A Q&A with Emily Smith
One of my greatest heartbreaks about COVID-19 and social distancing is Joss not being able to go to school. I know so many of us are in the same boat, so this isn’t a unique situation. But we both love his school so much! Even though the whole school is really coming together to support each other, it’s been difficult!
Not to mention, his class has its own Facebook group where his teachers share videos, provide journal prompts, issue Zoom meeting invitations, etc. It’s as good as it gets, but it’s still hard missing out on the in-person interaction.
One of the highlights of Joss’s attending B’nai Emunah Preschool is that he’s gotten to take Hebrew classes and learn about Jewish customs. Particularly holidays. This year, Passover lasts from the evening of April 8 to the evening of April 16. So last Friday, they sang Passover songs in the Shabbat service. Earlier, his Hebrew teacher, Emily Smith, read a book about Passover.
As a quick recap, Passover commemorates the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt following the ten plagues. Here is a podcast for kids explaining the Passover story.
I decided to interview Emily about Passover, so we could talk about it at home, too. She has taught young children for over six years and loves teaching Jewish holidays and traditions at B’nai. Last year, she was one of Joss’s classroom teachers as well, and he had a wonderful year!
Q: How would you explain the story of Passover to a child?
ES: I love telling the Passover story to children! The Exodus story is such a dramatic story, and I think children really respond to that. Children really respond to stories about “good guys” and “bad guys,” and I think that is part of why the Exodus story can be so fun to listen to! When I tell the Exodus story, I use little puppets that I made to help me tell this story. I know a lot of Jewish families make small puppets or other visuals to use during their Seder to help tell the Exodus story. The Seder is the ceremonial meal that Jewish families celebrate at home or with their synagogue community the first and second night of Passover.
I will say that with the current Pandemic, it is making me rethink about how I want to discuss the plagues that take place during the Exodus story. I would leave that to each family to decide how they would want to approach that part of the story, considering the world we find ourselves in right now. I am trying to remind myself that just like the Jewish people of long ago survived those plagues in Egypt, all of us (inside and outside the Jewish community) will find the strength to find our own way through this very difficult time.
Q: This year, Passover lasts from the evening of April 8 to the evening of April 16. Why does it fall on these dates, and what does the celebration/observation look like throughout this time period?
ES: Fun fact: Passover is celebrated by many Jews for 8 days who live outside Israel and only 7 days for those who celebrate and live inside Israel. The Jewish calendar is based on the cycle of the moon, so each year Jewish holidays fall on different days. Passover is a spring holiday, so it always falls in the springtime, but the days of celebration are always a little different each year.
Q: What can you tell me about the seder meal?
ES: The Seder meal is a ceremonial meal that is eaten on the first and second night of Passover. So this year that would be April 8 and 9. During the Seder meal, we read from a book called the Haggadah, which includes the blessings, traditional songs of Passover and of course the Exodus story. Each family has their own traditions on how they celebrate this special holiday, and often times families have a special Haggadah that they use. Basically, the Haggadah is the “how to” book that guides you through the Passover Seder meal. I am a big fan of my Marvelous Mrs. Masiel Haggadah that I got last year from Maxwell House Coffee.
[Editor’s Note: Read more about the Seder meal here.]
Q: Do you have any other favorite ways to eat matz0 or any recipes to share?
ES: I love chocolate-covered matzo! I tried to make this at home one year…and it did not end well! So I always buy the Manischweitz chocolate-covered matzo at the store! So good!
Q: Can you recommend any children’s books about Passover?
ES: My favorite children’s books about Passover are:
Q: Do you do any Passover-inspired art activities with the kids at school? If so, what are some of them?
ES: There are so many fun Passover art activities for adults and children out there! The PJ Library is a great website for fun art and craft ideas to do at home. I have always enjoyed making little finger puppets with my students of the 10 Plagues from the Exodus story.
Q: What are some Passover songs children might enjoy learning?
Q: How will social distancing affect how you celebrate Passover this year?
ES: Social distancing is really going to affect how I and a lot of people celebrate Passover this year. I am making the best of it because I want to keep myself, family and friends safe during this holiday. I am really sad that I will not be able to fill my home with family this year at my Seder meal. I also will not be able to join others at their home.
I always look forward to my synagogue’s second Seder meal that takes place at the synagogue. But this year we will be watching a video of the Seder on the second night that will be streaming live from my synagogue. So I am just reminding myself that I am watching this video with my community, so that will help. The memory of this year will be with me forever, that is for sure!
Q: What is your favorite thing about Passover?
ES: My favorite part of Passover is setting my table for the Seder meal. I have a beautiful Seder plate that was a gift from my father, and I always think of him and my family when I get it out of the box and put it on the table.
My husband and I also have a tradition of watching the movie The Ten Commandments during the holiday, and we love it! It is a very over-the-top and dramatic movie, and it is so fun to watch. I loved that movie as a child, so I have good memories of watching that move!
Q: Why do you think it’s important that your students learn about Jewish holidays, even if they’re not necessarily Jewish themselves? What do you like about getting to teach Hebrew and Jewish culture?
ES: I love teaching about Judaism because these traditions bring so much joy to my life, and I find that as an educator you love to teach most what you enjoy the most yourself! I love that I work at a school were there is diversity in the religious backgrounds of so many of my students. I think it is great for children to be exposed to ideas and traditions that might be different from what they do at home. I feel that learning about different religious traditions as a child helps that child see that not everyone holds the same beliefs or traditions, and that is OK.
Thank you so much, Emily, for answering these questions about Passover and for sharing your photos! If you want to learn more about Passover or other Jewish holidays, make plans to visit The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art whenever things are back open. They have a whole section on holidays, including beautiful Seder plates for passover, boxes of matzo, etc.