This article is reprinted with permission of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Visit www.jta.org.
NEWTON, Mass., March 6 (JTA)--All Jewish holidays have moments that are tailor-made for children. We enlist our children's help as we decorate a sukkah or booth, light Hanukkah candles and dress in costume for Purim merriment. The Rosh Hashanah apple and honey are sensory reminders that we should have a sweet year, and Shabbat or the Sabbath is a weekly opportunity to reinforce family warmth and togetherness. We joke that most Jewish holidays are centered on food, but we cannot deny that the festive meal shared with family is the rallying point of most Jewish holiday celebrations.
For no holiday is this more true than for Passover. A holiday celebrating freedom, it is all about food (what you must eat, what you can eat, and what you can't eat) and so much of the seder is for the children. The Four Questions are traditionally recited by the youngest child present. We talk about the four different types of children to whom we recount the story of our exodus from slavery in Egypt. We hide the afikomen (ceremonial piece of matzah) so that children will remain awake and alert throughout the evening. Children are frequently invited to open the door to welcome Elijah and they watch eagerly to judge whether the wine glass reserved for the prophet has been sipped.
More so than many holidays, Passover is one long teachable moment. There are so many lessons to be learned. The theme of freedom is prominent and invites us to talk with our children about slavery and freedom throughout the world, as well as freedom from things that hold us captive in our own lives. It's a holiday of traditions and heritage, with a seder service that stretches back throughout the centuries and family customs that repeat through the generations. Every meal for eight days is marked by tight restrictions, a constant reminder of our relationship to God and the story of our ancestors.
Arrangements for Passover traditionally begin the day after Purim, and the arduous process of ridding the house of all chametz (leavened products) begins. Cleaning for Passover is a huge chore and strikes fear in the hearts of many. With so much work to be done, children do not seem like an asset to the process. In fact, although we always spend the seders with my parents, my mother has advised me that we are not actually invited until the day Passover begins. Apparently, my mother does not perceive my three children as helpful in the preparations.
But true to form, the traditions of Passover reserve a place for children as we ready our homes for the holiday. The cleaning culminates with a family search for chametz on the evening before the seder, and our children fall over each other to participate in this ritual. With all our bread, cereal, crackers and cookies out of the house and our regular dishes ritually sold to non-Jews (to be returned at the conclusion of the holiday), I take the last crumbs of chametz (in our case, usually corn flakes) and hide them around the house. We dim the lights; and, carrying a candle or flashlight, we search for the final bits of chametz. As we find each piece, one child brushes it with a feather into a wooden spoon and deposits it in a paper bag. The pieces will be burned in the fireplace the next morning, and the house will be pronounced chametz-free.
It is hard to imagine a ritual more perfect for children. We have a shared goal of finding all the crumbs. We roam around the house together in the dark and hunt for hidden objects. The ceremony of brushing the chametz into the spoon and bag is performed with a flourish yet is simple enough even for the youngest participant. And through it all, you can explain why we do not eat leavened products such as bread and cereal during Passover. Once again, a teachable moment.
The following craft is a kit for searching for chametz. You can either use a candle as your light source or decorate a special flashlight in honor of the event. Each child can prepare his or her own spoon and bag as well.
As you work on the craft, you can talk about the story of Passover. Although the seder is devoted to telling the history of the Exodus from Egypt, the basic facts sometimes get lost in the songs and numerology of the hagaddah or booklet used to conduct the seder. Share an age-appropriate version of the story, emphasizing how Moses led the Jewish people out of slavery and into freedom. You can play up the dramatic moments of Moses as a baby in a basket among the reeds and Miriam's role in his rescue by the Pharaoh's daughter. The plagues are always a big hit with children, and my kids enjoy the opportunity to act them out. The actual flight from Egypt with the dough that did not have the chance to rise will explain why matzah substitutes for bread all week. Use this opportunity to prepare your children for what the seder will be like. Be sure to share funny moments from seders past. Remind them of their roles in the evening. Will they be saying the Four Questions? Will they hunt, or in some families hide, the afikomen?
Passover is a complex and long holiday. For children who will be bringing special Passover foods to school or day care, it might be a good time to begin talking about what the eating restrictions will mean. What special snacks can be packed? How will your child handle questions from friends who do not share this observance? Having a birthday in April, I know how disappointing a sponge cake with a candle can be. Remind the children that the holiday only lasts eight days and that they are sharing a celebration of freedom with Jewish people all around the world.
The Craft Materials
markers or crayons
labels from bread, cookies or crackers
labels from Passover foods.
Decorate the flashlight with stickers or by gluing on other decorating scraps. Use the labels from Passover foods to make it special for the holiday.
Decorate the wooden spoon with sequins or pompoms. Color the paper bag. Suggest either symbols from the holiday (matzah, kiddush cup used to bless the wine) or scenes from the story (Baby Moses in the basket, the dividing Red Sea, the plague of frogs).
Use labels from bread, cookies or crackers to indicate that the bag will be filled with chametz products.