As a child, our Passover seder would end the usual way: I would find the afikoman and hold it captive until my grandfather was ready to redeem it. In my very early years, I would get cash (despite the prohibition to handle money on Jewish holidays—what did I know, I was a kid!). My grandfather would shell out $50 bills from his wallet.
As the years went on, my parents realized they could coach me, and thus began the great afikoman bargaining. I would approach my grandfather gingerly, prized-matzah in hand, with 45 guests at our seder anxiously awaiting the evening’s conclusion. I would speak the words I had memorized, “I will give this afikoman to you, and in return, I would like you to give me a scholarship to Camp Ramah.”
Over time the deal changed: I asked for tuition to my Jewish day school or USY International Convention. While my grandfather died in my junior year of college, I believe I was still redeeming the afikoman for college “scholarships” even up to my sophomore year. It made sense: My grandfather had the means and he appreciated the opportunity to help our family. But it also made meaning: It kept me awake and engaged in the seder. Most importantly, it connected the search for the afikoman with something even more essential: the search for my Jewish identity.
Passover is the story of our Jewish journey, collectively as a people. So why not also make it the story of each individual Jew’s personal Jewish journey? Passover is a time of reconnecting with family and recommitting to Jewish tradition.
Passover is ripe with fours: the cups, the children, the questions, and more. And now, here are four ways to make even that last part of the seder, the afikoman, more meaningful:
1. Scholarships. Take a lesson from my parents (I know I do!) and encourage your children or grandchildren to seek scholarships for Jewish educational or experiential programs. Let’s face it: Those of us who grew up loving Jewish camp or youth group are often struggling to find the means to give our children the same experiences. So if you’re lucky enough to have a willing “sponsor,” consider asking for support, or better yet, having your children ask for their support! And if you’re the afikoman prize giver, be prepared to offer this kind of gift if you are able, along with words of blessing and hope for how the experience might impact the recipient.
2. Support Israel. This year our afikoman gifts will include Israel bonds (shhh, don’t tell my children or nephews!). My children received some Israel bonds when they were born and we have reinvested them when they matured. I received Israel bonds for my bat mitzvah, and five years later I was a very happy 18-year-old spending a year in Israel cashing in my Israel bonds. Exchanging the afikoman for Israel bonds reminds children that the whole leaving-Egypt-for-the-Promised-Land thing really happened, and that we have a responsibility to support Israel whenever we can. It also adds a dimension to the Jewish journey: Get to Israel to spend that money!
3. Jewish education. Depending on the age of the afikoman-finder, a puzzle or book might be an appropriate gift, so make it a Jewish one! We’ve given Passover-related games and activity books, too. Spice it up with a Jewish-themed DVD or CD, or even an iPad app (if you use electronics on the holiday; if not, a “coupon” for a future app works, too). Starting the second night of Passover (at the seder) we count the omer, the days between Passover and Shavuot, and there are official “omer counters” on the market. Make the game into a challenge: Can you say the blessing and count the omer each night without forgetting? Whoever remembers to count for the longest time is the winner!
4. Pay it Forward. Every Jewish holiday incorporates tzedakah, charitable giving, and Passover is no exception. Add to the mitzvah by giving tzedakah to the afikoman-finder (in the form of cash, “coupon,” or an email from an organization like Kiva or Heifer International, for example), and ask them to “pay it forward.” Looking around a beautiful seder table, recognizing our blessings, it feels right to remember and give to others. Our gifts will feel even more bountiful when we share.
Passover is an opportunity to remember our family’s traditions and to create new ones. Blend the old with the new as you make the tradition of the afikoman one that your children will seek for many years to come.