“The Seder is the night of education.” On Sunday morning, April 2, Rabbi Avram Block, Assistant Rabbi of the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates, shared an enlightening speech on how to engage all ages and all stages at the Seder. He shared his own educational expertise as a doctor in educational psychology. The general educational principles he shared are applicable all year long.
He taught that it’s a wonderful opportunity to educate our children and guests as well as ourselves. He shared many quotes about education. We need to put a great deal of effort into preparing for the Seder and we must be cognizant of the challenges.
It occurs late at night, so everyone should do what needs to be done to be able to stay awake. The text of the Haggadah is cryptic in terms of retelling the story, so we need to use it as jumping-off points for discussion. He spoke about differentiation in the classroom, which needs to be applied to the Seder. Think about each person at the table and what will make each excited.
He shared a teaching of Dr. David Eliach, a famous Jewish educator, who taught that the most important principle of Jewish education is to actually care about what the students care about. This is the key to differentiation, he said.
Ask questions and engage everyone so they are all involved. It is not a time for long speeches. Educators have long known the adage of “Don’t be a sage on the stage; be a guide on the side.”
Enthusiasm and passion is contagious. We should bring our excitement to the Seder table. This idea applies to all that we teach our children. Also, we should never complain about how hard it is to make Pesach. This is not a good way to teach our children.
The key points were to balance school preparation with group interest; avoid purely frontal divrei Torah. Read through children’s material ahead of time and use it as a launching point for discussion at the Seder.
He offered fun suggestions for younger children as well. He gave out coloring pages and suggested some games to play with younger children as well. He makes an “afiplosion,” which is like a piñata filled with Pesach candy, and if his son makes it to Afikoman, he gets to hit the afiplosion and collect candies. Rabbi Block uses a large zip-lock bag for this afiplosion. He also lets his children make a Pesach mural on the windows and he hangs Styrofoam balls simulating hail and manna from the ceiling. He uses red jell-o to simulate the water turning to blood. He also makes the headbands game into a Pesach game with symbols from the holiday.
Rabbi Block taught that we should bring our enthusiasm, passion, and creativity when we teach our children about Yiddishkeit. Also, we need to be mindful of what interests each person and how we can engage them and pique their interest. Preparation is essential.
Though the holiday is over, the lessons will stay with us and these educational principles of how to teach our children are applicable all year long.
by Susie Garber