with the rabbis' understanding of the seder as an imitation of the Roman banquet and will buy you at least 15 minutes of seder time before guests (including adults) starting clamoring for dinner.
5. In advance, take a look at the web for fun videos for children about Passover and start showing them to your children. Same with music.
6. A great Sephardic custom involves children (or adults) walking around the table swatting the backs of guests with scallions to simulate the oppression of the Jews.
7. Check out the play in the back of A Night of Questions (Levitt and Strassfeld) for a fun way to present the story of the exodus.
8. The central point of the Seder is to ask questions because that was the rabbis’ definition of freedom. Encourage your children not only to learn the “four” questions but to think of one new question themselves.
9. one way to encourage team work with looking for the afikomen is to hide multiple pieces of matzah in envelopes with each child’s name on it. All the pieces have to be found before the Seder can continue.
10. Remember: the mitzvah is to “teach your child.” You are modeling the best of experiential Jewish education when you lead a Seder. If you love it, so will they!