It’s easy to see Passover as a holiday with complex, symbolic themes about Jewish peoplehood, freedom and slavery that could be difficult to explain effectively to children, especially amid holiday preparations than can become stressful.
However, local rabbis said discussing the holiday in an age-appropriate way can give even young children a sense of important Passover themes like gratitude, freedom and applying the ancient lessons to today’s world.
Rabbi Matt Eisenberg of Temple Israel Ner Tamid in Mayfield Heights said the symbolism surrounding Passover about the exodus from Egypt is “enormous and mystifying” and one thing to highlight for kids is the idea of gratitude for what they have.
“When people see the symbols, remember God freed our people and we should be eternally grateful,” he said, adding that the Seder is a great opportunity to use food to remind kids of the different parts of the story.
“The symbolism of the food makes the story that much easier to remember because you have something on your plate that you eat that reminds you of part of the story.”
Rabbi Joshua Hoffer Skoff of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike said in an email that there is no single “right way” to explain such symbols to kids, but is somewhat dependent on age and learning style.
“Depending on their age, they will understand the information differently,” Skoff said. “Just as there are ‘four sons’ or ‘four children’ described in the Haggadah, there are many types of learners.”
Rabbi Binyamin Blau of Green Road Synagogue in Beachwood also highlighted types of learning that connect best with kids of different ages. For example, he said his own kids had costume masks that symbolized the various plagues, which let them learn in a visual way. He said that one theme that’s important to reiterate is the idea of freedom- but with a purpose.
“So many of the things that happen over that night connect to that idea of freedom, but again it’s freedom with a purpose, not freedom with abandon,” Blau said. “I think that’s a message kids can really relate to and they can appreciate the symbols which flow throughout the night.”
Eisenberg said the description of the plagues can express to kids the difficulty of attaining freedom and why it matters.
“I explain the plagues as God brought these plagues to free our people from slavery and if you are a king, or a pharaoh or a person that enslaves others, you are not going to give that up very easily,” Eisenberg said. “The plagues were powerful, and the plagues were awesome and punishing because the pharaoh was not going to give up the enslavement of the our, or any people, easily.”
Moreover, he said it’s important to acknowledge the suffering of others for the freedom of the Jews, which can be done by explaining the wine drops on the Seder plate. While Eisenberg describes a cup of wine as “a cup of joy,” taking a drop to one’s plate is essentially lessening that cup of joy to remember that Egyptians died for Jews to be free.
“Egyptians did die because of the plagues, so it’s not 100 percent cup of joy. We take out a drop for each of the plagues to lessen that cup of joy, because we realize others did have to die for us to be free” Eisenberg said.
Blau also said that it’s important to teach kids that Passover is about belonging to a peoplehood.
“That’s what the holiday is about, that appreciation of becoming a nation and caring for one another, and that’s a big theme that I think it has to be brought out in the Seder night,” Blau said. “We have to make sure that everyone has a place at the Seder, (which) is such a critical message not just for Passover, but beyond.”
Moreover, Skoff said that it’s important to apply Passover’s ancient lessons to today’s world and let kids know that they have the power to help others who are suffering.
“It is not only what happened to them way back when, it is about us now,” he said. “It is about healing the brokenness of the world, symbolized by the brokenness of the middle matzah. It is not only about helping the stranger then, it is about helping the stranger today.”