By Rabbi Steven Schwarzman
(AJNews) – In North America, some Jewish holidays have become focused on children. Hanukkah and Purim come to mind. If you’ve been in Israel for those holidays, you know that, while kids also enjoy them, they’re primarily for adults. (I once organized a Purim party for the adult members of my synagogue, and we realized that we needed to rename it from the original draft of “Adult Purim Party,” which suggested something a bit different from what we had in mind.)
In Israel, adults dress up for Purim almost as much as the kids do, and the partying is taken seriously. For Hanukkah, everyone, but everyone, lights candles, and there aren’t presents to be given or received – those are more likely to appear for Pesach. Not only do the kids negotiate for a serious Passover present if the adults want to get that afikoman back, but the grownups, too, are likely to receive a Pesach holiday bonus at work.
But while Jews in North America may have made Hanukkah and Purim child-centered (and what a pity that only a smaller number of grownups take part in those great holidays), it is entirely appropriate to make the Pesach seders focused at least in part on the children. This might be surprising: after all, freedom and redemption are weighty concepts that probably speak most to adult minds. And while the midrash adds a rather fanciful interpretation to exaggerate the number of plagues visited upon the Egyptians, adults are better able to appreciate why the midrash takes that route: to emphasize the power and magnitude of G-d’s redemption.
Yet our tradition teaches explicitly that the grownups leading the seder should intentionally do things to keep the children engaged, from changing the normal order of things so that the kids naturally ask what’s different about this night to singing the kid-friendly songs at the end, and in the middle, doing everything we can to get the kids and the adults to ask probing questions about the exodus from Egypt, about the seder, and anything related. This is why the rabbis teach that the more of this that we do, the better, because it is prompting this discussion that is the essence of the seder.
So if your seders need a little spicing up, try switching to a different haggadah this year. Or give everyone at your table a different haggadah so that they all have to figure out where they are in the seder. Or dress up as one or more of the characters in the story so that everyone else can interview you. (Miriam the Prophetess appeared at our second seder last year.) Make this night different from all other seder nights, and you’ll keep the kids and the grownups fully engaged. That’s what the seder is all about.
Chag kasher vesameach to all!
Rabbi Steven Schwarzman is the spiritual leader of Beth Shalom Congregation in Edmonton.