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16 Simple Ways to Jazz Up Your Passover Seder

Because why should liberation be boring?

Marjorie Ingall
March 20, 2015
Bible Belt Balabusta's LEGO seder plate.(Bible Belt Balabusta)
Bible Belt Balabusta’s LEGO seder plate.(Bible Belt Balabusta)

Quick! A passel of ideas to make your sedarim more thought-provoking, engaging, and festive! (For more, check out Bible Belt Balabusta, a hilarious and brilliant crafting site from a Jewish educator/former program director for families with young children that you need to bookmark right now.)

1. First, here is a joke.

Q. Can Elijah get through a screen door?
A. He can, but it’s a STRAIN!

2. Consider reading and discussing a poem on the subject of freedom or slavery. Even young kids can understand “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou, or try the last stanza of “For Memory” by Adrienne Rich. For a seder table populated by older kids or only grownups, try Emma Lazarus’s “In Exile,” Marge Piercy’s “Maggid,” or Muriel Rukeyser’s “Song (‘The world is full of loss’).”

3. A couple of years ago I added a little trick to my seder. When discussing the 10 plagues, I pretended to be Pharaoh and poured water into a tall champagne flute which contained a tiny pinch of red gelatin powder (concealed by my hand holding the flute). The flute filled up with blood and I screamed and then all the kids screamed and they thought total magic had occurred and it was awesome. Of course, this only works once. Make the most of it.

4. Have your kids make the centerpiece. Once we had a tableau made of Egyptian Playmobil figures and a LEGO pyramid. This year I am pondering something disgusting and brutal involving a Beanie Baby lamb.

5. For many years when my kids were younger we had a Miriam dance interlude—adults waved a blue (sea-colored!) sheet up and down while kids boogied under and around it while playing their timbrels and tambourines and we blasted “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.” (This is obviously not an option for the super-observant.) It let the kids stretch their legs and get their yayas out and gave them a second seder wind.

6. Ask questions (or encourage kids to ask questions) about the holiday, and throw chocolate or mini-marshmallows for correct answers or participation. Think not only of Passover trivia, but also of discussion topics that will resonate with both kids and grownups: Standing up to bullying and oppression, the fact that slavery still exists today, the qualities that make a good leader, why it’s important to dance at the revolution. Remember that everyone enjoys being hit in the head with a mini-marshmallow.

7. Speaking of which, I was told of a seder in which the hosts put marshmallows on the blades of their ceiling fan, then turned on the fan when the plague of hail was mentioned. This is genius. (Another hail idea: ping-pong balls, if you do not have violent preteen boys in attendance.)

8. Put a tiny seder plate on each kid’s dinner plate. (This is Joanna Brichetto’s genius at work.) Use a Tam-Tam cracker for the plate, use a mini-marshmallow as the egg and fashion another mini-marshmallow into a shank bone. Mold the karpas and charoset out of those disgusting sugared fruit slices of doom. If you don’t keep kosher for Passover, use a Hot Tamale for the bitter herb and a tangle of shredded fruit leather for charoset. Or have the kids make teeny seder plates out of LEGO.

9. For boils: Put a sheet of red Avery round label stickers on each plate. Put them on your face. Put them on your neighbor’s face.

10. Ten Plagues coasters! Festive, hip and a great reminder of the order the plagues come in for those who may need a little help, especially after some imbibing has occurred. You can also use them for your crafted artisanal Passover-themed cocktails!

11. Channel your inner Gaga with a Sound-of-Music-themed Passover song.

Cleaning and cooking and so many dishes
Out with the hametz, no pasta, no knishes
Fish that’s gefillted, horseradish that stings
These are a few of our passover things.

Matzoh and karpas and chopped up haroset
Shankbones and kiddish and yiddish neuroses
Tante who kvetches and uncle who sings
These are a few of our Passover things.

Motzi and maror and trouble with Pharoahs
Famines and locusts and slaves with wheelbarrows
Matzah balls floating and eggshell that cling
These are a few of our Passover things.

When the plagues strike
When the lice bite
When we’re feeling sad
We simply remember our Passover things
And then we don’t feel so bad.

12. As a bonus, here is a song I wrote to the tune of “Here Comes the Sun” (because both kids and adults know the Beatles). Kids love the chance to say “doodie” and I am 12. Consider this my afikomen gift to you.

Doodie Pharaoh
Your hard heart shows no sign of melting
Doodie Pharaoh
It seems like years that we’ve had fear

Here come the plagues (doo doo doo doo)
Here come the plagues
And we say
Let us go

Doodie Pharaoh
Now blood is coursing through your river
Doodie Pharaoh
And you just stepped on several frogs

Here come the plagues (doo doo doo doo)
Here come the plagues
And we say
Let us go

Plagues plagues plagues, here they come!
Plagues plagues plagues, here they come!

Doodie Pharaoh
Lice, beasts, sick cows, boils on your faces
Doodie Pharaoh
Hail, locusts, darkness, it gets worse!

We’re leaving now (doo doo doo doo)
We’re leaving now
And we say
It’s all right
It’s all right

13. Discuss Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s badass feminist Passover essay.

14. Multicultural charoset Top-Chef taste-off! Have guests bring different countries’ and regions’ Haroset variants, and have everyone vote on their favorite.

15. There is a Sephardic tradition of smacking the people on either side of you with scallions or green onions during the singing of “Dayenu.” This is very enjoyable. Do not raise welts.

16. Every year I put a plastic egg on each child’s plate, filled with little chocolate eggs. (Christians do not have the monopoly on eggs as a symbol of springtime.) I start the seder by saying “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The kids all yell back, “Because we get to eat dessert first!”

Chag sameach! Talk freedom, talk responsibility, and have fun.

Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.