The year: 1999. The place: Beth Shalom Congregation, Elkins Park, PA, event hall. The room is full of about 150 elementary school students, sitting around round tables laden with plastic plates, wine cups we made ourselves, all fidgeting in our new Passover clothes. At the front of the room, aloft a podium, is Dr. Steven Brown, our headmaster. And he is wearing the silliest hats we’ve ever seen in our young lives.
For each of the 15 parts of the Passover seder, Dr. Brown changes his hat. We sing “Kadesh, oorchatz, karpas…” and are halted as the eldest students who’ve been to many a Model Seder at the Perelman Jewish Day School know, scream “AHA!” and we stop, to study, and observe the rituals of that part of the seder. So, we dip our celery painstakingly cut by parents into salt water, and resume, as Dr. Brown changes his hat with a flourish. “Kadesh, oorchatz, karpas, yachatz…AHHHH!”
The songs, games, and inside jokes cultivated at Passover seders can make the celebration come alive for children and guests of every age. Here are a few ideas, pointers, and resources–it’s not too late to incorporate them into your seder plans!
The Seder (order) Song, as previously described in 1999. Learn a version here. My mother created cue cards, and presents them with glee, doing her best Vanna White presentation
Plague Props. The 10 Plagues are visited upon the Egyptian people, while the Israelites are unharmed. This is a serious lesson that results in the seder pouring out some amount of wine for each plague, or whispering the plagues, or covering their ears to not hear the curses that befell the Egyptian people. It’s a great time to discuss bystanders–were all Egyptians responsible for slavery? Why were they punished for Pharoah’s hard heart? What could the plagues have inspired the Egyptian civilians to do? What should we do if we disagree with our governmental leaders? It’s a serious part of the story, and is so easy to get silly during a part of the story in which serious pain is visited upon our captors. Once that tone is established, though, there are some really fun ways to represent the plagues. How can we do so respectfully? I have no answers.
Here are some suggestions for how to represent each plague:
1. Blood: get a small jar and fill it with water, oil, and food coloring. Shake it to turn the water into blood at the appropriate time!
2. Frogs: Origami frogs! Have your older kids fold them as they arrive to the seder. Instructions here.
3. Gnats: Fly swatter.
4. Wild animals: Stuffed lions, tigers, bears. Or get some animal masks. “RAWR!”
5. Pestilence: If you’re wearing a mask, fall down dead! Or, tape some black “X” marks over the eyes of your animals.
6. Boils: Put on some bandaids. “Don’t pick!”
7. Hail: Cotton balls. Throw willy-nilly.
8. Locusts: Provide stalks of kale, rosemary, or other veggies that you can quickly strip all the plant off of. When it comes to the locust plague, hold up a stalk and run your hand down the middle, to represent how locusts so quickly strip crops bare! Or, if that’s not your bag, get up and hop around!
9. Darkness: Turn off the lights in the room, or give out small flashlights. If you don’t use electricity on yom tov, use blindfolds.
10. Death of the Firstborn: Forgo a prop here. Time for some real-talk. (If you have kids that fixate on continuity, and who can blame them, get some cocktail drink swords.)
Aish has a really cute idea about draping curtains to cross the Sea of Reeds, and some additional ideas about plague bags!
Sing it out! Not all of your guests will know the Passover songs in Hebrew. Try some of these parodies of popular songs in English! This was one of my proudest moments hosting a seder with guests of all religious/practice/experience. We could all sing along. Read the whole Haggadah I compiled here, and sing the songs on page 28. Here’s one:
Take Us Out of Mitzrayim
(Sung to the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”)
Take us out of Mitzrayim,
Free us from slavery,
Bake us some matzah in a haste
Don’t worry ‘bout flavor,
Give no thought to taste.
Oh it’s rush, rush, rush to the Red Sea
If we don’t cross it’s shame,
For it’s ten plagues,
Down and you’re out
At the Pesach history game!
Little Known Heroes of the Passover Story If you have gregarious, older kids, have them research Miriam, Nachshon, Shifra and Puah, Bat Paroh! Have them host a talk show during the Magid, storytelling, section of the Seder!
Magid: Passover Variety Show Style Guests of all ages can be included in creative storytelling. Giving documents (primary, secondary, creative, historical, ritual) to guests with 15 minutes to study and create a song, skit, poem, or piece of art to share can liven up the traditionally longest part of the seder
JTS did an hour long session on engaging kids in the Passover seder! Watch it below, and check out the resources sheet they provided here.