I became observant in my 20s and my kids attend a Jewish day school. My cousin, who I grew up with and remain close to, followed a different path. Last year, he and his wife asked if they could come to one of our Seders in order to give their kids an “authentic” Passover experience. It seemed like a wonderful idea, but in reality, it felt super awkward: My kids worked for weeks on their Haggadahs and were eager to share what they learned, while my cousin’s kids seemed lost for most of the Seder.
Now, if you can believe it, my cousin’s family wants to come again! I want my kids to be able to share their learning, but I also want my cousin’s kids to feel included and for them to have a positive experience. How do I make this year engaging for all involved?
First of all, I am certain that this is a problem faced by many people. In my community, I see a wide variety of extended families, from those whose entire family is frum (religious) from birth, to those that have a mish-mash of members from non-Jews to Chassidish Yidden and everything in between.
Secondly, I am not at all surprised that your little cousins wanted to come back to your Seder! If this is the “most Jewish” experience they have all year, their neshamos (souls) may be supremely ignited by this awesome experience. I’m sure that you, as a baalas teshuvah (returnee to the faith), can remember what it was like to have your first Seder where everything was observed. Speaking as a BT myself, I can attest to the fact that my father’s extremely truncated Haggadah recitation that we experienced on one night only was vastly different from the first Seder I had with my husband’s family. I thought it was pretty cool and I even wanted to do it again — luckily, I had my chance the very next night — but the highlight for me was watching the little people at the table give over what they learned at school using their fancy-shmancy Haggadahs they made themselves.
What I’m trying to say, Batya, is twofold: One, the Jewish soul will always try to reconnect with G-d; and two, you never know what will spark someone’s interest in learning more about Judaism.
What sparked your interest in becoming more observant? Was it a trip to Israel, a connection with a cool religious family, or listening to a moving Jewish song — or all three? For your cousins, it could be watching your 3-year-old Shloimy recite the “Ma Nishtana,” or observing how beautiful and sparkly your Rochel’s Haggadah is. What if coming to your Seder year after year makes them want to learn more and do more Jewishly? Wouldn’t that be cool?
Now, it could be that your cousin’s kids responded to the news of a repeat visit with, “Ughhh, it was sooo boring going to Cousin Batya’s Seder. Do we have to go again?” The way you interact with them this year can make all the difference.
Here’s what you can do. Without shoving anything down anyone’s throat, send a Pesach game or book before they come to you so they can have something to contribute. Seat each one next to one of your kids (hopefully similar ages and genders, but if not, use your judgement) and ask your kids to gently and sensitively include their cousin-buddy as much as possible. Have this discussion a few weeks before and do some repetition here, while emphasizing the importance of not embarrassing anyone. Your kids will probably be excited and proud to be “teachers” to their family members.
And on the flip side, if your kids complain that they won’t get to say a million divrei Torah (words of Torah) or have the Seder last quite as long, remind them that they can do that the other night. Or, you can tell your cousin before they come that it’s going to be a late night and that if they want to leave early, you can make it happen without being too awkward.
All in all, this is a great opportunity for you and your kids. You can show a family that isn’t so observant one of the best things we do all year. There is so much excitement surrounding Pesach, especially for kids, that it’s pretty contagious. The ritual and reminders of our history are pretty great. A rousing round of “One Morning When Pharaoh Woke In His Bed” is also a fantastic icebreaker.
Wishing a zissen (sweet) Pesach to you and your extended family.
All the best,