Pesach and the Family (resources or activities)
Melanie Cole Goldberg
Pesach is a great holiday for parents to act as the true teachers of their children. Not only is the holiday the most celebrated of the year, but its very nature of home preparation, the Seder experience, and the customs and special foods of Pesach, lends itself to parents explaining and teaching the meaning and customs of the holiday.1 With a little preparation, families can make Pesach a rich experience for everyone. We will focus on two areas: Cleaning and Preparation and The Seder. Here are some ideas to try:
Cleaning and Preparation
There are varying degrees of getting a home prepared for Pesach-from avoiding having bread in the house to completely removing all foods, dishes and utensils and replacing them with ones that are only for Pesach. The choice is yours. Your children will definitely know that something is going on with this holiday if you do some preparation. Prior to the start of Pesach, families can remove chametz (all the leaven items from their home) which can be a great spring cleaning experience. Go through closets and drawers and clear out crumbs and dust. It’s amazing what can be found behind a desk or under a bed! Clean out clothes that don’t fit or are unwanted and donate them. Have children participate with vacuuming and dusting. They can also select toys for donation and reorganize their now uncluttered closets. The biggest area of cleaning for Pesach remains the kitchen. Eat up the chametz in your home, and avoid buying more until Pesach is over. To really get the feeling of removing the chametz, take your chametz and store it in a cabinet or area away from the kitchen. Put a piece of tape over the doors to show your children that you don’t use it for Pesach. In order to avoid owning any chametz during Pesach some people “sell” to a non-Jew for a small amount and then repurchase their food after the holiday. This is the time for using the automatic cleaning function of your oven. Though the Pesach cleaning can be hard work, it comes at the end with a wonderful feeling of satisfaction.
In addition to cleaning, preparing for Pesach also means having foods in the house that are special for Pesach. This includes matzah and Kosher for Passover foods. Your family may have special recipes that are only used for Pesach. Encourage your children to help with Pesach shopping, food selection and preparation. They will remember that they helped to make the charoset!2
Preparation also helps make the Seder experience richer. Give family members tasks of bringing a story, song or article to discuss during the Seder. Ask kids to prepare a skit or digital presentation via laptop or tablet on a topic germane to the holiday. Our daily news is filled with articles on slavery, injustice, freedom, and redemption and can be used to bring the lessons of Pesach literally to the table.
After all the preparation, the night before the Seder provides a fun tradition for families, namely, searching for the chametz, (bedikat chametz). This is a favorite activity for my family and continues with my youngest teenage son who still lives at home. Each child gets a turkey feather, a wooden spoon and a candle3 (or flashlight). Parents hide ten small pieces of chametz through the house. With the lights turned off, the children search for the little pieces of chametz using the light of the candle or flashlight as a guide. They collect the chametz by sweeping it onto the spoon with the feather and putting the pieces in a paper bag. Blessings4 for the removal of the chametz are said and the bag, along with the feather and spoon are saved for the next morning for the burning of the bag’s contents. A fireplace, or outdoor grill are probably the safest places for this ritual which has its own blessings. Of course this is something that has to have parental supervision.
Setting the table, preparing the food, and engaging in discussion are all part of the Seder experience. When decorating for Pesach, don’t forget to use any handmade items from your children. The matzah cover from preschool should definitely cover the plate of matzot at your seder table. If your kids enjoy creating things, have them update their handiwork as they get older and give them more sophisticated materials to work with. Hiddur Mitzvah5, the mitzvah of beautifying Jewish objects and holidays is something that everyone in the family can participate in to make Pesach very special. Older kids who can handle a hot glue gun can create matzah boxes that fit around square vases for the table’s flowers. They can decorate pillow cases with fabric paints for each person at the seder, or they could craft beautiful ceramic pieces to adorn the table such as bowls for salt water or charoset, cups for Miriam or Elijah or even a Seder Plate.
Don’t forget to use a Haggadah that will engage all members of the family. There are many varieties of Haggadot available today and ones from 40 years ago don’t have to be used anymore!
During the Seder get everyone involved! One way is to do a “paper bag seder”6. This is when each person receives at their seat a small paper bag with an object inside. It can be related to Pesach or completely unrelated. The task of the participant is to somehow, during the course of the seder, imaginatively incorporate their object into the telling of the story.
Ultimately, what makes a Seder meaningful and fun is getting everyone involved in some way. The Haggadah helps guide us through by asking questions, eating special foods and, and acknowledging our blessings. With some preparation and creativity you can have a seder to remember and truly say Dayeinu!