Passover is a Jewish spring festival that commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. Jews who live outside of Israel celebrate for eight days, the first two nights of which are spent hosting or attending seder dinners; these include the re-telling of the Exodus story and the eating of ritual foods to commemorate the event. A Passover seder can take several hours—a long time to hold the attention of children (and some adults!). They fidget, they whisper to each other, they ask, “Is this almost over?”
“The ultimate goal of the seder is to walk away with a deeper understanding of the story and of Judaism,” says Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, Director of Congregational Learning at Glencoe’s Am Shalom. To that end, the seder itself shouldn’t be a something to be endured. Rather, Sommer says, “It should be engaging and meaningful for all generations present, evolving each year to continue to pique the interest of growing children.” Below are ideas for a kid-friendly Passover seder.
1. Allow children to help clear out leavened foods (chametz) from kitchen or tape off specific cabinets and make “Keep Out for 8 Days” signs. “Be positive about the adventure—rather than focusing on what foods you can’t have,” says Sommer. She allows her children to have angel food cake breakfasts during the weeklong holiday.
2. Make homemade matzah. Fermentation is presumed to take place within 18 minutes after the exposure of the cut grain to moisture, so turn your matzah making into a “Beat the Clock” game. Try this recipe.
3. Let children create and decorate place cards for guests. Add Passover trivia questions onto the back with the answers inside and take trivia breaks during the seder.
4. Create a charoset buffet with items like grape juice-marinated apples, chopped apricots, raisins, chopped nuts, shredded coconut, honey and cinnamon. Give children a cup in which to mix their perfect charoset.
5. Give small children Passover seder activity books. “Frogs in the Bed” is a good one to explain the traditions while keeping them busy with colorful pictures and mazes and hidden picture scenes relevant to the evening.
6. Play “who am I?” game by taping the name of a Passover character to a person’s forehead or the back of their shirt, then give them five “yes or no” questions to guess who they are (the Pharaoh, the Prophet, Elijah, a Frog, etc.).
7. Ask questions throughout the seder, such as:
- What would you take with you when packing to leave Egypt?
- Which plague would have been the worst?
8. Make your own Passover bingo with pictures of events portrayed in the text (Haggadah)—like salt water, Moses, boils—to keep everyone alert and participating during the Seder. Or you can purchase a packaged passover bingo set.
9. Break the middle matzah (afikomen) into as many pieces as you have seekers. Hide the pieces and have participants bring them back together like a matzah puzzle. Award prizes to participants, possibly a bigger prize to finder of smallest (hardest to find) piece.
10. Tell silly jokes that will make the kids giggle and adults groan, like:
- What’s the best cheese for Passover? Matzah-rella
- How did the matzah feel about becoming the afikomen? He was pretty broken up about it.
- Why were Israelites constipated? Because the Pharaoh wouldn’t “let them go!”
11. Have children act out the four questions dramatically without telling adults which child is portraying each son. Adults can guess which is wise, wicked, simple or shy.
12. Pick ten adults and children to wear “Ten Plagues Masks” then yell out that plague during that portion of the text. Hail and darkness incarnate are pretty funny looking.
It’s important to remember that Passover, ultimately, is a celebration of freedom. One of the best ways to foster meaningful conversations at the table is to connect the ancient story with current events. Allow children to share what they’re learning in school about Martin Luther King or Selma, or discuss ISIS with older kids to make the experience relevant. Sommer says, “People want freedom. Passover reminds us to keep moving forward in this mission.”
Coronavirus and Passover
The coronavirus has impacted Passover plans for Jews across the country. Chabad.org has assembled a number of resources and answers to frequently asked questions about how to celebrate Passover during the coronavirus outbreak.