Bringing Teens to the Seder Table

blurry picture of a table with the words Bringing Teens to the Seder Table

There’s that wonderful point in the life of most teens I encounter that I like to call developmentally appropriate agnosticism.

They’ve outgrown the pediatric vision and version of God, Judaism, and family rules that they’ve been participating in and been fed since they started learning; yet some of them aren’t quite ready yet for constructing a more sophisticated, more nuanced theology and religion. It’s a really sweet spot for a Jewish educator to encounter.

But that sweet spot can be an equally frustrating spot for a parent when their formerly adorable, sweet, compliant child turns into the eye-rolling, oppositional teen who has to be invited dragged to the Seder table.

When we cultivate and push our teens’ burgeoning spiritual development, we have the opportunity to help them create long-lasting positive connections to the very traditions they are appropriately questioning.

As we think about adolescent buy-in, we have to remember that in order for the learning to happen, teens need meaningful connections. If they can’t find personal relevance, they can’t construct meaning for an experience. Adolescence is a time to develop important skills for a capacity to participate in spiritually meaningful ways: abstract thought, meta-cognition, and identity formation. How thrilling when we can capitalize on these skills while making a more engaging seder for everyone at the table.

Questions are at the core of the seder.

Encourage the questions from your teen participants, even when the questions are defiant or challenging ones. Adolescent resistance has the potential to make for such powerful conversations at the Seder. Don’t feel as if you must own the answers, the most interesting questions don’t have answers at all.

Figure out what might interest your teen and use these interests as starting places.

Some of these suggestions can be in preparation before the Seder, some at the time of the seder:

Gaming? Ask them to create a game or puzzle for the participants to solve in order to find the afikoman.

Cooking? Ask them to create their own Charoset recipe and teach participants why they put in these specific ingredients. Leave part or all of the meal in their hands. Menu planning, grocery shopping, prepping, cooking, serving – they are in charge.

Theater? Use a children’s book with the Passover story as a script, ask your teen to gather props before the seder. During the longer expository parts of the seder, have them step out with the younger children and direct the younger participants in a play that they will present. Better yet, have your teen direct the adults in the seder to create and replace one of the 4 tellings during the seder itself.

Debate? Set up a Passover vs. Fourth of July Debate based on the Jewish Women’s Archive lesson

Creating Inviting spaces? Give them a budget at a craft store and ask them to create a Passover-themed Tablescape.

Writing? Before the seder, introduce the difficult lines as we open the door for Elijah.

“Pour out Your wrath upon those who do not know You and upon the governments which do not call upon Your Name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his dwelling place (Psalms 79:6-7). Pour out Your fury upon them; let the fierceness of Your anger overtake them (Psalms 69:25). Pursue them in indignation and destroy them from under Your heavens (Lamentations 3:66).”

Ask as a writing prompt: “Is it ok to ask God to take revenge on our behalf? Why or why not”

Reading? Ask them in advance to go on-line shopping and pick out and bring to the seder their own haggadah. If they’d like, they can share a little about what they chose and why with the other participants

Languages? Ask them to teach the participants at the seder the four questions in a language they are learning.

Photography? Before the seder, ask them to photograph ideas that represent slavery or freedom. Have them print out the photos and put one at each place setting. Ask each participant interpret the photo and relate it to the Passover story

Music? If they like to write music, ask them to compose something new based on the words of the answers to the 4 children. If they like to listen to music, ask them to create a spotify playlist for each of the 4 children and explain why they chose the music they chose. Bring drumsticks to the table and create beats for any passage that is being read or recited without a song. Turn “My father was a wandering Aramean” into slam poetry!

Keeping in mind that teens connect through ownership, agency, and acceptance, offer choice without judgment.

Let them direct, recognizing that it can be hard for some of us to give over control. And of course, your biggest superpower is humor in all things. Yes, things may get messy, but messy is where the magic happens at the seder!

Author

  • Rabbi Janet Ozur Bass, Middle School Assistant Principal at The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Maryland, is passionate about education, Judaism, early adolescence, cooking, traveling, and most importantly, family. She has brought her love of Jewish Text to the formal and informal classroom for over 25 years. Rabbi Ozur Bass earned her B.S. in Biological Sciences and B.A. in English Lit from the University of Maryland and an MA and Rabbinic Ordination from JTSA. She is mom to 3 phenomenal adults and enjoys being “Cantorina” to Hazzan Henrique Ozur Bass at Har Shalom in Potomac, MD.

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