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Perfectly Passover: A Dozen Ideas to Help Make Your Holiday More Fun Than Ever
Elizabeth Applebaum

First, the cleaning.
Next, the cleaning.
Then, the cleaning.

So when, exactly, is Passover fun? Next to Yom Kippur, Passover is the most widely observed Jewish holiday in the world. Some of this has to do with the unique, and memorable, smells and tastes: fresh and sweet charoset -- a mixture of apples and walnuts or raisins and dates meant to remind us of the mortar used to make bricks for the Pharaoh -- matzah, sharp horseradish. But most important is the Seder or Passover ritual meal itself--the familiar, yet always new story of our nationhood. Recounting the Exodus story at the Seder is a profound experience, but it is also a lot of fun; just ask any child who gets to stay up way past his or her bedtime and interrupt the Seder with lots of questions. What follows are some suggestions for making a great family Seder and Passover:


One year, my mother sent ten paper bags just before Passover. Each of these bags were to open when we came to the reading of the Ten Plagues. My small children positively squirmed with delight as they imagined what was in each small sack. They were not disappointed. Here is some of what was inside:

· Squishy eyeballs for boils

· Pretend grasshoppers for vermin

· Tiny plastic skeletons for the slaying of the first born

· And, certainly the most popular, Ping-Pong balls for hail (which my children promptly threw across the table at each other throughout the Seder). These "bagged plagues" have become a family tradition, and each year my children eagerly anticipate what my mother will find to represent each of the plagues.


While most young children actually enjoy the Seder, there are some moments that may not hold their attention as long as others. Little ones will appreciate the opportunity for diversion, which you can supply thanks to homemade place mats. Use large, white poster board or construction paper to create place mats decorated with Passover games and age-appropriate questions. Some ideas:

· A maze: (children can use their fingers to trace their way from slavery to freedom).

· Make silly doodles and challenge children to find Passover designs (a piece of matzah, any of the plagues).

· Draw two Pharaohs, but make about 10 slight changes from one to another. Ask children if they can find the differences between the two.

· Matzah Man, and other silly stuff: Draw a blank square and say it's a piece of matzah. See if your child can imagine ten, twenty or thirty different ideas as to what the square could become. For example, she might tell you that with just a head, arms and legs, the square would be Matzah Man. Add a roof and a window and you would have a house for the matzah.

· Make a word search using Passover terms.


One of the best parts of Passover is that you can interrupt the Seder again and again – in fact, you're supposed to ask questions and make comments throughout the reading of the Haggadah or booklet that is used to conduct the Seder. One way of doing this is simply by using your own brain; listen, and think, and you'll have plenty to consider. Another is to provide everyone with a different Haggadah, because each will have unique commentary. Check your local bookstore for Haggadot (plural of Haggadah) especially for children (there are also Passover-theme coloring books, which they will enjoy looking at). One good choice: The Doodled Family Haggadah by Jeff Coen (Atara Publishing). For younger children, see Uncle Eli's Special-For-Kids, Most Fun Ever, Under-the-Table Passover Haggadah by Eliezer Lorne Segal (No Starch Press).


While most of us are familiar with the rabbis mentioned throughout the Haggadah, few of us know anything about their lives. Have you ever wondered exactly who Rabbi Azariah, for example, was -- and what did he do other than be quoted in the Haggadah. (Be sure to look into the story of how his hair turned white overnight.) Visit your synagogue or temple library before the holiday begins, and ask each child to find out something about one of the rabbis.


Cut up small squares and design to look like matzot (plural of matzah) on one side. On the other, write interesting matzah facts you have learned by looking through the Encyclopedia Judaica or other favorite books, or checking out Web sites. Did you know, for example, that there's absolutely no reason for matzah to be square? And do you know about the sports hero named Matza (Isaac Matza, of New York, was a track and field champ in the 1950s). Every time you eat a piece of matzah at the Seder, have your child read an amazing matzah fact.


Here's a great way to let small children participate throughout the Seder, even if they can't read. Depending on how much time you have, and how involved you want this project to be, you can start with Popsicle sticks and advance to something more involved, such as felt (which you, or a dear friend, use to create the outline of puppets). The idea is to make dolls representing anyone mentioned in the Haggadah. Provide your child with the bare bones, so to speak: pre-cut white shapes affixed to Popsicle sticks work just fine. Then ask your son or daughter to imagine what the Four Sons or Four Children look like, and then draw them. Or what about the baby goat your father sold for two zuzim? Or Pharaoh? Your child should design as many dolls as possible, because the more he has, the more he will be able to participate. During the Seder, your daughter can hold up the doll when its name comes up. Or, better yet, if she knows the words, she can have the doll "say" the words. (WARNING: If you've invited guests, they might be ready to annul your friendship--forever--if you have your little boy holding up a puppet that sings all of Chad Gadya at two in the morning. But rest assured, family members will LOVE it.)


Write, call or e-mail family and ask them to write down a Passover memory. If they hesitate, prompt them with a few, specific questions: "Do you remember what your mother made for the Passover meal? What did it taste like, smell like? What part was your favorite dish?" Or, "Was it your family tradition to hide the afikomen? (Literally translated as dessert, the afikomen is the matzah that is hidden at the beginning of the Passover Seder. The children look for it later and ransom it back to the adults). Who was the best hiding person? Where were some of the places it was hidden?" Or for a family member from another country, "What was it like during Passover where you grew up?" Compile these memories into a book to be read at appropriate times during the Seder. Not only is it interesting for children (and parents), it helps build a sense of tradition as younger members learn about their family history.


One of the best parts of the Seder for many children is the moment we place a cup of wine outside the door for Eliahu or Elijah the Prophet. To this day, many adults will tell you they are one hundred percent certain that the amount of wine decreased during the Seder. There's a great deal of mystery surrounding Eliahu. Your child will enjoy it if just before placing Eliahu's cup outside you tell him all about the prophet. Here's a little story to get you started: Once, there was a man named Eliahu, who was the most loved prophet of all time. Eliahu was kind and brought messages from God to the world, and to this day it is believed that he travels forth between earth and heaven, delivering messages to and from God. One of the most unusual stories about Eliahu is how he vanished toward the end of his life. He never died, but instead went riding in a flaming chariot up into the sky. According to tradition, Eliahu will again appear when it's time for the coming of Mashiach or the Messiah.


In advance of the Seder, prepare questions your children will have fun answering. For example:

· If you were a film director and could hire any actors you wanted, who would you have star as Pharaoh? As Moses? As each of the Four Sons?

· Passover is one of the most important times to invite guests to our home. We are even commanded to open the door and ask in "all those who are hungry" to come eat. If your children could invite anyone in the world to their Seder, who would they invite and why?

· Imagine a friendly Jewish space alien landed on your doorstep just before Passover and announced that he would like to conduct your Seder this year. He tells you, "We celebrate Passover on Planet Narzon also, though we have a few different traditions." What might these be?


In the Haggadah, we are told to imagine that we are slaves coming out of Egypt. One way to help you "experience" this: prepare appropriate props. Bring a little sand, close your eyes, and envision yourself in the hot desert. Find old, worn clothing like slaves might have had and imagine yourself in them. Bring something heavy (representative of the large stones the slaves had to carry) and pick it up, repeatedly. Draw a picture of slaves and affix photocopied pictures of each family member's face.


At the Seder, some families have the custom of leaning to one side, as a wealthy man might have done during a meal. It's traditional to have a pillow for just such a rest. Allow your children to decorate their own pillow covers (you'll find everything from permanent markers to paints that don't wash out at your favorite craft store) to use at the Seder.


During the Seder, we read of the matzah sandwich Hillel prepared. Children will enjoy creating their own Passover sandwich using a few pictures you have drawn in advance. On any paper, sketch out pictures of about twenty items your children can imagine as food: A few brown circles, for example (these could be everything from spices to mushrooms to cookies), several long, green lines (onions? celery? lettuce?). DO NOT be specific, as the purpose is to allow your child the chance to use his imagination. Next, cut out each shape and place in an envelope. As you read about Hillel making his sandwich, have children open their envelopes and create their own. But in addition to making this yummy meal, they should be able to provide a reason for including each item, just as Hillel did. A child could, for example, add several pieces of sea salt to recall the parting of the Red Sea.