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Passover Brings Out the Child in All of Us

Passover is one of the most memorable holidays of the Jewish calendar and not just because we eat matza for seven days straight. Growing up, everyone has different memories of the seder, depending on how many hours it takes to retell the story of how our courageous ancestor Israelites journeyed from slavery to freedom. What I remember most about my childhood seders is everyone being together, and that our rituals seemed long enough for the wilted parsley to look appetizing. The grownups read prayers, while my older brother Steve and I tried to keep our hands to ourselves. The only thing that kept my bobbing head from landing on Grandma Ida’s Lenox china was the anticipation of finding the hidden piece of matzah wrapped in a linen napkin. If I was lucky, I might win one of Grandpa Harry’s shiny silver dollars.

While Passover is rich in tradition, from the Haggadah to the farfel koogle, the experiences and lessons learned are brand new each year. In fact, ever since Jack and Sari were old enough to pronounce the word afikoman, I was determined to liven up the seder and feed their imaginations as well as their bellies. Fortunately, most temples and Jewish preschools offer a gold mine of resources that give families creative ideas on how to make your seder more fun and meaningful for everyone. Plus, Jewish websites, such as www.JewishFamily.com, are worth browsing and provide a new twist on holiday games, crafts and recipes.

With all these interesting activities to choose from, I go a little crazy on Passover. And the best part—I don’t have to cook and clean. Usually, Aunt Amy and Uncle Keith host the first night and our family friends graciously open their home to us on the second night for an encore performance. All I have to do is show up with a tripled batch of charoset and a huge plastic storage box filled with surprises. Preparation is key to a smooth seder, so I make sure I bring plenty of crayons and paper placemats for the little ones to color. After that, I pull out stickers to decorate Elijah’s plastic wine cup. When it’s time for the older cousins to read the Four Questions, they pass around oversized, colored index cards that I laminated to prevent grape juice stains. I’m a little meshugee this time of year, what can I say?

The first night of Passover truly is different from all other nights. Why? Among other things, the youngsters stay up late on a school night, eat more junk food than usual, have permission to croak like frogs, and don’t even have to sit up straight at the table. In fact, my kids bring a fluffy pillow with them to recline at the seder. The pillow is special because we painted candlesticks and Kiddush cups on the pillowcase, and we use it only on this holiday. Perhaps the most entertaining part of the evening—besides Uncle Keith’s jokes about the Rabbi, the Priest and the Buddhist—is when the kids act out the Ten Plagues. In fact, each participant gets a bag filled with props that represents each terrible punishment given to the Egyptians for their mistreatment of Jews. In our family, for example, rubber frogs and silly sunglasses (for the three days of darkness) are as much a tradition as matzah balls and kafilta fish. I actually encourage the children to throw plastic golf balls at each other to symbolize a hailstorm. Even the adults get a kick out of pouring water into a pitcher that magically turns into blood with a few drops of food coloring.

Finding the afikoman is another highlight, only nowadays every child gets a prize so that no one’s self-esteem is hurt. While some traditions change, others stay the same. Either way, our children will always remember being together.

Here’s my favorite recipe for charoset, which I have revised over the years with more Mogan David wine as my kids get older. This is a tripled recipe, keeping in mind that my side of the family used to eat the sweet mixture (that symbolizes the clay used to build pyramids) as a main dish.
Ellie’s Charoset
8 cups of grated tart apple, unpeeled
4 cups finely chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
8 T. honey
4 tsp cinnamon
1 ½ cup blackberry or grape kosher wine

Grate apples in a food processor. Pour apples in big bowl. Chop nuts in food processor. Mix nuts with apples. Add rest of ingredients to apple and nut mixture. Chill. To add a little variety to your seder, try other variations of charoset, using raisins and dates instead of apples.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to ellie@mishegasofmotherhood.com.