Passover: getting kids involved in a night to remember

Holiday: There are lots of ways to include the younger set in the family's celebration of the Jews' Exodus from Egypt.

April 04, 2001|By Louise Jacobsen Fisher | Louise Jacobsen Fisher,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The fundamental good deed of Passover is to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt to the children of the family. But reading a long Bible story with rabbinical commentary can be pretty difficult as kids climb under the dining room table, fight with their siblings or simply tune out.

To keep kids riveted to a 4,000-year-old-story usually lasting two hours or more, teachers, religious leaders and authors suggest putting on a show that includes cooking, playacting, crafts and even slapstick gags.

"Involve the children in all aspects of Passover. Make the story memorable and entertaining," says Moshe Isaacs, rabbi and principal of Hebrew Day Institute in Silver Spring. "Great rabbinical sages tell us that on Passover night, everything we do is to arouse the curiosity of children. We dip our food, we recline, we cover the matzo, hide the matzo - so many customs because we have to motivate the children to ask, `Why is this night different than other nights?' "

Food is an important element of Passover, which begins Saturday. "Passover memories are the most poignant of life," says cookbook author and food columnist Joan Kekst. She urges adults to involve the kids in the Passover kitchen and gives kid-friendly recipes such as a Passover "granola" snack, Mocherai Mix, in her new book, "Passover Cookery: In the Kitchen With Joan Kekst" (Five Star Publications, 2001, $24.95).

"Give your kids something tangible they will have their entire life. Have them prepare the Seder meal with you," she says. "The charoset [a fruit paste signifying the mortar the Hebrew slaves used to build the pyramids] is especially meaningful since it symbolizes such opposite ideas - the bitterness of slavery, yet the sweetness of the Hebrews' freedom."

Surprises, drama and little party favors can make the night different. Try a few of these ideas to send a wake-up call to children about the fundamentals of Passover:

* Open a Bag of Plagues. Remember when Charlton Heston (Moses) couldn't get Yul Brenner (Pharaoh) to let the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt in the 1956 film version of "The Ten Commandments"? This midpoint of the Seder is a good time to surprise everyone with the Bag of Plagues. Miniature marshmallows are tossed out for hail, plastic frogs are discovered under the Seder plate, a stuffed toy cow with a few bandages represents cattle disease. Assemble the Bag of Plagues a few days before the Seder and keep it hidden from the kids.

* Liven up the Exodus story with drama. Dress up as the Hebrews leaving Egypt. In Iraqi and other Sephardic Jewish families, children enter the Seder dining room wearing caftans and sandals, and carrying a walking stick. They are asked by the other Seder guests, "Where are you coming from?" To which they reply, "Egypt." "And where are you going?" The children answer, "To Israel."

* Personalize pillowcases. To emphasize that the Seder meal is different and will not be eaten in haste, provide your guests with small back pillows covered with pillowcases painted by the children. On the afternoon or day before the Seder, have kids paint inexpensive pillowcases with squeezable paints or permanent markers. Let the pillowcases dry before inserting pillows and leave them on the guests' chairs. Kids can paint the guests' names, the date of the Seder and can depict scenes from the Passover story.

* Change the scene. Rearrange the furniture. Have children replace the dining room chairs with favorite, comfortable rockers or overstuffed armchairs. Let the children select the chair and create a decorated cup for the prophet Elijah, who is expected at every Seder.

* Have the kids create a Haggada booklet, which tells the story of Exodus. They can visit Web sites such as www.jewish-world.org.il to cut and paste from various traditional Haggadas. They can add a Passover quiz to their booklet as well as songs and clip art for younger kids to color during the Seder. Serve with a small bowl of crayons for coloring.

* Involve the kids in food preparation. Easy dessert recipes using kosher-for-Passover chocolate enables the youngest of cooks to participate. The Zebra Matzo recipe uses the microwave instead of a hot stove and double boiler to warm chocolate to make a fun dessert.

* Children can assemble the Seder plate and learn the symbolism from each item on it. Moroccan, Yemenite, Egyptian, Persian and Eastern European Jewish families all have different versions of the charoset. Make a couple of different types of charoset and ask older children to compare the ingredients. Charoset differs with the available fruit of the native land. For example, the traditional Turkish charoset recipe is rich with dates and orange juice, whereas the Eastern European variety is made of apples and walnuts.

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