Every year, when I start planning my Passover lessons, I think about creative ways to make the central theme of the holiday—that once we were slaves and now we are free—meaningful and relevant to the children that I teach in religious school, to my own children, and to the guests that I’ll have at our home Passover seder.
One of the most challenging parts for me, as both a mom and educator, is teaching about the slavery narrative in a way that gives depth and truth to the experience—but is shared in a developmentally-appropriate way. How do you teach children about slavery in ways that they are socially and emotionally prepared to handle?
For very young children, we have songs like “The Building Song” by Shirley Cohen that let them imagine and act out being a slave. But as children get older—and begin to learn about slavery in American and world history—we have the opportunity to become more sophisticated in the materials that we share.
Last year I was honored to write several lessons for Next Year, Free! A Modern Slavery Curriculum, a free downloadable curriculum that provides lessons for kindergarden through high school-aged students that illuminate the lessons of Passover through the awareness that slavery still exists in the world today—and that through awareness and action, we can help to end it.
The curriculum focuses on our Biblical heroes from the Exodus story—not only Moses but also characters less talked about like the Biblical midwives Shifra and Puah, who defied Pharaoh’s order and continued to help Hebrew mothers deliver their babies.
It also educates about human trafficking happening now across the world, and explains that the vast majority of slaves live in impoverished communities in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa—for example, the children who are frequently forced into slavery in the Ivory Coast and Ghana to harvest cocoa. Because we all (mostly!) eat chocolate, talking about what fair trade chocolate is and sharing fair trade chocolate is something that children can relate to.
I have found that it is shocking not only for children, but also for many adults, to grasp the reality of slavery in the world today. It is natural to imagine slavery as something from a long time ago when children do not know people who have been forced to work against their will and/or for no pay.
But my experience has been that grounded in concrete information, and explored through the lens of Jewish values, children and adults respond by wanting to know what they can do to help end slavery. Numbers cause us to glaze over and resist taking in disturbing information—but the Modern Slavery Curriculum focuses on amazing stories of survival and courage, helping children, teens, and adults relate. The curriculum is also full of actions that we can take as a family, classroom, or synagogue community to help end slavery in the world today.
For more information on becoming a Passover Project Partner, visit FreetheSlaves.net