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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Everyone knows that one of the goals of Pesach, more so than any other yom tov, is to make the Seder and its messages engaging for children. The mitzvah of the Pesach Seder is “V’higadita l’vincha,” meaning “and you should tell your son,” emphasizing the importance of retelling the story of Pesach to the next generation. So many customs are focused on the children and making the Seder pertinent to them. Of course, this is not just something that engages the young Seder participants. Making material current, understandable and relatable draws in every person at the Seder as well.

In the weeks before Pesach, shiurim are dedicated to this specific theme. As any good hostess or ba’al haSeder knows, the best ideas are further enhanced with actual props and audio-visual presentations. Many families find activities that include Seder goers of all ages. In addition, what you place on the table becomes a part of the Seder too, and people seek out or make their own Pesach centerpieces or displays, and the interactive entertainments that parents bring to the Seder can rival any three-ring circus with their creativity.

Place Cards and Table Settings

Whether it’s your first time hosting the Seder or you’re a seasoned pro, families share some of their crowd favorites for keeping everyone engaged. These ideas range from full-scale performances to small details that add that Pesach feeling to the evening. “We make origami frog place cards,” said Bergenfield’s Abby Cooper. “Then throughout the Seder everyone is jumping their frogs all over the table.” Personalized place cards, especially for larger meals, definitely helps everyone figure out where they should be but provides the opportunity for added details. One family used place cards for open-ended Seder questions on the back of each name.

Pesach is also the time of freedom—from doing dishes. With minimal plates for Pesach combined with large meals, many people rely on the abundance of classy and thematic disposable goods for their meals. Local stores sell Pesach-themed paper goods—with matzah prints, makkot pictures and the parts of the Seder printed on napkins, cups and plates. These paper goods are a conversation piece at any Pesach meal and do not need to be reserved only for Seder meals, but will always add something to any meal where they are used.

Table Runners and Centerpieces

Instagram and Facebook are filled with table runners and dolls that are set up to mimic scenes from yetziat Mitzrayim. But Yam Suf scenes are not the only ideas people have for their tables. Elie Hirschman, originally from Riverdale with a stop off in Teaneck before his current location in Israel, said that he purchases little rubber duckies and sets them up as the characters in the Haggadah (Moshe, Aharon, Pharaoh, the Four Sons) and the makkot.

Beyond the Table

Rivki Rosenthal knows a few things about coordinating fun events. As the youth director for Congregation Keter Torah, she is always on the lookout for something exciting and applied the same enthusiasm to her Seder. “I ordered a Moshe-splitting-the-sea backdrop,” Rosenthal said (thank goodness for Oriental Trading). She also has Pesach dollars for participation and a toy store where they can redeem the dollars.

Tzipporah Wallach channels the authentic feeling of Pesach and hangs blue streamers across the doorway, reminiscent of “crossing the sea.” This is an idea many families have done as well, with variations on the streamers—using blue hula table skirts or blue plastic tablecloths to create the same effect. Wallach takes it a step further: she even decorates one doorway with red streamers for the reminder of makat bechorot.

What did we do before Amazon? A quick search for “Pharaoh costume” yields more results than we ever imagined. And in just a day or two it can be at your house in time for Pesach. Everyone loves playing dress-up, and having someone act out Pharaoh and Moshe, or even just sit at the table in costume, entertains all Seder guests. Miriam Kaminetzky actually repurposed scraps of her family’s Purim costumes and turned them into impressive tunic costumes for Pesach. For the rest of us less-crafty folks, though, Amazon might be our best bet.

Games

Another popular idea making its way through Seders is adapting mainstream games into part of the Seder. The popular game Headbandz can be used as a springboard for Pesach Headbandz rounds, where everyone has a card on their head related to Pesach, the Haggadah or the Seder, while their game partner tries to make them guess what is on it.

Bingo is another popular option and can be made with Seder buzzwords or with pictures, if a large portion of your Seder participants do not read yet. Many websites are available that will customize Bingo games. They take your input (pictures or keywords), scramble it up, and make as many unique Bingo cards as you request.

See https://www.eslactivities.com/bingo.php and https://osric.com/bingo-card-generator/

If these two options don’t work for your needs, a quick Google search for “bingo card generator” yields many many more results.

As much fun as these themes and games can be for everyone, sometimes people want to find a way to enhance the Seder with an elegant touch.

On the Table, a New Jersey store known for their unique and exquisite table decor, has been preparing for Pesach for weeks, and this has nothing to do with chametz purging (though their selection of Seder plates is worth a look). They carry salt and pepper shakers that can be used for practical purposes, but also for thematic decor, even a sphinx and pyramid set for an all-around chuckle. As for other sets, who wouldn’t want their very own plague of frogs in the form of a salt and pepper shaker?

For anyone with an aversion to boxes of matzah on their Seder table, Abbey Wolin (@AbbeyWolin on Instagram) has created an aesthetically pleasing solution. Her matzah boxes in marbleized paint, glitter, floral patterns or other designs help keep matzah fresh and keep the table pretty. On The Table is a local carrier of these matzah boxes and can barely keep up with the demand for these popular additions to the Pesach table.

Artist Yael Harris Resnick of Israel by way of Teaneck and Los Angeles has designed her own solution to blending beautiful table decor and functionality (https://www.yaelharrisresnick.com/product/exodus-table-runner-rush/). She made a table runner that depicts kriat Yam Suf, but is also heat resistant and can be used as a surface for setting out food.

With all these creative outlets even at the Seder, families will find a host of ways to engage their youngest participants and Seder guests of any age and background.

Chag kasher v’sameach.

By Jenny Gans