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Childless Seder

Thursday, March 28, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

I am an adult without kids, and there won't be any kids at my Passover seder this year. With so many of the seder rituals organized around children, where does that put me and my seder attendees? Who should ask the Four Questions? Can we skip the afikomen? I'm comfortable with my family arrangement and seder plans, but am I missing out on an important part of the holiday by celebrating it only with other adults? 

Signed,
Childless Seder


Dear Childless,

One of my favorite things to talk about when I lead a seder is the second step, urchatz, which manages to translate to, "washing our hands without saying a blessing." Why is this step in the seder? According to the Talmud, it's there because it's strange, and through its very placement in the seder, it encourages children to ask why it's there. Circular, yes, but also brilliant. Slaves aren't allowed to ask, "why?" or in any way to question their situation. Free people get to ask. The seder is (among other things) about celebrating freedom, and, as free people, we can, and should, spend as much of the seder as possible asking, "why?"

Even if urchatz, and other elements, are intended to engage children specifically, these parts of the ritual also encourage all of us to call upon our childlike, inquisitive natures. Through the seder, we have the unique opportunity to put aside any embarrasment we may have about our lack of knowledge of this or that and to behave as free people who are free to ask, or, put another way, to behave as children who are free from certain social constraints (not interrupting, for example) and just get to say what's on their minds.

At the Grad Network seder, where the age range is typically 22-35, we all say the Four Questions together. Whether or not participants had the "youngest child" designation in their families of origin, in a relatively homogenous setting like this one, we all get to take on the role of asker. Similarly, we all get to take on the role of teacher as well, and this dynamic creates, I think, an atmosphere of genuine sharing and exploration. When it's time to find the afikomen, everyone looks together, too. Sure, there's some irony about doing this childlike game, but it also brings back happy memories for a lot of people and, even without kids physically present, reminds us of kids at seders around the world who are taking delight in this part of the evening.

In the haggadah, we read, straight out of Exodus 13:8 (made gender neutral), "You shall explain to your child on that day, 'It is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt.'" Yes, there's an idea there that you have a responsibility to share the seder with your children. Without children, though, think creatively about what role you can have in sharing the seder with the next generation, literally or figuratively, and how, through the seder that you host and the guests you include, you are propegating the seder experience.

A final note to those of you who may have children at your seder: Be careful not to organize the whole experience around engaging children at the expense of the adults at the table. When the children grow up, you want them to have enough substance to hold onto that the seder will continue to be fulfilling. Toy frogs and finger puppets are great, but they need to tie back into the business of the day: liberation and peoplehood. For what it's worth, my seder experiences as a child felt like a special glimpse into an adult discourse, and the little bits of kid-friendly activity (afikomen and four questions are two great examples) felt like a personal invitation to stay at the table and see what it was all about.

Whatever your seder looks like, I hope it is meaningful and full of joy, freedom and questions for everyone involved, at any age.

Be well,
Miriam

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