By gearing the seder towards the kids, are we cheating them out of the best experience?

Reprint from my article in Temple Beth Torah’s bulletin:

A few weeks ago, I was reading an article (I wish I could remember where) in which a woman talked about how she used to treasure the long family seders of her youth.  She had fond memories of being allowed to stay up late, and of listening to the adults singing the old Hebrew songs.  Now that she is a mom, she said, she looks to create short, child-friendly seders for her own family.  My heart sank.  Didn’t she read the words that she had just written?  I see the same exact trend happening in my own family.  We create pediatric seders with puppets and songs in English, and the kids can’t wait for it to be over.  Worse yet, they don’t even recognize the traditional tunes to those end-of-seder songs.  How could they recognize songs that we don’t sing?  We are changing the seder culture for our children in order to make it more fun, and it isn’t working at all.

The problem is not that simple, of course.  If your grandfather always used to lead those long Hebrew songs, what can you do when he has passed away?  It is not simple to get all of those verses of Hebrew words out.  The new generation of parents and grandparents may know the melody, but they don’t know the words.  The new generation of children, therefore, doesn’t even know the melody.  Something is being lost: a sense of warmth, of history, of patient story-telling and the asking of important questions.

I propose two solutions to these problems.  The first is to realize that the seder does not exist only for our children.  There are profound questions to be asked and lessons to be learned by even the most learned at our seder tables.  Make a seder for your family that you will find interesting.  If you don’t care, why should your children?  The second is to try to learn some traditional seder songs to bring back to your family meal.  If you can’t learn to sing the songs yourself, bring a recording to the table.  If you have a tape of an actual family member at a seder from years ago, you might want to consider bringing those voices back to share.  Grandparents and great-grandparents can live on in the memories of children they never knew if their voices still play at seder meals.


7 thoughts on “By gearing the seder towards the kids, are we cheating them out of the best experience?

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  1. Sally,
    reading these words gave me chills. I remember that the seders of my chidhood were very long. Filled with the voices of my grandfathers singing songs filled with words whose meanings I did not know. And yet, I completely understood. Every now and then, the children would get antsy and one of my grandfathers would bang his fist (gently) on the table. We would giggle and stop . . . then start again 10 minutes later. My grandmothers could be heard calling from the kitchen (b/c of course they were preparing the meals and not sitting at the Seder table) “Harry, Joe, they are just children. Leave them alone. ” I LOVED Pesach at my grandparents (z”l). It was my favorite holiday. And now I am sad that we no longer have the long Seders that last well past our bedtimes. Now everyone has to get home early for work or school the following day. We still sing songs and read verses from the Hagaddah, some in English and some in Hebrew . . . but the goal is to finish early . . . not necessarily to finish. I wonder if things are different now as well b/c there is so much else going on in our lives – TV, electronics, work, school . . . It seems as though it is more difficult for people (mysef definitely included) to just stop and be in the moment and experience the Seder of generations past.. Wow. Thanks for making me stop and take some time to think about this. xoxo to you and David and your family. Cindy

  2. when the seder is ONLY geared toward children, it definitely turns everyone off. But one of my favorite years was when we did a short seder with only our immediate family and the grandparents. I took so much delight in helping the kids dance and sing, talk about what they would pack if they were leaving Egypt, practicing being a slave and feeling freedom. I think that for everyone who remembers these long seders fondly there are a bunch more who remember them as something they’d never want to repeat. Bringing something new to the seder table and bringing it to the experience of each person present is part of the mitzvah!

    I love the idea of recording family members singing – I’m going to work on that this year!!!!

  3. Dear Sal, I thought the whole point of the seder was
    “And you shall tell it to your children”

    I thought that retelling the story of what God did for us in as vivid a way as possible- in a manner specifically aimed at the kids, so they will remember it all of their lives, is the entire purpose for having a seder, isn’t it?

    I thought that it was supposed to teach them that we were chosen by Him, given the Laws by which he wants us to live, molded into the kind of people he wanted us to become. A seder, I thought was intended to foster belief in the next generation.

    Of course, this will only happen if the majority of the attendees share the common purpose intending to foster faith in the next generation. A secondary purpose might be inculcating a sense of cultural pride and history, but, again, this will only be achieved if the majority of the attendees share a common goal.

    For family groups, a third purpose is often social and emotional. Grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins want to bond with one another at this time. However, family g et togethers also breed family tensions, so no all attendees share this goal.

    When all of these motivations stir the heart, it is difficult to see clearly, what is the correct thing to do. one yearns for the simple past, where the pleasures of food and love made a seder a wonderful, longed for thing. Now, deciding what to do, and how to do it, are not simple matters.

    a few seconds ago ·

    1. In some ways, you are absolutely right. A seder is a lesson plan. It is written to appeal to children and should still appeal to them. But part of the appeal, part of the memories that so many of us hold dear is the family connection, the singing, the togetherness. There is something that is lost when the length of the seder is cut so short that the singing and the joking disappear altogether! I am not suggesting an adults-only seder. On the contrary! I am suggesting a seder that is geared to allow moments of interest and enjoyment for everyone – just as the original seder was. I am suggesting that we not allow our seders to be only pediatric, but to be wonderful experiences for the whole family.

  4. I grew up with short, boring Seders. My grandfather skimmed through the Haggadah, we sang the four questions, and looked for the afikoman (the only interesting part of the whole evening). However, my cousins and I would put on plays and that was always fun. Many years later,in Israel, I was exposed to real Seders. The ones where you read the whole thing, and sing all the tunes after dinner. And it was great. When my oldest son was born, it was clear we would start having meaningful seders for him (and also for us). Unfortunately, since then, we’ve been invited to a few seders where there is no interest in teaching the children anything, which has lead us to do our own seders, and every year our son (and hopefully our 3.5 year old daughters will join him soon) looks forward to them, as we also do.

    We have a long seder. And we sing afterwards. Yes, we use props, and toys, and puppets. And part of the text is the Dr. Seuss version, and we also sing a song about Elijah to the tune of Maria, from West Side Story. But we also stick to a lot of the original text and sing the real tunes. We love it, and our guests do too. We’ve obviously had those guests who found it too long (and perhaps boring), but we will keep doing it, fostering our love for the holiday, and the family traditions we want our children to grow up with.

    Chag Pesach Sameach!

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