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.