The Jewish Chronicle - - PASSOVER SPECIAL -

IAM SIT­TING next to the late, much re­spected Rev­erend Saul Amias. In front of me is a pa­per plate, decked with my neme­sis —- a hard-boiled egg — a food I can­not abide. What has put me in this po­si­tion? I have been cho­sen as imma at my school’s model Seder. The awk­ward­ness of this so­cial sit­u­a­tion is still with me al­most 50 years later — but trans­formed into a cher­ished mem­ory of early Jewish ed­u­ca­tion. Though I still skip the eggs in salt wa­ter.

Many more fond mem­o­ries will be forged this Passover, as Jewish schools around the coun­try stage their own model Sedarim. Be­low, Ruth Rothen­berg looks into the mam­moth ex­er­cise.

A high­light of the Jewish school year, this vast en­ter­prise in­volv­ing chil­dren, staff and par­ents and last­ing be­tween one and two hours, never fails to im­press. The last week of the school term, which this year cov­ers the first week of April, will see school halls re­ver­ber­at­ing to en­thu­si­as­tic shouts of

Dayenu or the 10 plagues, shouted with gusto. Ev­ery age group takes this at a dif­fer­ent level, in­cor­po­rat­ing more of the orig­i­nal text and songs as they rise up the school lad­der.

“This is not a pre­sen­ta­tion and not a per­for­mance,” says Ta­mar Co­hen, head of Jewish stud­ies and deputy head at Wolf­son Hil­lel pri­mary. It is not a re­hearsal, ei­ther. “This is a learn­ing process.”

The 455-strong school in South­gate, north Lon­don di­vides its chil­dren into five age bands for the model Seder.

The youngest start with a sin­ga­long, helped by their par­ents who take the song­sheet home. Their slightly older re­cep­tion mates make a stab at go­ing through the story, pin­ning down the ha­gadah high­lights, such as Mah

Nish­tanah, the plagues and Echad Mi

Yodea. A ma­jor step comes with the five- and six-year-olds. Par­ents are proud spec­ta­tors now, as their chil­dren ex­plain the mean­ing of the ex­tracts they sing and re­cite.

“Ev­ery child does a Seder at a fam­ily gath­er­ing some­where,” says Co­hen. “With this, they can take their learn­ing home with them and hold their own at ta­ble.” The seven-to-nine-year-olds

can each in­vite two adults, who need not be par­ents. The two se­nior years of the school have sep­a­rate Sedarim, en­sur­ing ev­ery­one gets a good look at the text and re­ally learns the sto­ry­line. In the top year, par­ents sit with their chil­dren and may par­tic­i­pate in rid­dle ex­changes. It is part of a move to keep both gen­er­a­tions en­gaged as young­sters en­ter their pre-teens.

In Leeds, at the Brodet­sky Jewish Pri­mary School, nurs­ery chil­dren come to school in their Shab­bat best for their Seder and par­ents are al­lowed to at­tend. Each year holds its own event but par­ents do not at­tend again un­til year, six, when the Seder is held in school but after les­son hours.

The chil­dren build up their knowl­edge in Jewish stud­ies lessons. It is a thor­ough process. As one teacher says: “My son has been do­ing this since the age of two and he is now seven. He could lead a Seder.” And yes, the loud­est shouts are for Dayenu.

At King David Pri­mary School Manch­ester, with 420 pupils, the past is brought to the present for nurs­ery and re­cep­tion years by put­ting young­sters on stage as news pre­sen­ters, who in­tro­duce a “correspondent’s live re­port” on “events in Egypt”.

After scenes of chil­dren toil­ing with piles of bricks and then pre­tend­ing to be Egyptians go­ing through each of the plagues, they all sit down at ta­bles with their par­ents to fol­low the Seder, singing tra­di­tional and new songs, drink­ing “wine” (grape juice) and eat­ing matzah, maror (let­tuce), karpas (pars­ley) and charoset, not to men­tion hard-boiled eggs in salt wa­ter, all thought­fully pre­pared by the par­ents’ guild, vi­tal to this op­er­a­tion.

Lower down the school, chil­dren learn through songs and act­ing. As they move up, they study more of the He­brew text and its mean­ing.

“Our aim is to ed­u­cate the chil­dren,” says Rayna Glick­man, leader of learn­ing for Jewish stud­ies, “so that they are able to con­trib­ute to their own Seder at home and con­tinue our beau­ti­ful Jewish her­itage.”

Birm­ing­ham’s King David Pri­mary, with around 240 chil­dren, is un­usual in not re­ly­ing on parental help with cater­ing. Kitchen staff pre­pare the food plates and grape-juice glasses. Par­ents of the top year only are in­vited as guests.

Nurs­ery and re­cep­tion pupils read a few sec­tions of the ha­gadah but mostly sing their much-loved songs, in English, about Pharoah and the frogs.They are grad­u­ally in­tro­duced to He­brew with the Dayenu cho­rus. The next three years build on this with Mah Nish­tanah and other ex­tracts but still keep­ing the old favourites, no­tably Let My Peo­ple Go, while teach­ers act out the story, play­ing Moses or a taskmas­ter.

In the top three years, in­di­vid­ual chil­dren in­tro­duce and ex­plain the nar­ra­tive pas­sages, such as Avadim

hay­inu, be­fore chant­ing them all to­gether. For prac­ti­cal rea­sons, just one or two chil­dren per­form the hand-wash­ing but ev­ery­one re­cites the bless­ing.

The older ones also learn songs from the end of the ha­gadah. “We do not do the whole ha­gadah,” says teacher Carol Cooper. “We have made our own school ver­sion, which goes into more depth for what what we do.”

But none of this de­scrip­tion can get to the core of what is sim­ply a lovely heart-warm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. So if you ever have the chance to at­tend a school model Seder, grab it. And if you can take the song­sheet home, that’s a bonus.

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