Thursday, April 3, 2014

Do You Have a Box of Grumblies at Your Seder?

By Marcy Leiman 

Parenting Through a Jewish Lens had a fabulous event at Hebrew College on March 30—   Matzah Matters attracted nearly 70 parents, children, educators and community members.  The afternoon included two learning sessions: Rabbi Benjamin Samuels discussed ways to make the Haggadah and the Seder your own, and Elisha Gechter presented various commentators on the Haggadah.  I attended Rabbi Samuels’ session.

Reflecting on our discussion, two points stayed with me:  1. prepare for and invest in the Passover Seder, and 2. keep everyone at the table.  In reference to the first point, in my family, I am the one who invites the guests, cleans the house, buys the food, cooks the meal, sets the table and prepares the dessert. How much more can I prepare and invest? What more can I give to my Seder? Rabbi Samuels suggested that we invest in a good Haggadah.  Ah, this is something that my family has not done. We’ve used the same maroon and yellow Passover Haggadah for the past twelve years. It’s antiquated; there are no color pictures, nothing for my two-year-old and six-year-old children to get excited about. Yes, this is something that we needed to do.  Immediately after coming home from Matzah Matters, my husband and I logged onto Haggadahs-R-Us and ordered Noam Zion and David Dishon’s A Different Night Family Participation Haggadah. I am excited to try this Haggadah out with my family this year, to spice up our Seder and invest /prepare a bit more.

Rabbi Samuels’ second point was to keep everyone at the table. What? My cooking and Martha Stewart-esque set table are not enough to keep everyone at the table? Rabbi Samuels showed us a “box of grumblies” that he uses at his Seder. This box contains little tchotchkes; simple games, Passover-themed costumes, and various knick-knacks. If someone (regardless of whether an adult or a child) asks a good question during the Seder, they get to wear a special costume. If children get hungry or antsy, Rabbi Samuels invites them to pick something out of the box of grumblies. The point:  the mitzvah of having a Seder is for everyone at the table to hear the story of Exodus from Egypt. Everyone must be present and engaged. Some may call it bribery; Rabbi Samuels calls it “box of grumblies.”

So, with our new Haggadot, our ten plagues finger puppets, jumping frogs and Ping-Pong balls for locusts, our family is ready with our own box of grumblies, our own new Seder. I encourage you to re-evaluate your Seder, question what you’ve always done and perhaps invest in your own Passover box of grumblies.

 Marcy Leiman is the Associate Director of Parenting Through a Jewish Lens. She lives in Needham with her husband and two children. 

Recreating Passover Memories for Our Children

By Elisha Gechter

Scallions transformed into the whips of Egyptian task masters, an imaginary suitcase for a journey from Egypt to the Promised Land and someone in an embroidered Egyptian ensemble—these are my childhood memories from the Passover seders my family and I enjoyed with friends in their very eclectic home. Our friends had nine children; the father was from Brooklyn and always ready for a debate, and the mother was from Egypt and incorporated many Sephardic customs that brought Passover off the page for me. Seder evening always felt exotic with them—there were so many differently spiced foods, boisterous songs and lengthy discussions. Plus I was pretty enamored to know someone from that faraway land where the Hagaddah scenes transpired.

created at: 2014-03-21Leading up to the holiday my mom would work on sewing me a new dress that I would anticipate showing off at these seders (it’s a tradition to have something new to wear before Passover!). She would let me select the pattern and choose the material, and then she got to work on her pedal-powered Singer. Now, as a working mom, I have no idea how she had time for this while teaching elementary school full-time. Her efforts certainly made the holiday feel a little more special.

But then one year, Passover changed for our family—our friends and their nine children realized a lifelong dream to move to Israel. They made it to the “Promised Land” and we were left at our much smaller, much less exotic Passover table. Without the banter, costumes and scallions, we felt lost. With only a half-dozen voices joining in on the seasonal songs, it felt less like a celebration. After that first time of us flying solo at the seder, at the age of 8 I asked my dad if I could try leading the seder the following night. In a way that would have pleased Sheryl Sandberg, I leaned in, or rather I leaned to my left side as instructed by the Haggadah, and took the reins. I don’t remember too many details from the first seders under my helm, but they were well-received, and I felt so good leading them.

The head of the seder table was one of the places that I grew to love Jewish conversations, Jewish learning and Jewish teaching. We incorporated some of the traditions from our Egyptian/Brooklyn friends and continued to glean new ideas from various Haggadahs. I instituted changes over the years that at first felt like a departure but are now part of our traditions. For example, we didn’t always read everything out loud; passages were sometimes looked over with a partner. And we didn’t always wait until we finished telling the story to eat the parsley and potatoes dipped in salt water—we sometimes snacked on crudités and dips.

There have been times when we spent Passover away from home at wonderfully adventurous destinations, including Israel, Prague and Puerto Rico. But when we were part of those bigger communal seders, I missed our smaller family discussions and the memories we had built.

Now, as I continue to lead our family seders, my attention turns to not only keeping the adults around the table intellectually stimulated but also to finding customs that will speak to my one-and-a-half-year old daughter, Zoe. She is the only seder guest under age 27! I want to recreate that whole-body experience I had with our Sephardic friends. It’s a lot to live up to, and right now I’m focusing on baby steps. We’ve been singing a lot of “Dayenu” thanks to the PJ Library, using matzah stickers to chat about this new food (she’s a huge challah freak!), and soon I want to pick out a dress with her from her collection that she hasn’t yet worn and designate it as her “seder dress.” So that’s how we’ll start off—we’ll pay attention to props, songs and matzah ball soup and build toward next year, when maybe she’ll be able to sing along to the Four Questions with us and pack something in that imaginary suitcase.

I invite you to join one of the many Parenting Through a Jewish Lens classes that Hebrew College and CJP are offering this fall—it provides an opportunity to discuss with other parents how you make Judaism come alive in your home.

Elisha Gechter is the associate director of community engagement at Hebrew College’s adult learning department. She also does community organizing and teaching for Eser and Parenting Through a Jewish Lens. She lives in Cambridge with her husband, Sam, and daughter, Zoe.