PESAH: How to have a successful Pesah Seder?

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THE MISSION

This coming Friday night, April 3rd and Saturday night, April 4th, are probably the most important nights of the year. During those nights we will fulfill a very special Mitsva:  והגדת לבנך , teaching our children the story of Pesah. Instilling in their minds and hearts the collective memories that will shape their personalities and strengthen their Jewish identity for the rest of their lives.  But, how to do that? We have the Hagada, the book that relates the Exodus and the clear instructions of our rabbis: teach and talk to each child (or adult) at the level of his or her understanding. The rest is up to us.

PARADIGM SHIFT

I believe that the first thing to have to do to face efficiently this beautiful challenge is to shift our paradigm of the Hagada, redefine: what is our real role in the Pesah Seder? If I had to encapsulate the whole idea in one phrase I wold say this: in the Seder you are not READING the Hagada, you are TEACHING the Hagada.    Once we know this we might be a little scared. Why? Because we live in an era of technology, sophisticated educational videos and smart boards. We, the parents, must compete against smartphones and ipads and teach children whose attention span is getting shorter and shorter. And, besides our children, we will most probably have other people, adults, participating in our Seder.   So, what should we do to teach the Hagada to our heterogeneous “class”?

DIVIDE AND CONQUER

My first recommendation is that you divide the Hagada in a way that EVERYONE, family and guests, will participate. To do that you must write an email or a whatsapp TODAY to each member of your family and your guests and assign to each one of them one part of the Hagada.
Ask the adults, for example,  to read a paragraph in Hebrew or in English, or to explain or comment one short text of the Hagada. For those who are going to read, scan and email them their text. For those who are going to comment,  encourage them to search online, for example, in the following educational websites: www.torah.org, aish.com, ou.org, for material related to the Hagada.   Ask them, for example, to explain one of these concepts: “Pesah”, “matsa”, “maror”, “why we drink  4 cups”, “why we eat reclined”, “why we eat haroset”, etc.
For the little ones, ask them to get ready to sing (and perhaps explain)  “ma nishtana” , “abadim hayinu  or “had gadya”.     Ask them to draw certain parts of the Hagada and bring their drawings to the Seder, so they can explain their art.

MAKE IT RELEVANT
You have a very heterogeneous audience: children, small children, youngsters, and adults. The key, as we said, is to give participation to everyone. When you teach one of the ideas of the Hagada, make it relevant.  Bring something from the Hagada that is very relevant today (actually, there is almost nothing in the Hagada not relevant for today!). Then, encourage each one of the adults in the table to express their opinion on the subject.
One example:
“rab ve’atsum mimenu” (Ex. 1:10). “Although they were only a small minority, the Egyptians feared that the Jews were too powerful , and decided to eliminate them”. The Jews in Egypt were very influential? How influential are the Jews, say, today in America, compared to their number? How influential is Israel, the Jew among the nations, in the world, compared to its size or population? For example: how many times have you read news about China or India (more than 2.6 billion people, between the two countries) in the front page of the New York Times, and how many times have you read about Israel (8 million people) in the front page of the same newspaper? Are we Jews too powerful? Not powerful enough? Is the “Jewish disproportional influence” in larger society an excuse to justify antisemitism? Is that a good thing to be so influential? Should we keep it all to ourselves?

( I will bring more examples of subjects for debateBH in the coming days)

MAKE IT FUN:
“Fun” is good for everyone: children and adults. Ask the funniest guys of the family to play some parts of the Hagada, for example, the Ten Plagues. Have someone (a more serious guy) explaining briefly each plague while the actors play the play. One person has to play Moshe (with his head covered with a Talit) and someone else Pharaoh (use your imagination…).  Alternatively, ask the oldest child, say, 10, 11, 12 years old, to organize with the other children a 5 minutes dramatization of the 10 plagues or of the 4 sons.
Do not forget: WE WANT OUR CHILDREN TO STAY AWAKE. Make it visual. Get small plastic frogs, animal masks for deber, ping pong balls for hail, black plastic eyeglasses for darkness, etc.
Have games for the children, a Pesah treasure hunt or Pesah trivia, etc. Have 20 questions ready, and most importantly 20 (or more) small prizes to reward the children’s correct answers. Anytime the Seder is about to get out of control, or boring or you need everyone’s attention you can ask one of your questions (show the prize first!). Guaranteed to work..

THE SECRET
I believe that by now you don’t need me to tell you what the secret is, but this is it anyways: “Preparation. Preparation. Preparation.”
Do not improvise. Review the Hagada today. Divide the roles. Write the email. Excuse yourself for the short notice and send it.

RECOMMENDED SOURCES

To find great educational games for the Seder check online here and  here .

Recommended Hagadot in English for adults, Rabbi Appisdorf and Rabbi Sacks.  See Amazon.

For Hebrew Hagadot online (hundreds of them) see here.

For the advanced students I recommended THIS old but fantastic commentary of the Hagada written by Rabbi Don Ytshaq Abarbanel (1437-1508). Do not skip the introduction where the Rabbi tells his tragic personal story.