Mar 31 2022 A Seat at the Table: Making Memories with Your Teenage Grandchild This Passover
Across time and geography, memory is how we Jews come to understand our past. The Torah elevates memory to mitzvah (commandment) status, for example, Remember the Sabbath day and Do not oppress strangers (remember we were once strangers in Egypt). Our traditions remind us of our collective responsibility to memory.
Especially at Passover, memory is the way we share our values and traditions to our grandchildren. The Haggadah says we should see ourselves (lir’ot et atzmo) as though we were personally liberated from Egypt. The Seder, with its devotion to tradition and its flexibility for innovation, can inspire us to share the significance of memory in many ways.
Since its inception in the 2nd Century, the seder endures as one of our most flexible and progressive Jewish rituals. Through the Haggadah’s example of the four children, we have the opportunity to create a seder experience accessible to every family member and guest. Regardless of age, or attention span, each of us around the table can relive the Exodus for ourselves.
At the seder table, grandparents can bring the Exodus story to life by leading and joining their grandchildren as fellow travelers in a journey of memory.
And what about our teenage guests? How do we inspire them to see themselves as part of this memory? If they are feeling distant, how do we draw them in? If their questions seem cynical, how do we honor the question and questioner alike? A true gift of the Passover narrative is that it is perfectly oriented to a teen’s inner and outer world — questioning authority, seeking freedom and independence, and raising up the cause of the stranger and the oppressed.
As you prepare for your family seder, experiment with rituals and innovations that will help your teenage grandchildren know how you welcome their participation, their ideas, and the integral role they play in the family’s obligation to remember.
Below are a few ways to engage teens in the preparations and rituals of the seder.
Research new recipes
Perhaps your teens can find a charoset recipe from another part of the world. Or a new take on matzah balls. They might even like to help prepare the food and bring it to the seder. Bond over the challenge of making horseradish from scratch this year. Or have a seder taste test challenge. Bottled or homemade? Who can handle the hottest horseradish?
Ask your teens to create a playlist that emphasizes Passover’s themes of freedom, travel, family, tyranny/authority, etc. Play it as a background soundtrack or musical accompaniment to various readings in the Haggadah, or while you are eating. Invite your teen to share with the group their reason for choosing each song.
Capture the moment
Invite your teen to capture this year’s seder memories by taking photos and videos on their phone throughout the night. They can organize the images into a slideshow for the next family gathering or preserve them in a Shutterfly photo album and distribute them to family members after the event.
Introduce a personal justice piece
Invite your teen to prepare a short discussion about a social justice topic that they care about — perhaps modern-day slavery, war, or civil rights violations. What spaces or places need liberation?
If your teen is the youngest present, ask them to prepare, then lead, the Four Questions in a way that embraces their emergence into adulthood. What questions do they have on their minds, from the mundane to the serious? What are the things that they worry about or wish they understood better? Take a few moments to recognize the collective wisdom around the table and invite guests from across the generations to answer.
Share in leading the seder
If your teen would like extra responsibility, perhaps they can prepare and lead part of the seder. Let them choose the parts they are comfortable with (it might even be just leading a fun song, like Dayeinu).
Margie Freedberg Bogdonow (LICSW) serves as the Senior Advisor of Wellness Initiatives for the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative.
Rabbi Dena Shaffer serves as the Director of Learning and Engagement for the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative.
The Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative is an innovative philanthropic experiment where local and national funders develop, nurture, scale, and sustain new approaches to teen education and engagement. The Funder Collaborative is powered by the Jewish Federations of North America.
Photographs by Stephanie Fink