Are you the “Passover Parent” at your child’s school?
It’s time for Show and Tell.
If you want to share your family’s Passover traditions with a classroom, here are some suggestions to keep things fun and educational.
Like a “Hanukkah Parent visit,” a Passover Parent visit can change the world.
Especially when your kid doesn’t go to a Jewish school, nor to a school with many Jewish kids enrolled. In some cases, your visits might be the only positive Jewish exposure a child gets, and this during a sensitive window of receptivity. Plus, you become the teacher to not only the classroom kids, but their parents (when the kids come home talking about Passover), and to the teacher, who may not have been exposed to Jewish traditions.
Passover is visible on non-Jewish radar because of its relative proximity to Easter, because tons of Jews attend a seder, and because many churches have seders (whether to experience a ritual from the Judeo-Christian past, to translate the ritual through a Christian lens or both).
The easiest way to sum up Passover in 15 minutes or less is the Show and Tell method, using props. Kids need to see and touch and experience concrete things in order to understand abstract concepts.
You’ll need a good story book, a seder plate, and a box of matzah.
Do you need a quick refresher about the history and traditions of Passover? Go to the Passover 101 page at MyJewishLearning.com, an excellent trans-denominational site.
Here’s the Big Idea in a nutshell: Every year, Jewish people have special dinner gatherings called seders (seder means “order”) where we don’t just remember the story of Passover (see book suggestion below), we are supposed to pretend we are part of it. We eat special foods that remind us of what it was like to be slaves and then to be free.
And now, a checklist. Think of this as a buffet and take what you like. Everything depends on the age of the children, the time alloted, and what you, the parent, takes a fancy to. After the checklist, look for considerations of each component, some programming suggestions and a few resources. Please leave a comment and share what has worked (or not) for you.
Checklist of options:
- Date, time and duration of visit approved by teacher
- Snacks, if any, approved by teacher
- Book to read or enact, plus optional props (see #7)
- Box of kosher for Passover matzah
- Seder plate with symbols
- Extra books in basket to leave with class for a few days
- Props for showing items in book or re-enacting parts of story: costume headgear, toy plagues, Moses and Pharaoh action figures and so on)
- A colorful haggadah to show. Everyone uses a haggadah at a seder. Its like the storybook we use to tell and be inside of the Passover story every year.
BOOK, MATZAH, SEDER PLATE, PROPS, VOCABULARY, RESOURCES
BOOK: Find a book about the story of Passover that sums up the story succinctly and with decent pictures. Some books focus on the Passover preparation and seder in a particular house. Some books focus only on the Passover story itself. If you find yourself agonizing about what book to bring, and you already own quite a stack, consider asking the teacher if you can leave a basket of Passover books in the classroom for a few days. That way, if the kids have independent “reading” time, Passover books are available for browsing, and the kids are exposed to books beyond the one you read aloud during your visit.
My current favorite is Why We Celebrate Passover, written and illustrated by Howard M. Kurtz (Pigment & Hue, Ages 3-8). It combines the Passover Story with a brief overview of how Jews celebrate the holiday. It actually begins with a page or two of Joseph’s story, which gives a reason why the Israelites are in Egypt in the first place (Joseph’s family went to Egypt for food, stayed, multiplied). The book continues with baby Moses on up through the miracle of freedom via the Sea of Reeds, and then spends a few pages on how we celebrate Passover today. All is told in simple rhyme and with bold, graphic illustrations easy to show to a classroom of listening kids. (Book is available from ChaiKids.com, OyToys.com and at ModernTribe, but not, for some reason, at Amazon or IndieBound.)
MATZAH is easy. Bring a whole box of kosher for Passover matzah. Even the box is a teaching tool: it looks special (or weird) and, depending on the brand, might even have Hebrew letters on it.
This is what we eat for all 8 days of Passover instead of regular bread. Why? Because when the Israelites left Egypt, they were in a hurry and didn’t have time to let bread rise. Bread rise? What do kids know from bread rising? If you bring a loaf of bread to pull out at this point, they can see the difference between a flat square of matzah and a puffy, soft loaf. Let the kids break a piece of matzah and try it. Reactions vary: some kids hate it, some kids want third helpings. I’ve heard from moms whose kids come home asking to buy some.
(By the way, chocolate-covered matzah is fun to share, but it might dilute the message of the “Bread of Affliction.” Slaves didn’t get chocolate matzah.)
SEDER PLATE: The symbols on a seder plate tell the story of Passover. Sort of…
Explaining all of them to preschoolers who’ve never seen a seder plate before might not be the best use of your time, but it is still worthwhile to show and tell, briefly. Plan this based on the ages of your students. By the way, for the past three years, Target has sold colorful, graphically-pleasing melamine seder plate for less than 5 bucks. See my review here.
Simplify for young children. The egg (beitzah) can just be a symbol of spring and rebirth (and you don’t need to mention the roasted Temple sacrifices). The egg is an easy visible common denominator with Christian kids, who will link it with Easter Eggs. Connections like this give our kids positive common ground.
The bitter herbs (maror) are easily demonstrated, even if you just mime eating it and weeping from the bitterness. Being a slave was bitter, and slaves cried. What’s a slave? Someone who never, ever gets to do anything they want to do. If you can find a real horseradish root, great. They look weird and, if you scrape a bit off, smell even weirder. Good tool to pass around for kids to hold and smell.
The charoset is a good symbol, since it looks like mortar that could theoretically hold bricks together, but you might not find it convenient to whip up a tiny portion of charoset just for the Show and Tell. If you get permission to serve it as part of a snack, be warned the kids might think it looks foul and refuse it. Yes, you could conceivably substitute an individual container of cinnamon applesauce, which is portable, clean and familiar, but throw in some chunks to make it look less familiar. They already know from applesauce: you are there to show them charoset. Weird is good. Weird is discrepant.
Other symbols: The bone (zeroa) can be creepy, quite frankly. I made one out of air-dry clay, but it still seems to confuse little kids. I don’t bring the bone to preschool visits because of the ages involved and the lack of time. Better to spend the precious 15 minutes with the book and the matzah.
The extra bitter herb (chazeret) confuses most of us, so isn’t worth spending time on it beyond that “it’s a second bitter herb to show how bitter slavery was.” If you are teaching a Sunday School class, sure, but this is a quick Show and Tell in a non-Jewish setting.
PROPS: Not necessary, but I can’t resist. Plagues toys (see my post for how to assemble a collection and convert a matzah box to house it), Moses and Pharaoh action figures (awesome. Sold only at ChaiKids.com), puppets, costumes, seder plate activities, the KidKraft wooden seder plate puzzle, or LEGO / Playmobil Egyptian figurines.
Passover: the Israelite homes were “passed over” during the 10th plague (slaying of firstborn).
Pesach: Hebrew for Passover. It was the word for the lamb sacrificed in Temple times.
Seder: Hebrew for Order. A seder has 15 separate steps in a certain order (see any Hagaddah).
Haggadah: Hebrew for Telling. A Haggadah is a book that tells the order of the seder.