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We have been through 20 Passovers together. My wife does pretty well with the eating restrictions but somewhere around the middle of the holiday, there she is eating cereal in the garage. Thatâ€™s where I store the chametz, the bread products that are off-limits during Passover, to make the rest of the house ready for the holiday. I â€śsellâ€ť it to a friend or neighbor who isnâ€™t Jewish but is intrigued enough to play along. (That ensures that I donâ€™t technically own it and it can stay there as long as itâ€™s undisturbed.) But there it sits, calling out to Kirsti all week. Each bite of matzah brie and cardboard flavored Passover cereal increases her longing for the good stuff she knows is only steps away. Do I care? No, I have never cared. I have always drawn a line between my own, personal practice and hers. I need to clean the house of bread. I need to bring out the glass plates. But Kirsti didnâ€™t grow up Jewish, and while many Jewish practices are meaningful to her, this one is not.
Now enter two kids. None of these differences in our practices made an impact on our home life until we had children. While she can practice however she likes, I do want to maintain a Jewish household for our kids. In similar cases, we tend to face our differences head on, explaining to our children where our beliefs or practices may differ from one another.
Many parents who come from different backgrounds will only tell one parentâ€™s side of things until kids get older and can better handle the paradoxes. I see the value in that approach, but itâ€™s not for us. We have always told the truth about where we differ religiouslyâ€¦for better or for worse. We have different ideas about theology and share with our boys that people generallyâ€”and even Jewsâ€”donâ€™t all believe the same thing. We have different needs in terms of attending synagogue, and I am happy to be the regular Shabbat service goer with them, explaining that while sheâ€™ll go sometimes, itâ€™s more of a regular practice for me.
But Passover is tough because itâ€™s centered in the house. Do I want them to learn that itâ€™s OK to run to the garage when they have a craving? I donâ€™t need my partner to keep to it, but I want them to learn the discipline early on as a meaningful part of the Passover celebration. I want them to internalize their history as slaves being freed as they stop themselves instead of reaching for some bread. I hope they will share the excitement with me when the kitchen gets turned upside down to get ready for the holiday. But I also donâ€™t want to denigrate my partnerâ€™s practices by making them lesser. I respect her and her relationship to Judaism. How do I hold both realities?
In truth, Iâ€™ve never lived in a house where we were all practicing Judaism in the same way.Â I grew up in a home with two Jewish parents for whom Jewish eating practices held no meaning. We always laughed that it wasnâ€™t Passover if there wasnâ€™t a honey-baked ham on the table. OK, we never went that far, but ham and seafood were staples in our home. My mother would proudly say, â€śI donâ€™t practice my religion through my stomach.â€ť But even as a kid, I was drawn to the idea that refraining from bread made the week of my favorite holiday feel special, and I worked around my familyâ€™s need for their cupboards to remain untouched.
So we talked to our kids this Passover about the realities of different kinds of Jewish practice. They were informed that their Mommy sneaks some chametz (not surprising since they already knew that although she has tried valiantly to give them up over the years, she has a soft spot for cheeseburgers). But we didnâ€™t dwell on the food-talk. What we did spend time discussing were the values we hope they took away from the holiday. Standing up for those who are oppressed. Using your own story of pain and difference to inspire you to rescue others. That freedom is possible. And for my partner, we know that her freedom is saying farewell to matzah for another year.
I have visceral memories of Passover as a child. It was a time, not a meal. My mother who worked more than full time was home.
We would rush to the kosher butcher for a huge slab of brisket. I loved going (this was the only time we went to the butcher during the year) because I felt part of something. There were so many other women there shopping for their Passover food. We spoke the same language, we were sharing the same busy-ness. It didn’t matter who was Orthodox and who Reform. We were one extended family. We brought a list to the supermarket for our food and other items (something that signified major cooking). We bought Manishevitz at the liquor store. I felt that everyone knew we were celebrating Passover. I felt that each stop was one step on the journey of doing Passover. We bought flowers for the table at the florist.
There was adrenaline and joy in my young soul. I was with the women of my family. We did Passover the same way each year. The familiarity of our preparations was warm to me, and precious. We set a beautiful, fancy table. I loved setting the table as a child. I had a job. It was a real job. People admired my work.
My beloved grandparents were at my house. I dressed up and so did everyone else. My Papa, of blessed memory, sang Chad Gadya in one breath. We dipped fingers in wine for the plagues. I proudly sang the Four Questions, showing off. We looked for the afikomen and claimed our dollar prize from a man at the tableâ€”tradition?
Fresh, bright, spring, freedom.
I loved eating matzah with cinnamon and sugar. I don’t think I can replicate this heaven. My family is scattered geographically. My child doesn’t sit still. I don’t cook like my mom did. I am a rabbi married to a rabbi. You could have predicted my profession from my love of Jewish holidays.
Now I have two lenses by which I view Passover. I think about the seder in terms of my kids. I think about the seder in terms of interfaith families. How does someone who didnâ€™t grow up with Passover experience it in a loved oneâ€™s house with their family? When does one become part of the family? How does the message of going from slavery to freedom translate? How can someone with no memories of a holiday come to make it their own as an adult?
But the truth is, only my family has the memories I have. It draws us close and it is fun to reminisce. Those years are forever a part of me. What memories will stay with my children about Passover?
Who will they remember?
What foods will they long for?
What traditions will they hold in their hearts?
Passover is one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays and many Jewish families have some type of Passover seder, but preparing to host a seder can be intimidating. This is true whether or not you grew up Jewishâ€”and, as I can personally attest, even if youâ€™re a rabbi!
Seder means â€śorderâ€ť in Hebrew, and there is a set order for how the seder is to proceed, set forth in the haggadah. As an avid haggadah collector, I can tell you that there are LOTS of different haggadot to choose fromâ€”or you may put one together yourself. But even once youâ€™ve selected a haggadah, if you have kids coming to your seder thereâ€™s the added pressure of wanting them to be engaged throughout the evening.
Here are some things that have worked for me in the past:
MAD LIBS, COLORING PAGES, ETC.: One year, when the kids arrived at my seder, I gave them a Passover Mad Libs game.Â Playing Mad Libs is a great way to keep kids busy before the seder starts (especially if you donâ€™t want them running all over your house!) or after they have eaten their mealâ€”which we all know takes kids a lot less time than it takes adults. If there are kids who are too young for Mad Libs, you can give them Passover coloring pages and crayons to keep them occupiedÂ (Google â€śPassover Coloring Pagesâ€ť and youâ€™ll find lots of pages you can print for free)Â or if you happen to be using a digital haggadah, like this one from JewishBoston.com, the younger set can enjoy this fun onlineÂ seder matching game. Coloring in their own Passover placemats (which you can buy in many grocery stores, Judaica shops or onlineâ€”or make your own) kept my kids happy and quiet during seders when they were little, as did kidsâ€™ haggadot that they could color in.
PASSOVER GRANOLA: Several years ago, I attended a pre-Passover workshop led by Noam Zion, one of the authors of A Different Night, The Family Participation Haggadah. Zion suggested that when the seder begins, the host should give each guest a bag of granola, which they can nosh on so they wonâ€™t be hungry and anxious for the meal, and thus will be more engaged during the pre-meal part of the seder, which is the majority of the haggadah. So when we all sat down, I gave everyone, adults as well as children, a bag filled with raisins, nuts, and Kosher for Passover chocolate chips and marshmallows. I explained that just as our Israelite ancestors went on a long journey after leaving Egypt, we too would have a â€śjourneyâ€ť before we began our meal, and the bag was filled with some food to keep us nourished along the way. (I also promised my guests that our journey would be a lot shorter than 40 years!). Another fun thing about the Passover granola was that my daughter, who was four at the time, had a great time preparing all of the bags with me before our guests arrived.
BINGO: One of the biggest hits was when I used a website to make a Passover Bingo game for my younger guests. The squares on the Bingo game had phrases such as: â€śI recited the four questions,â€ť â€śI drank the second cup of wine/juice,â€ť â€śI asked a questionâ€ť and â€śI tasted maror.â€ť I gave each kid a small cup of raisins, and told them to put a raisin on a square once they had done what was written in the square. This kept the kids engaged throughout the eveningâ€”nobody wanted to miss doing something and not be able to fill in that square on their card. I recently found a similar Passover Bingo game online here.
QUESTIONS! QUESTIONS! AND MORE QUESTIONS!: Any good seder involves a lot more than just the Four Questions in the haggadah. Originally, the items on the seder plate and many of the Passover rituals were meant to spark questions. Your seder wonâ€™t be nearly as rewarding if you just read through the haggadah without taking time for questions and discussion. Here are some fun ways to incorporate questions into your seder:
Ask lots of questions: Before the seder, go to a Dollar Store or party store and buy a bunch of cheap little toys to use as prizes. Throughout the seder, stop to ask questions about the story and celebration of Passover. Whoever answers the question correctly gets a prize. Youâ€™ll probably find that the adults like to play along and show off their knowledge as much as the kids do. Or better yetâ€¦
Have your guests ask the questions: Encourage questioning by giving out a prize every time someone asks a question. Then let someone else answer the questionâ€”and they can get a prize too.
Put questions under everyone’s plates: One year I put an index card with a Passover-related question on it under each plate before everyone arrived at my seder. Some of the questions were serious (e.g., â€śIf you could invite anyone to a seder, who would it be and why?â€ť) while others were more light-hearted (e.g., â€śIf you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life, would you rather it be matzah or bitter herbs?â€ť). At different points throughout the seder, I would randomly pick a person and ask them to take the index card out from under their plate (no peeking at the card until youâ€™re called on!), read their question and answer it.
Advanced planning is key to a successful seder. But that being said, once your planning is finished and your guests arrive, do your best to relax and enjoy!
Are there things youâ€™ve done at a seder in the past that have been fun for kids and kept them engaged? What are you planning for this year?Â
What memories do you have of growing up? How did your family celebrate holidays?
My favorite holiday has always been Passover. While I was growing up, my parents hosted the Passover Seder for the extended family. Weâ€™d add tables, outgrowing the dining room and â€śkidsâ€™ tableâ€ť until we had a series of three tables spanning the dining room, entry way and into the living room. My aunts, uncles and cousins would all come to our house for a few days and weâ€™d celebrate Passover.
Living in Northern California, we did not have an abundance of kosher-for-Passover options. Luckily, my aunts would buy out all the markets in Los Angeles and bring delicacies with them that would last throughout the week of Passover.
After the crowds left, my mom would make matzo meal pancakes. Light and fluffy, made mostly of egg whites and air, they were my favorite (probably because I ate them with tablespoons of white sugar on top).
It wasn’t until a month ago that I learned where the matzo meal pancake recipe came from. I should have known that my momâ€™s mom was not the source. My grandmother was raised Mormon and converted to Judaism before marrying my grandfather. They raised three wonderful Jewish children and always had a Jewish household (see nature vs. nurture).
During summer break, while my mother was in high school, she traveled to Indianapolis to visit my father for a weekend while he was working there for the summer. At that time, not yet married, it was not â€śappropriateâ€ť for them to stay under the same roof, so while he was living with his cousins, my mother stayed with my fatherâ€™s grandmother.
One morning, my great-grandmother made the pancakes for my mom. Mom immediately fell in love with them. My great-grandmotherâ€™s recipe has been a family treasure ever since.
InterfaithFamily is here to help families discover long-lost family recipes and traditions, to create your own traditions and to help you explore what aspects of Judaism you want to incorporate into your lives as you create new traditions for your family.
In the Bay Area, newlyweds and nearly-wedded couples can begin this process by joining us for our Love and Religion â€“ Online workshop which begins July 29.
This year my parents hosted their 44th annual Passover seder. I’m not old enough to have been to them all, but the only year I didn’t attend was when I was living in Israel. Thus, for me, this is how Passover seder is “done.” It’s the seder that I grew up with. I distinctly remember the first time I went to a different seder and realized that there are other ways of observing this Jewish tradition.
Many years ago my family started holding our seder on the Saturday night during Passover. Although not always the traditional first or even second night seder, it is ours. This year our seder took place on the sixth night. By bringing family together on the weekend, we are able to max-out the dining room that each year stretches into the living room, setting places for 29 people (not including Elijah). The Haggadah was the same as it always is with the additions over the years for Miriam’s Cup, a contemporary Dayeinu, and some other assorted embellishments.
However this year was different from other years because my niece (the only of her generation) is nearly 21 months old and now able to interact with all of us. Upon her birth, I enrolled my niece in PJ Library — an amazing program that sends a free Jewish book to children every month. My sister-in-law brought the most recent edition, and a current favorite, Company’s Coming: A Passover Lift-the-Flap Book.
What’s special about this book? The flaps make reading fun. The message is straight-forward. It walks the young reader through the elements of preparing for Passover, setting the table, and the items on the seder plate. Since we were setting the table while my mom read to her, it was fitting to show the actual items as they appeared in the book. We made reading come alive even more than the lift-the-flaps.
My favorite part was how she embraced the kippah. She put it on my dad’s head. She put it on her own head. She even put it on the dog’s head! Bless her heart; the dog was so patient, never moving while this adorable little girl dressed up for the seder. (Need proof? Check out the adorably cute photos below!)
If you have (or know) a little one, consider signing up for PJ Library. You may not love every book as much as my family loves this one, but I’m sure you’ll find a gem of your own. In the Bay Area, sign up online or visit their site to find the PJ Library nearest you.
One of the things I like about the Passover seder at my aunt’s house is how we incorporate multiple languages and cultures. Specifically, toward the end of the seder, it is a family tradition to sing Hatikvah (the Israeli national anthem) and God Bless America. When my cousin married a man from Togo (a country in West Africa), we also added the Togolese national anthem. So now we’re singing in Hebrew, English, and French!
I didn’t even realize that the tradition of singing God Bless America began with her great-grandmother who was an immigrant from Eastern Europe. I never had the chance to meet her, but my cousin recently told me that she would insist on singing this American standard at the seder each year. She wanted to express how grateful she was to be here. (I wonder if she knew it was written by a Jew, who was inspired by similar sentiments?)
Now if that isn’t a statement about freedom, I don’t know what is!
In fact, the whole exercise seems like a symbol of freedom to me. We are free to speak in whatever language we want, free to practice the religion of our choosing, and free to marry who we love (at least here in Massachusetts). Not all of us attending the seder were raised Jewish (both my cousin and I intermarried), but we all come together on Passover to celebrate our freedom in song.
If you are lucky enough to be invited to a seder this year, here are a few tips. As you may already know, there is a wide array of observance in the Jewish religion. Every seder is a little bit different just like every family. A new person to the seder is always a delight; a new participant at the family seder is a wonderful addition. At minimum, the new guest(s) are a new audience for the often-repeated family story or family joke. If you are a little nervous, don’t be — the goal of the holiday is to learn about and discuss freedom. It is a great opportunity for you and everyone to learn.
Here are a few tips for you.
Hope you have a wonderful seder! If you have any questions or other items to add to the protocol, add them to the comments section and we will address any questions or suggestions that you post.
Thanks to all of you who responded to our Passover/Easter survey.
The results are in! We just sent out the following press release â€” let us know what you think of the findings.
Actually, I’m having a hard time not just quoting this whole, short article, so just read it now. I’ll wait here.
In his above-mentioned book (read an excerpt here), Bronfman wrote that among Jews and the Jewish community, the
Keeping with the themes of openness, new ideas, and inclusion, Bronfman has written a new Passover Haggadah, the book used as a guide for the ritual dinner, the seder.
His own family seders are large and celebratory affairs and include intermarried family members and friends old and new who are welcomed to enjoy the annual feast together.
Well-chosen readings from luminaries, including abolitionist Frederick Douglass and poet Marge Piercy, highlight the story of slavery and freedom. Bronfman’s creative and interactive approach is a story for all ages, in which readers assume a character in the Exodus journey.
It also diverts from the traditional Haggadah in a way that is extremely welcoming to interfaith families. “I decided to open the door to Elijah at the beginning of the meal instead of at the end. I always found it slightly odd that Elijah was invited to the table after the meal. My wife, Jan, and I both believe it is before this joyous feast begins that we ought to invite the stranger into our homes,” he writes in the Haggadah.
In Bronfman’s view, Elijah represents a redeemed world — a world free of racism, slavery, cruelty, poverty and greed. Elijah also represents the hungry stranger. This gesture reminds us to open the doors of our hearts to those in need during this holiday season and the rest of the year.
Inviting and inclusive, and with illustrations by Bronfman’s wife, Jan Aronson, it looks like a nice new alternative for families who want to share the storytelling and keep the seder to English.
What do you think? Is this a Haggadah your family will try out this Passover?