Making a Meaningful Passover: Eight Ways for Eight Days

Passover is a spring festival commemorating the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt, using many symbols and rituals. This year, Passover begins at sundown on Saturday, March 27, and lasts until sundown on Sunday, April 4. The story of Passover is a collective remembrance of the Jewish people, passed down for generations.

This year marks our second Passover celebration during the pandemic, and hopefully our last. As we cautiously move towards more freedom, we have the chance to create lasting Passover memories for our families.

Here are eight fun and meaningful ways you can reframe your Passover experience:

1. Prioritize People: Younger children understand life in concrete terms. When adults explain the Passover story and themes to children by reading stories, using illustrations and scenes, or with puppets, children will more closely identify with people in the Passover story, and understand the significance of the festival. Talking with children about the lead-up to the departure of the Israelites from Egypt will help them recognize that this time was very difficult for both the Israelites and the Egyptians.

2. Embrace Spring: Nature blossoming around us symbolizes the transformation of Israelites from slavery to freedom. Traditionally, families clean their homes, removing bread and leavened products (called “hametz”). This is a timely opportunity for families to spring clean while they clean for Passover. Further, by performing acts of social justice as Passover approaches, we feel more connected to our community at large, including those who are ‘strangers’ to us, just as the Israelites were in Egypt. By donating food or volunteering at local food banks, we can reduce hunger and suffering for others in our community. By personally selecting food in high demand and donating to local food banks and homeless shelters, children can actively pursue acts of social justice.

3. Significance of the Seder: Jewish people have a special meal called a seder on the first two nights of Passover. The word seder means order because there is a specific order to the seder as outlined in the Haggadah. Each action in the seder links to the Passover story. Festivities include singing specific songs, such as Dayenu and Chad Gadya, and eating traditional foods. We can reflect each year to find new meaning in the Passover story. Often, the more we look, the more we find.

4. The Force of Four: Four is a very significant number during Passover. There are four expressions of redemption in the Passover story, four cups of wine, four ways to explain the Passover story to four types of children, and the four questions. The four questions are called Mah Nishtanah, asking why Passover night is different from all other nights. To honor the important role of children at the seder, these questions are traditionally sung by the youngest child. PJ Library provides downloadable question catchers you can use at your seder. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said, “To ask is to believe that somewhere there is an answer.” Jewish tradition encourages curiosity and questioning. While we may not always find the answer, asking questions can lead to knowledge and insight.

5. Tweak a Tradition: This Passover, after a quieter year, you may want to turn up Passover songs to high volume. There are many creative activities that can help children lean into this festival. Gamifying the search for the afikomen, (the middle piece of matzah, which derives its name from the Greek word for dessert), can make this activity even more exciting for younger children. The game of ‘hot’ and ‘cold’, is a great way to give children hints about how close they are to finding the afikomen. Alternatively, an afikomen treasure hunt can be created with advanced planning.

6. Fascinating Food: Jewish communities around the world have distinctly different culinary customs and this is pronounced during Passover. Ashkenazic (European) Jews traditionally do not eat rice on Passover. Matzo ball soup is a staple at seder dinners. Sephardic Jews (of Spanish descent) eat rice, lentils and beans, and foods known as kitniyot. A sure way to excite children about Passover food is to include them in food preparation. PJ Library has a fun selection of kid-friendly Passover recipes for all meals.

5-Minute Shakshuka (view recipe)

7. Matzah Makeover: Jewish people are commanded to eat unleavened bread throughout Passover each year, called Matzah. This central symbol of Passover is called "bread of affliction" because it represents how the Israelites fled from Israel in haste before their bread could rise. While it can be fun to make your own matzah, after a few servings of this dry, bland cracker, you will likely seek more flavorful recipes. Children can revitalize matzah by helping to prepare simple and flavorful recipes using this core ingredient.

8. Honor Women: Passover this year starts in March, while we celebrate Women’s History Month. We can honor heroic women from the Passover story, including Miriam, Moses and Aaron’s sister. She was pivotal in supporting the freedom of the Israelites. Some families place a special glass – Miriam’s Cup – at the table to honor the roles of Jewish women throughout history. Children can make Miriam’s Cups for the seder table to remind us of the important role women played in the Exodus.

Homemade Miriam's Cup

The Festival of Passover offers us eight days where we can spiritually connect with our family and community. This year as our freedom of safe movement slowly returns, we may be more aware of our privilege and our blessings. We can create meaningful Passover traditions that we can share with the next generations: l’dor va’dor. Passover reminds us to be grateful (enough, dayenu). We are challenged to remember what is happening outside our homes, literally and figuratively – when we celebrate our freedom from slavery. We recall that as Israelites, we were strangers in the land of Egypt. We can examine modern-day inequities around us – in our local community, nationally, and around the world – and advocate for ending injustice and oppression.

This Passover, if we put ourselves in our ancestor’s shoes, we can continue working towards a more ethical and compassionate society.


March 11, 2021