When I was a child, I remember begging my mother for a job to do on those momentous days leading up to Passover. Unfamiliar, dusty boxes of pots and china were stacked high, their contents waiting to make their annual appearance. Folding chairs lined up like soldiers against the wall in expectation of the arriving guests. The anticipation in the house was contagious, and I couldn’t help but sense the urgency—something big was imminent and I wanted to be a part of it.
Fortunately for me, my mother was adept at putting me to work, getting me involved in the Passover preparations and effectively igniting a spark in her daughter to experience the joy and excitement of the holiday. The mitzvah (commandment) of educating your children about the story of the Exodus from Egypt began there—not at the seder, but earlier, in the kitchen.
Each part of the seder is carried out in such a way as to arouse curiosity in the children in order that they might ask questions. According to the Sages, one should explain the story in the way that will be most understood on their level. Children learn experientially. They need to engage all of their senses to really internalize a concept or lesson. That’s why we hold up the shank bone, the matzah, and the bitter herbs—our seders come complete with props and visual aids!
By drawing your children in, you will stir their interest and make Passover real for them; by inviting them to take part in Passover preparations, they will be empowered to take ownership of their own holiday experiences. And while in the kitchen preparing, the door to meaningful conversations can be opened.
There are many jobs that are perfect for this purpose and are appropriate for a wide range of ages. Here are few suggestions:
1. Making haroset. When I was a kid, I thought making haroset was an all-day process. Peeling, coring, and chopping the apples took forever. Those were in the days when people were still buying whole walnuts in the shell, so I became a skilled nut-cracker before the chopping could even begin. Dicing nuts in our little manual glass jar chopper was such hard work for a little kid that by the time I finished, I truly felt as though I were enslaved in Egypt, too!
Truth be told, it was the perfect job—it kept me busy for a long time, and I felt very accomplished afterward. When it came time at the seder, I was incredibly proud to pass around the haroset I made myself.
*Safety Tip: For younger children for whom sharp knives are inappropriate, an old-fashioned hand-held chopper and a large chopping bowl are the way to go.
2. Peeling hardboiled eggs. All kids think this is fun. I have no idea why, but they do…so teach them how and let them.
3. Setting the table. There are many more things to prepare on the seder table than for a regular meal: assembling haggadahs, pillows, salt water, and preparing the seder plate all take time. If your children are creative, they can create pretty folded napkins or handmade place cards. Both are fantastic craft projects for artistic kids.
4. Cooking and baking. For older kids who are able to follow a recipe (or interested in learning), this is a great opportunity to teach your kids basic lessons in cooking and baking. I still remember being called over to help taste and season a bubbling dish simmering on the stove. There is nothing quite like Passover baking to teach the art of separating eggs and beating them up stiff. It was in my mother’s Passover kitchen that I quickly learned what “stiff peaks” were, and exactly what “folding” meant. And as for my mother? She had to bake no more!
No matter how you enlist your children, the real secret to getting them involved is by exhibiting the joy and fun (yes, fun!) of making Passover yourself. When your kids see you enjoying yourself and getting into the spirit, then they will follow suit and reflect that joy into your home.
Every Passover kitchen needs a “tried and true” sponge cake: versatile and reliable. This recipe does just the trick…so make it a family affair with the kids! Best wishes for a happy and healthy Passover!