In the weeks before Passover, I always pull down the holiday box from our hall closet. This year my 6-year-old was excited to help with the project, both because there was a stool involved and because she got to sort through the items she hadn’t seen since last year. Most of our Jewish holiday collections consist of books, and Passover is no exception. But in addition, she found a small bag of 10 plagues puppets my mother gave us a few years ago.
My daughter took them out, lined them up, and peppered me with questions about what they were. Unlike most of her toys, they were not recognizably animals, or superheroes, or anything else she could categorize. Thanks to Hebrew school and an iPad app, she knows the Passover story and is familiar with the idea of plagues. She began carrying “her plagues” around the house, trying to figure out what to do with them.
Her first thought was to serve them to us as a meal on the seder plate her brother made last year. “Blood for you! Wild beasts for you!” Then she decided to use them in a more menacing fashion, chasing family members around the house with lice, cattle disease, and a “crocus” (her initial mispronunciation of locust).
She has continued to play with her plagues daily. She makes sure regularly that she has all 10, and searches them out when one is missing. This led to a moment where she yelled from the living room, “Mommy, I found lice!” and we were actually happy and relieved. One evening she asked me to line them up in order. I showed her the list of plagues in a children’s haggadah, and we lined them up together. She asked why they came in that order, and we talked about why one might be worse than another. She wasn’t clear why frogs were so bad, though we agreed that the slaying of the firstborn was unquestionably the worst tragedy that could be visited.
It’s no surprise to me that pretend play would captivate this child. Her favorite toys are her dollhouse and her “Frozen” dolls, but she turns every object into a talking character: silverware at the table, sticks at the playground, a washcloth in the bathtub. The various toys who inhabit the dollhouse tend to take side trips to the “hospital” (the bookshelf) or go on “hikes” (to the couch). Her fascination with these personified plague finger puppets (they all have expressive faces), and the nature of their adventures, is par for the course.
I know she plans to bring the plagues to our seders, too. I have mixed feelings about turning something as serious as the plagues into puppets—and I still do—but for this child, they are clearly a tool that helps her find a way into the story as well as the seder.
Last year her 7-year-old brother solemnly removed a drop of juice from his cup for each plague. He does not like the plagues because any people suffering makes him sad, so he appreciated the idea of lessening his cup of joy if the Egyptians were in pain. I can see his sister joining him someday soon, because while she likes her locust and her lice and even her slaying of the firstborn, her understanding of the story seems to transcend the toys’ comic depiction.
I never thought of inserting Jewish stories into her pretend play, but it makes perfect sense. The plagues are just a jumping off point. Her dolls could play roles in the Passover story, and it could be fun to pick which superheroes or Disney characters should play which role. As we approach the week of Passover, perhaps her dolls can have seders, too. Or she can try to replicate seder foods with her play food.
And I am already thinking about future holidays, too. I know that we have some Purim finger puppets for next year. And the High Holidays will be festive in the dollhouse! Perhaps the end table will be their synagogue. And I wonder what we could use to make a tiny shofar…