Most Jews I know did not have the privilege of attending Hebrew Day School. We went to public school and sang Christmas carols in the holiday assembly with one obligatory Hanukkah tune. Kids like us didn’t go to school on Rosh Hashanah and participated in Halloween school dances and trick or treat. There were a few of us in the school, we knew who was part of our tribe. But in a place like Toronto, everyone belonged. We were the children of immigrants. We grew up knowing the struggle of earning a living, we didn’t ask for the expensive cereal. We were considered privileged if we played hockey or danced ballet. Our parents didn’t pack lunches with wonder bread with a slice of salami, they packed us foods from our native lands whether it was inspired cuisines from the Middle East or Eastern Europe.
Everyone at school knew about Passover. We the Jewish kids would come to school with matzah sandwiches filled with chocolate, jam, or cheese. Some of us had parents who were more creative with matzah and fried it in egg. The Matzah brie of the past was like the tik tok wrap trend of today. We entered the Passover Seder with delight to eat “the good meat”, enjoying our grandmother’s chicken soup and matzah ball recipe. We ate until our stomachs were puffed and then we said “Next year in Jerusalem.”
But, for many of us the story was lost in translation. We couldn’t read Hebrew although we may have spoken it at home. We didn’t know the songs and tunes except for the first line of “Ma Nishtana”. Now we are parents, and our children are going to join us around the table for Passover night. What legacy will we pass down to them? How can we convey the story of our ancestors when we don’t have all the tools to do so? Many of us find ourselves self-conscious about our lack of Jewish knowledge. Torah knowledge is our birthright, but was not accessible to all of us.
How can we overcome our limitations while still bringing knowledge and passing down a legacy to our children on Seder night? I have found in my own journey, it’s ok to say, “I don’t know!” and immediately follow that with, “who can I seek out to help me?” The Jewish world, especially in North America is so fortunate to have incredible outreach organizations, Rabbi’s who are engaged with their community’s needs. The internet is booming with resources, even social media has become the new go to for downloading another version of the Haggadah. Something my Rabbi taught me when I attended my own “mock seder”, was that Passover night is about the kids. Here are some tips I picked up along the way:
- Go on iTunes, Spotify or where ever you get your music and start playing a Passover playlist in the evenings after school hours. Repetition is a great way to learn songs.
- Go to your local Judaic store and pick up a kid’s version of a Haggadah, especially if you feel like a beginner. And while your there ask for a “plague kit.”
- Decoration are critical. Don’t just set the table, animate it. Buy plastic frogs and dollar store animals to represent the plagues. I bought 100 ping pong balls and throw them all over the table when we come to the plague of “Hail.”
- Make their favourite food and yours!
- Prepare age-appropriate questions to ask your kids, and REWARD them with candy.
- Share your own stories of self-limiting beliefs and how you broke free from a slave mentality. Discuss examples of freedom.
The Haggadah (the story read on Passover Seder night) can be read in any language, it doesn’t take away from it’s message or power. The section of the Haggadah (Maggid) is when we retell the story of the exodus. We read about 4 different sons. Each son represents a different character in our family. This part of the Haggadah reminds us of the simple son who doesn’t even know what to ask. We may feel like that kid. We don’t even know where to begin. But even that son/daughter is accepted and welcomed to the Passover Seder. Because while he/she may not be able to sing any tune, or understand any Hebrew, they are part of the tribe. Their story matters and the stories you tell them will shape their perception of how important they are. They are ultimately the link in the chain of Jewish history. Those sons and daughters of ours will one day have children and be sitting on Passover Seder night telling their children of their experience. Our hope and prayer is that they’ll share the following:
They’ll say that although their parents may not have known every word or song to say or sing on Passover night, their parents were still able to infuse in them a strong Jewish identity, a connection to a rich history of people who broke away from slavery, and a shared theme of freedom. Not every Passover Seder will look exactly the same, but the themes are universal and relatable. On Passover night we share the greatest story every told. On Passover night, we are free to pass down our birthright to the next generation. Wisdom is all ours for the taking!