Tag Archives: education

Ideas for a creative Sedder

Not cSedderontent with the simple rote recitation of The Hagadah? Want to make it an actual multi-generational Jewish learning/growth experience? Want to have a Sedder which will stimulate and excite your children?

There are a lot of ideas out there but here are some of my favorites which I’ve actually tried:

1. Start again. After everyone is finally situated in their designated seat, Head of Sedder (HOS) goes to the front door, opens it and urgently calls everyone to quickly come outside to see something. When they  arrive HOS says : “Imagine that right now we would get up and just leave our houses. Leave to go to Israel/Jerusalem/Har HaBayit. Just grab our suitcases and go. Everywhere in the world, right now, all Jews are sitting down to remember when The Jewish People left Egypt. Let’s do the same. Everyone head back in; We’re now ready to start our Sedder”.


2. Move Maggid away from the dining room to the living room. Children sit on the carpet or mattresses in center while adults sit on the sofas/armchairs. You will be amazed how this can transform the Maggid from a ritual to an actual family discussion/activity (Make sure to bring your cup of wine with you).


3. Encourage questioning. Throughout the Sedder every question (or answer) said by a child – awards them a chocolate chip to be placed in small baggie. Kids may eat them throughout Maggid, but whoever has the most chips by the end- gets a prize. (Other options are tiny marshmallows or, small notes that say “Good Job”).


4. Q-cards. Under each plate place a card which has on it information to be used at variant times during the Sedder. Examples:

1) An individual “special” word – whenever this word is recited in the reading, the person needs to yell out: “Pesach, Matzah and Maror!”

2) A character from the Pesach story – when there is a lul in the story, pick random participant, who needs to either act out his character, or answer 21 questions until the other participants guess his identity (don’t forget all the animal characters from חד גדיא!)


5. Experience slavery. Immediately after מה נשתנה, bring out blocks and tell the kids to each build a building to a certain height. As they build, Head of the Seder (HOS) makes suggestions of improvements. Upon completion, HOS instructs to ruin and re-do better. When they start re-building, HOS takes a more aggressive attitude, bossing them around about how to build the building. After the kids get upset (or even cry) HOS stops and explains that this is similar to what happened in מצרים, it started off mild and gradually changed into slavery. Continue with עבדים היינו.


6. Four sons.

1)     Ask each participant to identify which son they are and why (can be both a serious as well as a bit of a silly conversation). Adults can share which kind of “son” they were when they were kids…

2)     The 4 sons through the ages. Download and print out enough versions of The Four Sons collectioFour sonsn, based on which you can have many fascinating discussion with participants, of all ages. Sample questions:

i. Identify who is each son in the various depictions of the four sons. How do you know?

ii.  What are some of the differences between the various depictions of the various sons? (for adults – what do these differences mean?)

iii. Which depiction is you favorite? Why?

iv. Which depiction best describes our family?

v. (For adults:

– What is common to all the depictions on the 3rd page?  A: they carry strong ideological statements – Zionist, anti-enlightenment and anti-socialist

– What is common to all the depictions on the last page?            A: they depict whole families, not only sons

7. The Plagues

1) Each child acts out 2 pre-assigned plagues and the other kids have to guess what it is.

2) Blood – Ask for “Jewish” and “Egyptian” volunteers to demonstrate the plague of Blood. Prepare 2 non see-through cups, one of which should have at the bottom red food coloring. Make a spectacle of pouring clear water from same jar into the “Jewish cup” and then the “Egyptian cup”, hand to them and ask them to describe what they see. HOS explains that the same water stayed water for us but when was used by the Egyptians- became blood.

3) Darkness. Split kids into “Jews” and “Egyptians”. Blindfold “Egyptians”, who need to protect their chocolate chips from the “Jews”, who want to “borrow” them. HOS explains that this is what happened in מצרים- the Egyptians couldn’t see anything and the Jews could. The Jews went into the Egyptians homes to take treasures as compensation for their hard work.


8. Elijah’s cup. Have someone sneak out of the room a couple of minutes before Elijahs cup. This person leaves house and stands outside the door with his head covered with a Tallit. When children open the door – Elijah walks in, walks silently (remaining hooded) to the table, bends down enough to fool that he is drinking (while making sure to spill some of it) and then leaves.


Word to the wise:

1. Different activities are appropriate for different ages

2. Change the activity to fit your “clientele”

3. If you find one that the kids love – do it again. It’s worth the time

4. Choose wisely how many “special” activities to do. You don’t want overkill. I recommend choosing the 3 or four you think will work best.

5. These ideas are not meant to replace the traditional Sedder, rather to enhance it; to evoke more interest and engagement in the readings and observances.


Chag Same’ach VeKasher!

(Feel free to add in things you’ve actually done and seen succeed)

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Simon & Garfunkel, Jesus and Sex – a surprising conversation with my 8 year old son

On a drive back from Buffalo to Toronto last week, with only myself and my 8 year old in the car, I put on a “Simon and Garfunkel” disc as part of his ‘music appreciation education’. (He can already identify Blues as a genre, Beetles, Queen, some U2 and ‘Stairway to Heaven’. I thought it was time he become familiar with the great music of two nice Jewish boys, named Simon and Art).  
The first song on this timeless collection was “Mrs, Robinson”.

For those not familiar with this rock classic (shame on you!) the opening lyrics are:
“And here’s to you Mrs. Robinson;Jesus loves you more than you will know (wo wo wo)”.
Upon hearing this line, the following quite long and extremely important conversation ensued between my son and me:
Matanel: “Abba, who’s Jesus?”
Me: “He was a Jewish guy who lived a very long time ago. Do you remember that we learnt about Avaraham Avinu and how when he was a kid everyone believed that statues had powers and that they were gods? well Christians think that Jesus, who was a man, had powers and was a God. What do you think, does that make sense?”
Matanel: “No, not really”
Me: “Remember the story of how Avraham smashed all the statues and put the stick in the hands of the big statue and told his father that the big statue did it and that his father got angry because the statue is just a statue? what did Avraham answer him?”
Matanel: “That if the statue can’t smash the other statues how can you believe he is God”.
Me: “That’s right. So it’s the same thing with Jesus. Just like the statue was made by someone else and is just a statue so he can’t be God, also man was made from something and came from his parents and can’t be God”
Matanel (laughing): “That makes sense”.
Me: “Think about it. If he’s a ‘man’ then he’s a ‘man’ and if he’s ‘God’ – then he’s ‘God’. Saying ‘man’ is ‘God’ would be like saying a dog is a fish (Matanel laughing hysterically). If I tell you that this dog is a fish, that means that either it’s not a fish or it’s not a dog. It can’t be both, can it?”
Matanel: “Well, it can be both if you’re speaking in both languages…” (the Hebrew word דג, which means fish sounds exactly like the English word dog)
Me (laughing): “Well, I guess, but you know what I mean. Let’s say I say a dog is a cat – it’s either a cat that I’m calling a dog, or a dog that I’m calling a cat. IT can’t be both, right?”
Matanel: “Well, what if a dog and cat get married, wouldn’t their baby be both?”
Me: “Wow, good question. From what I know, when 2 animals from different species have babies, the babies can’t survive and they die”.
Matanel: “Ah. Abba – do animals get married?”
Me: “Not really”.
Matanel: “So how do they have kids?”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Matanel: “I have a different question. When people tell me I got my green eyes from you and Savta, or that I ‘got my height from my uncles’, how did I ‘get them’ from you?”
Me: “Do you know how you can save letters and pictures on the computer at home?” 
Matanel: “You mean it’s saved in the memory?”
Me: “Yes, exactly. So there’s something in our bodies called ‘cells’…”
Matanel: “Abba, I know what cells are!”
Me: “Oh, OK. Sorry. Well, cells have in them something called DNA that remembers all the things about our bodies – our height, the color of our eyes and hair and a lot, a lot of other things…
Matanel: “So I have your DNA and that’s why I’m like you?”
Me: “Yes but you also have Ema’s DNA”
Matanel: “Because I was in her Tummy?”
Me: “Ya, kind of”
Matanel: “But how did I get your DNA?”
Me: “Well, just like you can send someone an e-mail with letters and pictures that are kept in the memory of your computer, I sent my DNA, that has all the information about my body, into Ema’s tummy”
Matanel: “How did you send it to her? I mean, how did she get it from you? is it because you got married?”
Me: “Ah, I understand your question now. So no, not exactly because we got married. Think about it – you weren’t born right after Ema and I got married, right? only seven years later”
Matanel: “Ya. So how did you send your DNA to Ema?” 
Me: “You know how when you see a man and a women kissing and you don’t like looking because it’s very private?
Matanel (laughing) :”Ya”
Me: “So, there is something else that Abbas and Emas do and that’s how I send my DNA to Ema. It’s not from kissing – if someone ever tells you it’s from kissing, they don’t know what they’re talking about – but it’s from something like kissing that Emas and Abbas do but it’s more than kissing. It’s more special and more private than kissing. It’s like kissing, but more.”
Matanel: (says nothing. Seems to be thinking about this)
Me: “Do you want to hear more about this now or continue talking about it at a different time when you feel ready?”
Matanel: “Let’s continue a different time”
Me: “OK. I really like talking to you about these things. Let me know whenever you want to continue talking about it”. 
Matanel: “OK. Me too. Can I play on your phone now?”
Me: “Sure”. 
This Shabbat afternoong, Matanel asked me “if we could continue the DNA conversation”. I said I’d love to but we should wait until we can speak about it in quiet, without his younger brothers around to bother us.
Pointers to self for the continued conversation:
1. My kid is awesome. Thank you Hahsem for granting me such a special boy!
2. Make sure to continue letting him lead the conversation. Make sure I’m giving him the information he’s asking about and not giving him information he’s not actually asking about or ready for. There’s plenty of time. 
3. Don’t make a big deal out of either topic (God or Sex). He should continue to feel it is just like any other area in life, not something to get super excited, anxious or embarrassed about. 
4. What Simon and Garfunkel song should I have him listen to next…?

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Is the Torah Pro Choice?

Several years ago, a couple contacted me about their son who was becoming disenchanted with Torah U’Mitzvot and was gradually “shedding” observance. They described in detail how they had provided a loving and nurturing atmosphere for their children, how they tried to be good role models of love of Torah and Mitzvot, the excellent Jewish education their children received and the joy of Shabbat and Chagim in their house. 
They concluded their overview with a question that resonates with me as strongly now as it did back then – “Rabbi, where did we go wrong?” 
When trying to give them an answer, I reflected on Sefer Bereshit, in which the Torah discusses the most fundamental relationships of our lives: relationships between spouses, relationships between siblings and relationships between parents and children. 
It’s interesting to note that all of the great figures in Sefer Bereshit seem to have a child who “strayed from their path.” This was true for אדם, whose son, קין committed murder and נח, whose son חם committed incest. Similarly, we find that אברהם had ישמעאל and יצחק had עשיו, both of whom led lives of violence and immorality, far away from the ideals of faith and morality which were at the center of their father’s lives and education. 
When it comes to sibling rivalries, the Torah is quite explicit with its reasons for it – jealousy and competitiveness. The same is true for spousal dispute, where the culprit was mistrust and deception. 
When it comes to parents and children, though, we don’t find the Torah giving an explanation as to “what went wrong.” I shared with the distressed parents this peculiarity and the message I think it includes: The Torah doesn’t give a reason for the sons turning their backs on their parents’ ways because there isn’t always a reason. It is possible to be an אברהם, the greatest Jewish educator of all times, and still have a ישמעאל. Not because אברהם necessarily did something wrong, rather because it wasn’t all up to אברהם!

As these parents were already after the fact, I felt it was an important they not beat themselves up over it and realize it could have nothing to do with them and how they raised their son.
I do believe there is another message there which may help us before that point of choice comes and that is the realization that we can only take our children so far in their relationship with G-d and Torah (or in life in general for that matter). At some point they have to make their own choices. We can’t choose for them and we can’t force them to choose. We can’t assume that as long as we do all the “right things” (or whatever we imagine them to be) – they will just continue living a life consistent with how we raised them.

Does this mean there is nothing one can do but pray? Not at all. We need to do whatever we think are the “right things” but with the awareness of preparing them for that moment, or moments, when they will decide for themselves. They need to be accustomed, especially in their teen years, to making everyday religious (and otherwise) choices, not through coercion and deprivation of choice, rather the opposite, by allowing them the space and acceptance to make their own choices. That, coupled with the positive atmosphere, influences and learning will, with G-d’s help, result in the right choices they will make themselves.

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What I learned at Harvard

I recently spent a week training at Harvard’s Principal Center.

There were lectures and workshops covering a wide range of topics from “Adaptive Leadership”, to “New Approaches to Teacher Assessments” and “Defining School Efficacy” and much more. It was a fantastic institute and an extraordinary learning experience.
How surprising, then, is the fact that 3 of the most memorable experiences of my week in Harvard are the ones that took place outside the classroom:
Lesson 1 – The International; The Cultural Divide
170 participants from 22 countries around the world participated in the institute. 
On the second day of the institute we had a morning of ice breakers and team building activities in smaller, 14 person, cohorts. For one of the very first activities I found myself paired up with Eida. The activity was this – pairs needed to decide on a song they are both familiar with. One person stands and sings the song while their partner walks around them in circles. When the singer is ready for a switch – he taps the partner on the shoulder and they switch places. 
(The purpose of this ridiculous activity was to get us way, way out of our comfort zone as an opener to a full day of team building and open conversation).
A bit about my partner. Her name wasn’t actually Eida, rather – by her own admission – something none of us would be able to pronounce. Eida is the Student Activities Coordinator of a 1300 student, public high school, in Southern China. I, on the other hand, am the Judaic Studies Principal of a 200 student private, Jewish-Orthodox, high school in Toronto.
After apologizing and explaining that we will have to do without the tapping due to “religious restrictions”, we moved on to search for a song we both knew. I asked if she knew any nursery rhymes. She didn’t. She asked if I knew any traditional Chinese songs. I, foolishly, responded that I knew some of the songs from Mulan. She frowned, though I’m not sure if because she didn’t know what I was referring too, or because I was being ‘culturally insensitive’ (the absolute worst of crimes at a place like Harvard). No success with the Beatles or Madonna either. She came up with “Jingle Bells”, which I wasn’t comfortable with as – for the rest of the group – it would strongly be associated with Christmas. (“Jingle-Bell-Rock-Dancing-Santa” shout-out to the Malkosh clan…).
Several minutes had gone by and the rest of the group was standing around waiting on us to start. They all threw in their own suggestions. Finally, someone suggested the “A, B, C” song. 
Looking approvingly at each other we awkwardly carried on with the (ridiculous) activity. By the end of it we recognized that we had done more than find a way to carry out the activity. We had found a bridge, albeit a slim one, across a massive cultural divide. It was the opening – for all of us – to an extraordinary cultural education throughout the week as well.  

Lesson 2 – The National; How Close and How Far We Drift

Lesson 3 – The Personal; Me and My Chicken Soup (Coming Soon)

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