Thursday, April 24, 2008


Woodrow (hi Woodrow! thanks for visiting) commented on my toddler seder post that he doesn't think the point of a seder is to entertain children. I couldn't agree more.

The point of the seder is not to ENTERTAIN children, and I wasn't suggesting that. It is to engage, intrigue, and interest them. Which, frankly, reading aloud from a haggadah in a language they don't understand, long past their bedtime, simply cannot accomplish.

My favorite seders, by the way, are still the ones we had with other friends our own age and their parents and parents' friends, post-college, full of intellectual and historical discussion, that went on late into the night.

But, when you're a parent, you learn that it's not all about you and your interests anymore. Many is the mama who has slogged through "Guess How Much I Love You" or "Bible Heroes I Can Be" (Baby Chalal's personal favorite) for the tenth time, when she'd much rather be reading the new gardening book she just got from the library...

I had to laugh when I reached Woodrow's line that "the Seder, and indeed Judaism generally, is primarily for grownups and older children who can appreciate Pesach. The 5 year olds can learn about it when they are older."

Woodrow - have you heard of Piaget? Do you know that the most formative emotional aspects of religion happen under the age of six? Yes, you can wait to teach them about Pesach when they're older. But you're going to end up with a lot of wicked sons.

But here's my favorite part:
"By contrast, when people start a seder at 9 PM, they tend to heed the time and to not add a lot of extraneous rubbish, thus ensuring that the seder is over within a few years."

LOL. Sounds like your seder was a little too long. :)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Meh. Tummy bug = bad seder.

Last Tuesday night, just when I was supposed to be making the Caramel Matzah Crunch, I instead got suddenly and violently ill. Which began several days of unpleasantness for the whole family.

We canceled the seder. We never made the gefilte fish. There is no pyramid tent.

We did, however, wave the "sea" fabric around for baby Chalal to run under when we were telling the story. Lots of giggling.

So far, he hasn't lived up to last year's record of 2 whole matzot in one sitting, but I think that's largely because he's teething intensely right now. Whee.

As the first one sick, I was also the first one recovered since, you know, mamas don't really need to rest or anything. So it's almost time to make another double batch of matzah granola - yummm.

Oh, and in case you didn't know yet, RenReb is back (briefly). Which almost makes up for the bad beginning to this year's holiday.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Starting Early

Part of the "hashkafa" in the group of Jewish families we hang out with is that technical halacha (like actual sunset times) must defer to the larger purpose of an event that is aimed at kiddos (who have an inflexible need for sleep). Baby Chalal, for instance, normally gets bath by 6:30 and is in bed for stories by 7pm. If we keep him up much later than that (say, 7:45), we often have a screaming sobbing toddler too tired to calm down and sleep.

So I find myself planning for a "first night" seder that will actually be mostly over by sunset, which doesn't happen here until 8:02pm. I'm totally ambivalent about this.

On the one hand, I love hosting the seder, making it special for the kids, getting them all really involved, etc.

On the other hand, how is this different from all the non-observance of Bad Cohen's family? Haven't we just drawn the line in a slightly different place?

The year I was pregnant for Pesach, I remember being really offended that friends with a 6-month-old wanted us to start before sundown and were going to leave immediately after eating - this is a once-a-year holiday, after all, a special occasion! After all the trouble I went through to clean and kasher and cook etc., couldn't they at least show some respect for the holiday?

Then I had baby Chalal. And didn't sleep more than 4 hours in a row for 16 months.

Now that he's sleeping through, bedtime is special. Bedtime is sacred. Anybody tries to mess with bedtime, they're going to have to deal with ME, by G-d. There is no way we're risking messing up the sleep pattern.

The obvious answer would be to host it on the second night instead, where the timing is less problematic, but that leaves Bad Cohen and me (and all our guests) with no first-night seder at all.

Clearly, BC and I will just have to stay up late drinking wine and reading Shir Hashirim to make up for it... :)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tactile Seder

With several toddlers at the seder, I decided the first night would be a tactile kiddie seder, to engage their senses and catch their attention. Here's what I have planned, so far (aside from the food):

1. A camping tent with a covering painted like a pyramid - letting them climb in and out, and placing some Egypt and Passover themed toys inside it. Also keeps them occupied while parents are doing some parts of the seder.

2. Colorful plastic pitcher and bowl for handwashing - there's nothing kids love more than splashing. Adding some color makes it even better.

3. Traveling through the sea - I found a gorgeous blue and green patterned silk with white and green glittery beads at the fabric store. Bought 3 yards of it, which the parents will hold up and make "waves" for the kids to travel under when we tell that part of the story.

More coming as I get carried away...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Pesach menu

Once again, I find myself in disagreement with Dov Bear that the only things you need at a festive meal are a hunk of meat and some veggies. For one thing, the point of a festive meal is to have a lot of delicious foods in large quantities which you can use as leftovers all freaking week. For another, it's supposed to be a big, memorable, exciting occasion that the kids remember and want to replicate even when they're grown up.

Here's our planned menu for the first night. Note that 3 of the eaters are under 3 years old.

UPDATE: Some time with recipe books and discussion with Bad Cohen have slightly altered the menu. For one thing, he doesn't want to share the trifle with all the first night guests. For another, if we make the gefilte fish before Pesach starts, it won't still be good by the time we need to serve it to the relatives on the second Saturday.

During the seder:
hard-boiled eggs
veggies cut into fun shapes with dip (maybe some babaganoush)
Enough grape juice and wine to get both the kids and the parents a little high

Shulchan orech:
homemade gefilte fish
matzah ball soup (yuck! ptu ptu!)
Not-quite-bstila d'jej (sweet cinnamon/saffron/almond chicken not in pastry)
Moroccan slow-cooked chicken lamb
Israeli salad - and yes, that's tomato, cucumber, onion, garlic, lemon and lots of fresh herbs

Strawberry-lemon trifle
Pareve caramel matzah crunch

For the second night:
Leftover charoset
homemade gefilte fish
Spaghetti squash with basil and butter
Vegetarian stuffed cabbage*
Caramel matzah crunch Strawberry-lemon trifle with real whipped cream for dessert

I haven't decided yet on the filling for the stuffed cabbage. Torn between green filling (Spinach, peas, artichokes, feta, matzah, onion, garlic, etc.), Italian-style (Matzah, onion, mushrooms, cooked bell peppers, garlic) and Shepherd's pie (mashed potato, corn, peas, matzah farfel cooked with seasonings and veggies).

Since Bad Cohen is both Hungarian and Sephardi, we do kitniot but not AND rice. And lots of paprika anywhere he can sneak it in. New policy decision, since we've never been official on this one. We can have rice. I probably won't, but we can, says BC.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The White Sheep's Lament

As the only relatively observant Jews in the family, we're sort of the family Levites (Bad Cohen's actual status notwithstanding). We do the praying for everyone. We do the Pesach cleaning, the learning about halacha, leading the seder, etc. And so the rest of the family feels that they don't have to.

(OK, so it's more complex than that, but I'm feeling cranky.)

The "family" seder is always on the Saturday night that falls during Pesach.* Whether it's the first night or the 5th, the last night, the 2nd night, whatever. Since nobody else observes Shabbat, this gives them time to cook and clean and get themselves ready.

For the sake of shalom bayit, we go, we take part, we ignore the fact that Bad Cohen's uncle !always! brings his own beer.** We always bring the gefilte fish, which has to be made well ahead of time anyway.

Well, this year it was perfect, because Saturday night actually IS the first night, and we can fulfill the mitzvah while also fulfilling our family obligations.

Except that some family members are already planning to be out of town that night. And don't want to miss it. So, rather than rescheduling THEIR plans to accommodate everyone else (and, you know, the actual holiday), I'm guessing we'll have the family seder on the 26th, instead. And Bad Cohen and I are either going to have to find a child-friendly first-night seder to crash, or host our own.

Not that's it's not fun to host, but it's a lot more work than I wanted this year...

*Well, there was that one year when they held the seder on the Saturday night just BEFORE Pesach, and I told Bad Cohen I would bring the challah...

**You think I'm kidding. But I'm not.