Are we telling that same story…again? The Seder is supposed to be the quintessential experiential program—the re-living of Yetziat Mitzrayim. But let’s be honest, the story is the same as it was last year. It hasn’t changed. So the fifth question of the night becomes how to take a rerun and upgrade it in a way to make even the most jaded of us excited to return to experience yet another exodus.
Yet, there is experiential and then there is experiential. Some holidays have action built right in. On Purim, the kids dress up, they yell and scream at Haman while listening to the Megillah and they ride around as we deliver mishloach manot. On Sukkot, we build a sukkah, decorate it, eat in it and some of us will even sleep in it. But there really is no reason why the Seder, even with the same story as last year, can’t be both fun and engaging for all. With just a little planning and effort, you will see the excitement in the eyes of your children and guests and you will never look at leaving Egypt the same way again.
Here are some Seder-tested ideas that will change yours from dry and ordinary to exciting and engaging. Word on the street has been a resounding thumbs up. One member of Rinat in Teaneck reported, “Fabulous! What a treasure!” From Shaare Tefillah, also in Teaneck, “We used to dread the Seders, now we look forward to them. You’ve saved Passover for us! Thanks!” And another from Chabad of Woodcliff Lake, “Using a few of your ideas last year resulted in [the kids] saying it was the best Seder ever and they cannot imagine how I am going to top that.”
In creating activities for the Seder, our goals have been several-fold. We strive to engage our children and keep the Seder moving (both temporally and physically). We also work to get our kids invested in the effort so that they will “own” some of the activities. Anything that they have helped create will resonate all that much more with them. (It also doesn’t hurt that we try to surreptitiously maintain their sugar levels during what is always a late night.)
Depending on the age and personality of your children, be prepared to cut the intellectual discussions short (there, I said it). Sure, it would be wonderful to have the neighbors knock on the door in the morning announcing it’s time to recite Shema, but the real mitzvah is to pass the story and the experience of leaving Egypt on to the children. Many young children, and I would venture a guess most adults too, really can not sit through a long discussion. They’re tired, they’re hungry, they want excitement and as we all know, they want food. So be prepared to cut out the long discussions and just fly through those sections. There will come a time soon enough when the children are older and you will be the one who wants to end early. But for now, keep it fluid, keep it exciting, keep it entertaining.
Our number one idea of them all has been Pesach Points, colorful “currency” that we pass out with each question, answer or song (or for no good reason whatsoever). They are redeemed at the end of the Seder for a prize. They’re fun, they’re colorful and they create a little friendly competition. Only after our youngest turned 10 did the interest in Pesach Points finally wane in our house. Erev Yom Tov, print out the points and let your kids cut them out. Not only will you have purchased 20 minutes of quiet, you’ll whet your children’s appetites for what’s to come.
Planning games and activities around and during the Seders is essential, and singing is a must. Sing whatever parts of the Haggadah you can. We all remember the songs we sang at our own childhood Seders (who doesn’t remember Dayenu?) and our own children are no different. Our family has played its own version of “Passover Bingo,” where marshmallows and jelly rings (or carrot slices for a healthier alternative) are used as markers when a certain section in the Haggadah is reached or an activity is performed. Not only does this keep the kids looking for the next box to cover but it provides them with a much needed snack along the way. Several years ago, “Pesach Headbanz” and “Pesach Taboo” came out during our Shulchan Orech. Maybe even try to “mix it up a bit.” We’ve had an alternative kids’ karpas with sliced bananas and chocolate syrup. Sure created lots of questions (Can we really do this?? Is the bracha the same?) and we left the extra banana slices on the table to be quietly taken for snacks during Maggid.
No one can possibly remain seated the whole Seder. But when it comes to action Seders, some communities really know what to do. I am told those of Yemenite ancestry step over a pot of water, in lieu of crossing the Red Sea. Why not take this one step further? Several years ago, I found Moshe’s staff on Har Nevo (a.k.a the pitcher’s mound in Phelps Park). So now, right after we read the 10 plagues, we all stand up and walk through the house led by Moshe holding his staff. We cross the Yam Suf (really a doorway covered with a blue plastic tablecloth) all the while singing Az Yashir. In our house, just when the kids are getting antsy... Let’s go! Time to cross the Red Sea! With the idea of trying to keep it fresh, our personal Yetziat Mitzrayim seems to expand a little each year. One year, we had backpacks prepared for the kids with clothes, water bottles, sunhats, sunglasses and some matzah (to put on their shoulders). The next year, I snuck away during Maggid, changed into a Pharaoh costume and chased the children through the sea. Another year, our children took two blue tablecloths and hung them on our hallway walls and pinned to them pictures of fish, other sea creatures, chariots and horses and we walked between the walls of water. And yet another year, after passing through the Yam Suf, the children arrived at an inflatable swimming pool and palm tree. What a great teaching moment! With a little prompting, the kids learned where Bnei Yisrael landed after Kriat Yam Suf and what happened at Marah. The year after that, we made our place cards look like passports, and everyone received a “visa” to enter Eretz Yisrael before returning to their seats.
While props for the 10 plagues have become commonplace, they may not excite the children as they get older. But there is still much than can be done. We’ve created Pesach brain teasers, word puzzles and rebuses for them to solve when they need a break from the festivities. Pesach math has been a popular one (e.g. 12 = The T___ of I___). For several years, we hung the words from the pasuk “וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיוֹם הַהוּא...” around the room. The teenagers’ mission was to link each paragraph in Maggid, as it’s read, to its corresponding word in that pasuk (see the introduction to the Malbim Haggadah, my personal favorite). Five years ago, we found Princess Batya’s diary in a “museum archive”, telling the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim from her viewpoint. The kids were given a key and they were asked to “help the museum” translate the hieroglyphics. We’ve made word-searches just for Pesach. We’ve created Seder Selfies where different objects from the Seder took selfies of themselves at odd angles and the kids had to figure out what they were. Bet you can’t solve this one! For the high schoolers at the table, we’ve had afikoman hunts based around tRNA codons and another one based on the periodic table.
With just a little planning, the Seder can become a highlight of the year and will create memories your children will never forget! These are just a couple ideas but they are merely the tip of the iceberg. So much can be done; the limits are only your imagination.
“And when your child shall ask what is this service,”
“וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיוֹם הַהוּא... “
“And you shall tell your child on that day...”
If we can foster excitement in our children, we will pass the message on to them. This is not just laudatory, rather, this is the real mitzvah of the Seder!
By Zalman Suldan