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Creating Jewish Memories for Interfaith Families at the Passover Seder

November 20, 2006

As Passover approaches, consider for a moment what the seder (ritual meal) can bring into our lives and how it can create vivid Jewish memories for our children. The seder can be tailor made for interfaith couples to share a meaningful Jewish experience that will enhance their home lives. At the beginning of the seder each participant is given a guidebook called the haggadah ("the telling" in Hebrew). The haggadah includes questions that have ready answers, instructions on which foods to eat and in what order, when to drink the wine, and words to traditional songs. This helpful information makes the seder quite "user-friendly" to both the novice and the more experienced participant.

But how do young children begin to identify with their religion and religious community? It's one thing to make a decision to raise Jewish children in an interfaith marriage, but how do parents then create positive Jewish memories for them?

Young children identify with their religious community through the concrete symbols and rituals parents introduce into their lives. I recall how my daughter at three described the world as divided between "tree kids" and "menorah kids." She could not grasp the concepts of Christianity and Judaism (let alone that there are other religions in the world). But she categorized her world based upon the symbols of the two faiths. Young children are impressed by religious symbols because they make religious ideals more concrete. As children mature, symbols can further emphasize the Jewish values they represent and the important history to which they refer.

The Passover seder is also a unique teaching tool for interfaith families because it is so rich with symbolism. We taste emblematic foods from the seder plate, discuss the history of matzah and even open the door for the prophet Elijah. The seder is also special because it invites people of all ages to participate. There are roles for even the youngest children who cannot yet read a part in this retelling of the Passover story. Passover observance specifically requires each one of us to consider the Exodus from Egypt as a personal experience. This is a singular way of making Jewish history alive and relevant. To that end celebrating Passover provides an opportunity to create family memories for years to come.

It is customary to invite guests to the seder. This creates an occasion to encourage those of another religious background to partake of the Passover rituals while acknowledging and sharing the seder's universal themes. The text of the haggadah includes the eternal themes of freedom and liberation from bondage, fighting for social justice, and the renewal of spring. Through the experience of the seder, one can cultivate a connection to Jewish history as well as to fellow Jews throughout the world.

As we prepare for the upcoming Passover holiday, consider how the seder--or any Jewish ritual--contributes to a warm, positive Jewish environment. If some of the observances associated with Passover are new or intimidating, take a little time to learn about the traditions. Read through the haggadah ahead of time, participate in a Passover workshop, glean information from the Internet. (There are a number of surprising resources in cyberspace). Reminisce about your own holiday experiences with your partner, carefully evaluate your Passover plans, and work together to make the seder a rewarding part of your family life.

If you are just beginning to incorporate Passover into your family tradition, take small steps. You may choose for the first year to attend a community or family seder before hosting your own. Another alternative is to share the planning and preparation with a few other families. To ease into celebrating Passover, start with a festive meal and utilize select portions of the seder. Observe more customs each year. It is better to start modestly, than to forgo altogether the important lessons of the holiday.

Passover signals the reemergence of spring as well as a time to establish or review a family's commitment to Judaic observance. And in the process, may this Passover represent a meaningful step in a journey filled with enriching memories.

Hebrew for "telling," the text that outlines the order of the Passover seder. There are many, many versions of this book, which dates back almost 2,000 years. Because we are commanded to expand upon the story, the Haggadah contains ancient interpretations, as well as stage directions and explanations, for the Passover meal. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Hebrew for "candelabrum" or "lamp," it usually refers to the nine-branched candelabrum that is lit for the holiday of Hanukkah. (A seven-branched candelabrum, a symbol of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, is a symbol of Judaism and is included in Israel's coat of arms.) A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew word for an unleavened bread, traditionally eaten during the holiday of Passover. Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals.
Debora Weinberg Antonoff

Debora Weinberg Antonoff, M.A. Jewish Education and Jewish Communal Service, Program Director. Debbie is the creator of the Building Blocks: The Alef-Bet of Creating a Jewish Home (also known as "Mothers' Circle") curriculum and program for moms in interfaith marriages raising Jewish children. She also developed the Bridge to the Home and Pathways to the Synagogue programs for interfaith couples. Since 1987, Debbie has served as the Atlanta-area Facilitator for the Times & Seasons discussion groups for interfaith couples, presents various workshops and has trained Outreach facilitators. In 2004 Debbie was a recipient of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta's "Women of Achievement" award for her role in advocating and leading Outreach programming for interfaith families.

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