You don’t have to make a seder plate in order to use the heck out of it as a fabulous, hands-on reference point to this fabulous, hands-on holiday of Passover. You just need a seder plate—any seder plate—and the stuff that goes on it.
The real objects depicted on a plate are weird and wonderful. Intentionally so. A horseradish root? How often does that show up on the kitchen table, and how often does a kid get to grate the thing? Charoset is weird, a naked bone is weird. A boiled egg is not so weird, but it can be if you scorch it with a match to mimic roasting (see below). Different folks have different traditions with the symbols, so go with whatever floats the family boat. For example, karpas (the spring vegetable) is usually parsley, but can be celery or a slice of white potato, and so on.
Below is a list of foods, and then a list of ways to interact with them, graded by time and futz-factor:
Maror (Bitter Herb) = bitterness of slavery
Beitzah (Egg) = spring, lifecycle, Temple sacrifice, mourning
Zeroa (Shankbone) = sacrificial lamb, Divine arm
Karpas (Spring Veg) = spring, renewal
Charoset (fruit/nut/spice mixture) = mortar
Chazeret (second Bitter Herb) (on some seder plates)*
FUTZ-FACTOR (from Quick to Not):
SHOP: Let the kid help shop for the stuff that will go on the plate. At the grocery store. Especially the aforementioned, weirdo horseradish root. (Can’t find it? Look next to the ginger root in Produce.)
PUT: Let the kid put the stuff on the seder plate. Match the stuff to the picture or word on the plate. If you stress out when seder time approaches, do this the day before—when you are fairly calm and pleasant—and slap some cling film on it.
PREPARE: Let the kid help prepare the stuff that will go on the seder plate. Grate the horseradish root. I guarantee this will be remembered. We take a pic of our kid grating it every year, wearing protective goggles (which do not help). The smell, the taste, the watering eyes = discrepant event.
Pull a few parsley stalks from the bunch. Make the charoset and spoon it into its place. Help boil the egg. The bone can be real (some people use a chicken neck) or just trimmed from brown cardboard or shaped from air-dry clay. I’ve used a charred stick from the barbeque. Even Rashi used a beet root.
Pull a piece of Romaine lettuce, scoop jarred horseradish, etc. Kids can prepare and place everything.
GROW: Let the kid grow the stuff that will go on the seder plate. Obviously, you’ll need to plan ahead for this one… Parsley, maror, lettuce. Some of my buddies have backyard hens and can even supply their own betizah. (I don’t want to think about the bone, though.)
Remember, you can use this year’s store-bought horseradish root to grow next year’s root (seethat post, here). Free maror, and a gardening lesson in one go.
CONCLUSION: So, pick a level, any level. Something is always better than nothing. Do whatever is fun for you, and your kid will have fun.
Warning: If you program a Prepare-Your-Own-Seder-Plate activity for a group of kids, I swear it’s worth it to boil actual eggs, no matter how many. I used plastic Easter Eggs for my Sunday School classes and the kids just threw them at each other and made the eggs “talk” with the hinged halves. (Not the Kindergartners, who were darling, but an Older Grade, who was not darling.) In my naiveté, I thought that bringing Easter Eggs to a Jewish classroom would create a Teachable Moment. I was right, but I was the one who got taught: I learned that Easter Eggs are Easter Eggs, not beitzim.
NOTES AND LINKS
*Some plates show 6 symbols, some show 5. Both are “kosher.” You can use two kinds of maror: one for the “Maror” step of the seder, and another for the “Hillel sandwich” step of the seder. We use sliced horseradish for the former, and grated for the latter. Some folks use Romaine lettuce. Traditions vary, even in the Talmud.
**Scorching a boiled egg. I like to scorch the egg with a match to mimic the roasted sacrifice (which is what the egg/beitzah symbolizes). You can actually roast the egg, but by that point in holiday prep, my oven is full of other things and I am no longer calm and pleasant.
Allergies: Of course! Be aware of who can’t eat or touch or breathe what. Substitute accordingly. Here’s a resource for Passover allergy substitutions (thanks, Lynn K!).
LINKS to related Passover posts at BibleBeltBalabusta:
- How and Why to Let Kids Plant Tu B’Shevat Parsley for Passover
- Grow Your Own Maror (after Passover)
- Details of symbolic foods and how to deal with them in a classroom are at my Page: “Passover Parent” School Visits.