Last night I read the Exodus story to my girls from Dayenu!: A Passover Haggadah for Families and Children by Carol Boyd Leon. I have been exploring different child-focused haggadahs for this year’s seder to be sure my daughters, ages 2 (almost 3) and 5, feel included and enjoy themselves thoroughly. They really like this haggadah. It has vivid watercolor illustrations and the story has songs woven into it. When it’s time for the plagues, it tells them to clap, ribbit, and hop like frogs–what could be better? And my younger daughter has fallen in love with Miriam, who, after successfully escaping from Egypt, is shown dancing joyfully–the miraculously parted water behind her.
One of the things I thought my girls would like about this haggadah is that it is mostly in English, which makes it easy to include them in the singing and storytelling. And here is where my 5-year-old surprised me.
After safely crossing the sea, Miriam is shown making music with her tambourine, celebrating freedom. Underneath the illustration, it says, “One of the songs they sang was ‘Mi Chamocha’–Who is like You, God? There is none like you!” Then, it has a song in English. When I began to sing the words on the page, she stopped me. She said, “I thought you were going to sing the song you sing in shul,” and she sang the beginning of “Mi Chamocha” in Hebrew with the clapping we do at Saturday morning services. It was just the first verse, but she had learned it on her own.
Why does this matter? My 5-year-old has been to Saturday morning services more times than I can count. We don’t go every week, and sometimes we skip a month, but we are included on the email list of “regulars” at our shul. We love the community we share with the other families that also attend regularly. But, this winter has been so exhausting with snow, snow, and more snow, causing school cancelations for preschool, as well as the community college where I teach full-time, that I have let myself off the hook on many a recent Shabbat morning.
I’ve been feeling tired, feeling burnt out, feeling like they are just so young–can’t we just go back to services next year, when they might be closer to being old enough to pay attention? I don’t really mean that, because I love the service, the ritual, the music, the peace that Shabbat in the sanctuary brings me. But in that moment, snuggling in the bed with my munchkins–to have my older daughter KNOW the beginning of “Mi Chamocha” in Hebrew felt like a pat on the back. Yes, mommy, I am listening, even when you think I’m not.