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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

We are proud to present a new forum called the Chinuch Roundtable, an opportunity to get to know the people who teach our children, set educational policy in our yeshivot and contribute so much to our thriving and growing community.

For our pre-Pesach issue, the following question was asked: How can we use the Seder as an educational tool to enhance the next generation’s religious experience in a substantive way?

Rabbi Michael Zauderer, Director of Educational Systems, The Frisch School

For both adult and child the Pesach Seder is one of the most memorable events in the Jewish calendar. The key to expanding the Seder beyond a positive memory is the realization that the Seder is not merely a retelling of the Exodus story, but is the relaying of the experience of Exodus.

Pesach is about Am Yisroel and the Yitziah from Mitzrayim. It tells the story of the Jewish nation’s liberation, and every year at the Sedarim we tell that story.  When we tell it, we should tell it in a way that allows our children to understand that this miraculous event also happened to individuals: the men, women and children—the families and shevatim—who experienced it.  What happened to our ancestors then happens to each of us in every generation.

The Haggadah quotes the Biblical text that describes the bitter enslavement and ultimate redemption from Egypt; and then expands upon it to provide a national perspective on the magnitude of the event. And it says, B’chol dor vador chayav adam lir’ot et atsmo k’ilu hu yatsa mi-Mitzrayim, each person has the obligation to find the individual experience that allow him or her to relate and view themselves as having left Egypt.

One can prepare various Midrashim and Biblical commentaries that bring out personal stories of redemption. For example, the Ramban explains how Pharaoh used modern-day propaganda techniques to subjugate the Jewish people. We can talk about the self-sacrifice and the heroism of Jewish midwives and Moshe Rabbenu’s mother in Egypt, who disobeyed the decree to kill first born male children. Stories about individuals can be found in English in the book Let My Nation Go by Yosef Deutsch or other publications for Pesach that will help you bring the geula to life for your children. To make the generational point, tell personal stories of redemption from other time periods in Jewish history to show what it must have felt like to become free.

The Seder is when my father [and many other Holocaust survivors share their experiences during World War II with their families]. My children can feel what he felt when he tells his story. It is powerful and affects our children when told in the context of the Seder.

In my father’s case, after five years of running and hiding in Austria, Germany, and France, he, his parents and brother were finally smuggled into Switzerland on first Seder night, 1944. The emotions of that night—the fear of being caught and the euphoria of finally being free—serve as a basis for the feelings I would have experienced if I was the one being saved from Nazi tyranny 69 years ago or from Egyptian cruelty in ancient times. Those feelings of being enslaved and redeemed are the emotions we want our children to understand.

Rabbi Tavi Koslowe, Asst. Principal, M.S. Judaic Studies, Yeshivat Noam

You can certainly make an impression in your child’s religious experience at the Pesach Seder, but if you want it to be substantive and enduring, it necessitates a before, during and after. Most of your school-aged children have devoted class time towards creating Divrei Torah, art projects, and their own illustrated Haggadot.

It would be a wonderful investment in your children to devote time before Pesach looking through your children’s work together with them, making sure they understand their project/Dvar Torah/etc. and creating a list for yourself of when would be the right opportunity for your child to take the stage and either deliver their Dvar Torah or present their project at the Seder. At the Seder itself, if your child does present something, use it as an opportunity to engage them in a follow up conversation, i.e. “I love your picture of Kriyat Yam Suf, how do you think a child your age might have felt going through it?” or “I enjoyed your Dvar Torah on the salt water. Why do you think we should be sad on a night when we are also supposed to be happy?” After the Seder, find quiet time to sit with each of your children and express to them how much you enjoyed their participation in the Seder. Ultimately, solidifying our Mesorah means giving our children a genuine sense of belonging and meaningfulness, whether it is by using some of these suggestions or others, Pesach can be an amazing Chag to make a memorable impression on the next generation.

Mrs. Leah Silver, Junior High Morah, Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey

The best way to make the Seder a meaningful experience is to let it become one. The Seder is organized to be a multi-sensory retelling of the Exodus story. The lifting, covering, drinking, crunching, hiding-and-seeking of the Seder are there to help us feel as though we were truly there, too. The text of the Haggadah itself is both comforting in its familiarity, but intriguing in its choice of sources and words. There is a lot for any curious child or adult to contemplate and question. The philosophy behind the Seder experience is embedded in the Haggadah itself: In every generation, throughout time, each Jew is obligated to view himself as though he, too, experienced the Exodus.

This is the motivation behind the «full body» experience at the Seder, the moments of slavery, the Hallel of freedom. It is why we sit together and tell our own perspectives on what happened and why it happened that way. We are there. There is the key to an exciting experience, though: it cannot be predigested and reviewed too much before the Seder actually begins. The magic needs to occur at the Seder for it to be a truly meaningful, cathartic, and religious experience. The Torah sets the scene: «And it will be when your child asks... .» As educators, we should highlight the tensions of the Haggadah, as parents we should set the table and encourage the unscripted moments. At the Seder , allow the children to create memories of their own and experience the historic consciousness of the Jewish People.

by Penina Seplowitz