Rachel Jury, Director of Jewish Studies
Why is this holiday different from all others? The Pesach (Passover) Seder is one of the greatest examples of educational success. For over 3,000 years, families sit or recline and retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt to the younger generation. We open our doors to friends and families, smile as children ask the Four questions, and ask ourselves, “how is this night different from all other nights?” What makes this moment in time distinct from all other moments in time when generations before us sat around a table and asked the same questions? The Passover Seder is a call-to-action—how do we want to act? What about the story of being slaves and being free resonates in this year, at this time?
We invite students into the Pesach conversation in developmentally appropriate ways year after year. Students in Nursery and Junior Kindergarten are experimenting with the tastes and smells of the holiday. They are also telling the story of, “Baby Moses who went down the Nile River and saw a bush that was burning. That bush was God.” By Senior Kindergarten, students are thinking about what it means that they went forth from Egypt as they, themselves dance through the sea of reeds. First graders are able to read in a Haggadah for the first time, and second graders designed Afikomen bags using a Cricut Cutter in the Innovation Hub. Third graders are investigating the symbolic meaning of each object on the seder plate and fourth graders wrote their own “D’var Torah” with questions from the Haggadah like, “were the frogs metaphoric or real?” At every age, students are invited to make real, personal meaning of the traditions.
In Middle School, the familiar melodies and traditions give way to increasingly complex conversations. Fifth graders used their grade-level theme of L’dor v’Dor, from generation to generation, to analyze why the Haggadah tells us that we should be seen as if we personally went forth from Egypt. As part of their year-round study of Exodus, Shemot, sixth graders are engaged in dialogue about B'nai Yisrael’s (children of Israel’s) dynamic relationship with God and how their lives connect in similar ways. In seventh grade, students explore the concepts of the Pesach traditions from Jewish communities around the world by being exposed to traditions from Jewish communities in Persia, Morocco and the former Soviet Union. They are thinking about how one nation left Egypt and became Jewish people spread throughout the world with different cultures. Eighth graders, who are three weeks away from their own Tiyul to Israel, share their last grade-level seder. When the seder ends with the words Next year in Jerusalem, for our 8th graders, it is next month in Jerusalem!
As you think about your own Pesach celebrations, here are some ideas to connect your child(ren)’s learning at Bernard Zell to home.
Prep now with Questions
Ask your child what they are learning in school to get ready for Pesach. Be a student and invite them to teach you. Are there any melodies they can share with you? What have they been singing? What happened at their seder at school and what would they like to share at your seder?
Bring their Pesach Work to the Seder Table
Unpack that backpack and make sure if your child brings home a Haggadah or work from school, that it makes it to a seder. Create a Pesach box with objects they’ve made over the years. Even Middle School students find joy in looking back at the work they created to get a sense of how far their learning has come.
Cook or Shop with Your Child
Such a big part of Pesach is the food. Take your child to the grocery store and let them see the Pesach displays. What would they like to try? Is there a special recipe that you’d like to make together? There are Jewish Pesach food traditions from around the world. Maybe try a new charoset recipe or a new Pesach dessert?!
Remember Pesach Travels
If you are traveling, invite your child to notice that there are Jewish people all over the world. If you’re going somewhere, consider packing a box of matzah, picking up a bottle of wine and grape juice, some horseradish and making a mini-seder, no matter your location. The PJ library has an easy downloadable Haggadah. As you travel, be on the lookout for signs for Pesach.
Open your Seder to Others
On Pesach we say, let all who are hungry come and eat. Reach out to BZ community members and invite them to a seder if you are hosting. If you are looking for a seder, feel free to post on TeamReach or email Rachel Jury, who will help connect you. Our community is stronger when we take care of one another.
Meet Your Kids Where They Are
This year we may be singing Taylor Swift Pesach parodies at my seder to entice the teenage group. For many years, we had Pesach-inspired LEGO centerpieces. Ask yourself, what do your kids like to do, and how can they bring that to the seder? Ask chat GPT for inspiration if you’re stuck!
Why is this Seder Different from Other Seders?
Are there modern day plagues that you feel are plaguing our society? Talk about social justice at your seder and make an action plan with your children.
Questions, Questions and More Questions
Make time and space for your child to ask questions about the seder. The whole seder is designed to invite kids to ask questions. Consider modeling with your own wonderings. You are modeling that we are always learning!
Remember and Celebrate
The past several Pesachs were impacted by COVID. One of my earliest pandemic memories is sharing a Zoom seder with 5th graders. I can vividly picture everyone holding up a piece of matzah or a drawn matzah picture on paper. The next year, we sat six feet apart in classrooms with seder boxes on each table. For our children, this is a big set of seder experiences in which routines and rituals may have been disrupted. Celebrate the blessing that comes from being together.
You Do You!
At BZ, we celebrate the variety of ways that Judaism is celebrated. Pesach can look many ways. Experiment with your own traditions to find what fits you and your family. My door is open to share suggestions, resources and ideas. No question too big or too small. I’m going to start a thread on TeamReach (Join the schoolwide parent group with code 3751), so we can share Pesach ideas, questions and recipes together!