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Religious Issues in your Child's Public School
A Guide For Jewish Parents
Activities that Teach About Passover
A Short Historical Background of Passover

The symbolism of Passover is found in its emphasis on freedom and equal rights. Passover retells the story of the Hebrew people's liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt. According to Exodus, the Jews were enslaved by the Egyptians. The Pharaoh, who was the King of Egypt, was afraid that the slave population would grow too strong, so he ordered that every Hebrew baby boy be killed. Moses, a baby at that time, would have been killed but was spared when his mother hid him. After his sister Miriam placed him in a floating basket on the Nile, Moses was discovered by an Egyptian princess who raised him as a prince of Egypt. Moses gave up the princely life to lead his people out of bondage to freedom.

Middle School: Start with what the Students Already Know

Generate interest by beginning with some universal connections. Begin by asking what they recall about ancient Egypt. Or ask the class for a definition of slavery. Brainstorm the different examples of slavery that they've studied in history class. Compare and contrast the slavery of the Hebrews in Egypt and the slavery of the Africans in the Americas.

1. Universal Connections
2. Define Slavery
3. Cross-Cultural Discussion
4. Music as a Background
5. Story of Passover
You might want to bring in a tape of the gospel song "Go Down Moses" since it links both experiences. Another approach uses art as a focus. Start by bringing in various prints depicting religous events. This could lead to cross-cultural discussions of the Spring-season holidays. It could also lead to a discussion of how art has depicted events and ideas of cultural importance throughout the ages. A third approach could use music as a background. Bring in a tape of traditional Passover songs, perhaps even accompanied by copies of the lyrics for all of the students. The words and meanings of such traditional songs as "Chad Gadya" and "Dayenu" offer a wonderful starting point for the story of Passover. Or, you could make the discussion a truly inclusive one. If you bring in three or four distinctive Haggadahs (children's, feminist, interfaith, etc.), you can discuss with the class the variety of ways in which the story of Passover is told. Try to find differences and similarities in the wording. Point out that the style of the story may change, but the symbols of the holiday remain constant. Perhaps the students could come up with ideas about why the authors chose to include different selections in their Haggadahs.

Working with Younger Students

Begin by asking the students if any of them have seen the Dreamworks animated movie "Prince of Egypt." Tell the students that the movie is a version of the Passover story that you are here to tell today. Ask them what they remember from the movie. If there is a globe or map in the classroom, have them identify Egypt and Israel.

Use the different Haggadahs to discuss what a Seder entails and to explain to story of Passover.
You could also bring several Haggadahs and explain that there are various ways to tell this story just as there are with some fairy tales. But point out that this is not a fairy tale: it is what the Jewish people consider a part of their history. Using the Haggadah, briefly go through what a Seder entails, stopping to tell the story and explain all the symbolic items on the table, including those on the Seder plate. For a more contemporary approach, consider including some of the newer traditions, such as Miriam's Cup, which holds water, unlike Elijah's cup which holds wine. Explain that we would not have been able to celebrate freedom without the help of such brave women as Miriam, Moses' sister, who stayed by the water's edge to ensure baby Moses' safety. Another tradition that many new Seders include is a prayer that is said in memory of the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust.

Once the history is explained, you could follow up with some games and activities. This will accomplish the second goal of sharing culture in a fun-filled way. One activity will have the class constructing pyramids. They will love having a hands-on experience with another culture. The teacher will be pleased that this is a good small motor activity and an early exposure to geometry. Prior to presenting this activity, you will need to prepare construction paper squares and triangles. You will need five 5" squares. Leave one as is. Fold the other four in half to form rectangles and then (while holding the rectangle by the fold) cut it from the lower right to the upper left, producing four folded triangles plus plenty of recyclable scraps. For each child in the classroom you will need to clip together a square (the pyramid's base) and four triangles (the sides of the pyramid). In class, the children can construct their pyramids by using the square as the foundation and taping each triangle to the base to form the pyramid's sides. If sand is available, they can place some glue on their structure and sprinkle sand on it to add to its "authenticity."
Foods and Games of Passover

Activities that Teach about Chanukah

Foods and Games of Chanukah

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