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Mar 30 2012

Passover Seder: The Movie

By at 1:24 pm

My son acting out his role as Pharaoh.

This past Sunday, I brought home six pizzas and enough Girl Scout cookies to supply a store (oh, Tagalongs and Thin Mints–is it not latent anti-Semitism that your annual sale always falls just before Passover?) No, I was not hosting a Mad Men party. Instead, seven children under 8-years-old, their parents (my sisters and their husbands), and my brother and his wife were coming over to prepare, perform, and film The Second Annual Family Passover Video.

Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday. Trust me, I have no fondness for pre-Passover cleaning (or cleaning generally – just ask my neat-freak husband). And no, I do not feel that cardboard, aka “matzah,” bears any resemblance whatsoever to food. Cooking with cottonseed oil for a week is insanity: cotton should be worn, not eaten. And don’t get me started on the whole corn oil/peanut bullshit. Really, just don’t go there.

No, clearly it’s not the OCD, guilt-food element of Passover that I love. What I love is that, like Sukkot, Passover’s most significant component–the seders–take place at home. Every seder is an opportunity to have a wonderful Jewish experience at home with your family–and to do so in a way that is personally meaningful and relevant.

My family seders have always been extreme events. Each year, as children, we were responsible for the Four Questions/afikomen component of the seder. But that was, as they say, kid stuff. We were actively engaged as kids in our family’s seder, which was really focused on making sure that we were involved. Each part of the Haggadah triggered age-appropriate discussions, comments and questions. Trivia questions about the holiday were written under our placecards. And each year, my three siblings and I were responsible for the maggid, the part of the seder in which we tell the story of Passover.

We told it in different ways each year, through skits and songs that we wrote ourselves. There were the three USO girls one year, singing “The Newest Jewish Prophet From The Tribe of Levi” to the tune of “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy From Company B.” There was the year that we did “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” with Pharaoh in the contestant’s chair. More recently, we did “An Inconvenient Truth” in which Al Gore showed the havoc the plagues were wreaking on Egypt. At this point, our family has an entire treasury worth of songs and skits. I can assure you that I never once heard “when do we eat?” said by any attendee at one of our seders except my ex-husband (coincidence? I think not.).

Now, the honor of hosting the seder has been “passed over” to the next generation. Each year, one seder is held at my sister’s house and the other is held at mine. This year, I’m expecting somewhere between 30 and 40 people. And it’s going to be awesome.

The responsibility for telling the story of Passover doesn’t fall to my generation anymore, though. It’s the job of the new generation of kids. And that is why we spend a designated weekend day before Passover filming the story, as told by the kids. We work it out with them before, and then film it and show the movie at the seder. I realize this doesn’t work for the more strictly observant set, but you could do the same and send it around over e-mail beforehand if you were so inclined.

What is so amazing about this is that every year, you get to have a sense of what elements of the Passover story really move and interest the kids. And it changes every year. The kids change too, and seeing the change from year to year is a beautiful ritual – a living haggadah. This year, the kids were more self-directed, with great ideas for the Egyptian-Israelite chase scene by the Red Sea (blue towels and adults were used, as well as anachronistic Nerf guns) and that ever-popular scene of Moses killing the Egyptian taskmaster.

It’s also not without humor. “Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground,” my sister-in-law intoned in her most God-like voice from off-camera, as my niece shook branches covered with red scarves representing the burning bush.

“Okay,” my son Z, aka ‘Moses’ said, struggling with his Velcro sneakers. Pause. “Should I take off my socks too?”

“Yes,” God boomed. “Sure. Why not?”

After a few minutes of filming Z futzing unsuccessfully with his sneakers, God spoke up again. “OK, Moses, what’s taking so long? Pick up the pace! I have some really important instructions for you.”

Irreverent? Yes…and yet, no. After all, as the Haggadah says, bechol dor vador, chayav adam lir’ot et atzmo k’ilu hu yatza miMitzrayim: In every generation, each of us must see ourselves as if we, ourselves, went out from Egypt. In every generation, by reenacting the story, our family’s kids are made to see the story as a story of their own that they must understand and appreciate. And in turn, we as the adults get a better take on the story and a new view on our own children.

Each year, as these kids grow older (and as the cast grows with births–Baby G got to play several pivotal roles this year, including Frog #87 during Plague 2), perhaps this will seem less cool. Perhaps we’ll move on to stop-action Lego Passover reenactments, or Claymation, or shadow puppets, or something I haven’t thought of yet.

And I can’t wait.

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