Passover is one of the best Jewish holidays for unleashing creative energy in a variety of ways. Millions of Passover seders (the dinner where the story of the Jews leaving Egypt is told) have been celebrated over thousands of years and each one is unique. I encourage you to embrace Passover and get creative with it. It is intended to be an entertaining and educational experience for everyone—not a tedious, uninspiring occasion to be quickly run through in order to get to the matzah ball soup.
My fascination with the holiday started with the first seder I attended when my husband, then-boyfriend, and I were dating. He took me to his family’s seder, which was led, mostly in Hebrew, by their aged patriarch. Because everything was new to me, a naïve Catholic girl, I had many questions, which I asked freely and frequently, often stopping the proceedings to point out something that confused me. Of course, the leader was ecstatic that someone was so interested and made sure to respond to each of my queries! I was unaware of the frowns and stares being aimed at my “boyfriend,” and almost 35 years later I still get ribbed about how my questions kept everyone from eating.
When we had our own children, we decided to host our own seders. The Haggadah’s words “The more and longer one expands and embellishes the story, the more commendable it is,” along with Maimonides’ injunction to “make changes on this night, so that one’s children will notice it…” provided all the prodding I needed to collect some Haggadahs and read them. Along with a class at my temple where we used the book, The Art of Jewish Living: The Passover Seder by Dr. Ron Wolfson (now titled, Passover, 2nd Edition: The Family Guide to Spiritual Celebration) I was ready to innovate.
By finding fun and interesting little tchotchkes to represent each of the ten plagues, using entertaining arts and crafts, locating the best children’s Passover books and games, and ultimately writing our own family Haggadah, we have over the years made this holiday our own while including 10-60 family and friends.
Go ahead and have some fun. Put a drop of red food coloring in the bottom of a goblet, fill it with water and watch your guests gape as water turns to blood! Throw a handful of rubber frogs around, a few plastic lions, tigers or bears [wild beasts] or some sickly looking toy farm animals [cattle disease] and see what happens.
My best wishes for a Happy Passover! Happy Reading!
Lots of new and wonderful books are published each year for this holiday. Here is a list of what many consider to be the best children’s passover books to read:
The Elijah Door by Linda Leopold Strauss. Illustrated by Alexi Natchev.
Holiday House. © 2012. Ages 6-10.
Although the Galinskys and the Lippas have shared their Passover Seder together for years, it seems the tradition is over for good! An argument over geese and chickens has caused the families to part ways FOREVER. But David Lippa plans to marry Rachel Galinsky, so the two families must reconcile. Fortunately, their wise rabbi enlists the aid of all the villagers to patch up the disagreement.
The Longest Night: A Passover Story by Laurel Snyder. Illustrated by Catia Chien.
©2013. Schwartz & Wade Books. Ages 4-9. Winner of the 2014 Sydney Taylor Award for best Jewish Children’s Book.
With lilting, rhyming text and soft pictures, a young slave girl tells the story of her life in Egypt, her experience of the ten plagues, and her family’s departure to freedom.
Seder in the Desert by Jamie Korngold. Photos by Jeff Finkelstein.
©2014. Kar-Ben Publishing. Ages 3-8.
Families take a hike in the desert to experience what it might have been like for the Israelites on their walk out of Egypt! Once they reach an appropriate setting, they gather together for the seder, reading, singing, dancing, and eating all out in the open.
Stone Soup with Matzoh Balls: A Passover Tale in Chelm by Linda Glaser. Illustrated By Maryam Tabatabaei.
©2014. Albert Whitman & Company. Ages 4-9.
The classic story told with a Passover-in-Chelm twist. A poor man comes to the village of Chelm. Filled as it is with “foolish” people, they tell him they have no extra food to share with him for Passover. He tells them he can make soup from a stone. You know the rest, but what a delightful retelling of this delicious story. Let all who are hungry come and eat, indeed.
The Story of Passover by David A. Adler. Illustrated by Jill Weber.
©2014. Holiday House. Ages 5-9.
I am going to use this book to tell the Exodus story during our seder this year. It is a beautiful retelling both textually and visually. David Adler is a master at explaining the details of Passover and Jill Weber has provided stunning illustrations. Great for young and old, this is a must-have for every bookshelf.
Each year, a variety of new and interesting Haggadot (Haggadah means “Telling” in Hebrew) are published just before Passover. With over 7,000 different versions of this book already published over the millennium, why do we need any more? I think it is because, just as with Torah, each generation sees the story through a different lens.
For myself, I have hundreds, yes hundreds, of Haggadot in my personal library. I collect them because I continue to learn something new every time I read one. Inevitably, that new information finds its way into our Family Haggadah and causes questions to be asked, or interest to be awakened, and that is exactly what the seder is all about.
If you want to create your own Haggadah this year, there are two websites that can be very helpful:
haggadot.com: Free, although donations are welcome. Many resources, and you can upload your own as well. When you are finished, you download a printable or PDF version of your Haggadah.
Families with Young Children:
My Very Own Haggadah by Judyth Groner and Madeline Wikler. Illustrated by Sally Springer. We began our seder experience using this lovely, well-organized Haggadah: a perfect length for those tiny tots.
Sammy Spider’s First Haggadah by Sylvia Rouse. Illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn. One of the best plague recitations I have found. In rhyme and with a repetitive theme (“And Pharaoh shouted, ‘No! No! No!/ And God sent…A plague! A plague! A plague!”).
Frogs in the Bed: My Passover Seder Activity Book based on the song by Shirley Cohen Steinberg. Activities and Illustrations by Ann D. Kofsky. While not exactly a Haggadah, this charming activity book has enough seder highlights to keep the smaller children amused. One of these, a box of crayons and some stickers will go a long way.
Families with School Age Children:
A Family Haggadah II by Shoshana SIlberman. Illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn. A fantastic multigenerational Haggadah for families with all ages and stages that need to be catered to during the seder.
The Bronfman Haggadah by Edgar M. Bronfman z’l. Illustrated by Jan Aronson. An amazing Haggadah that is inclusive, interesting and informative. Almost entirely in English.
The New American Haggadah edited by Jonathan Safran Foer, with a new translation by Nathan Englander and commentaries by Nathaniel Deutsch, Jeffrey Goldberg, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein and Lemony Snicket. The commentaries are the best part! However, the timeline of the Jewish people, the artwork and the Haggadah itself are pretty darn great.