Our 3-year-old son sits at the dinner table for 10 or 15 minutes on a good day. And yet, I’m hopeful that he will stick around the Passover table for even longer this year. With help from several sources, I’m coming up with ways to bring out the kid in all of us.
Here, on behalf of families everywhere with a young child or two at the Seder table, are a few ideas:
• Give everyone a part to sound out during Chad Gadya. Yes, I said everyone. Someone becomes the cat, the kid aka goat, the dog, the stick, the fire, the two zuzim, and even the Holy One. Don’t tell the participants how to act. Let them be creative. At a recent event at my temple, Temple Isaiah of Lexington, Cantor Lisa Doob handed out the parts, and soon, adults and tots alike were taking turns baa-ing, meowing, woofing, and in the case of my tot, saying, “Clink, clink,” for the two zuzim.
• Jump those little froggies. For a few dollars, I bought a bag of frogs that you can make hop. We plan to again mimic an idea Cantor Doob and her family does by letting the frogs hop whenever – once we read about the 10 plagues.
• Shake those tambourines. I love Debbie Friedman’s Miriam’s Song even if I almost always start singing it in the wrong key. Sing the song or put on the CD during your Seder and shake tambourines or homemade shakers. And hey, try some shakers during Dayenu.
• Float the boat. Kudos to Abbe Smerling, who teaches a preschool Judaism class, at our temple. She sent my son and other youngsters home with a tiny plastic baby in a little plastic tub. Her recommendation: Let your child float the baby – aka baby Moses – down the Nile in a confined container during the Seder.
• Get a few haggadahs aimed at children. We’re planning to try out Sammy Spider’s First Hagaddah by children’s author Sylvia Rouss. It stays true to the Passover story but incorporates beautiful fun illustrations and easy-to-sing songs to the tune of children’s favorites, such as Old McDonald Had a Farm, and London Bridges.
• Develop hand signals to go with the Four Questions to make it easier to learn for your toddler and others of any age who are not that comfortable with Hebrew. Pretend to sleep as you chant about nights. Pretend to cry when you chant about the bitter maror. Recline when you chant about… You get the idea.
• Bring a little Dr. Seuss whimsy to the table. Friends at past Seders have read a selection from Uncle Eli’s Passover Hagaddah. The book uses Dr. Seuss style verse for nearly every aspect of Passover, including matzo, the bread of affliction. We will likely pick only one or two excerpts to read. Short is better.
Our temple rabbi, Howard Jaffe, on Sunday gave a talk about Passover as part of a temple weekend that focused on Pesach. No one, he noted, commanded us to tell the Passover story in one particular way. How we tell our children is our choice. I’d rather give my son excuses to stay at the table than to flee. How about you?