When I read this article, I thought I’d plotz: Now we’re supposed to be concerned about the 10 Plagues’ psychological effects on our delicate little tatelehs? I give you a few excerpts from this absurd piece:
“It leads me to wonder,” says Nussbaum. “Is it possible to engage with the Seder’s graphic illustrations of God’s might without leaving the kids emotionally or spiritually scarred?”
Oh, please. This is clearly an attempt to find a “fresh angle” to a festival about which — admit it — everything’s already been said.
“Some of the things [in the Haggadah] sound amazingly scary and awful,” said Miami-based psychotherapist and author M. Gary Neuman.
So now we’re consulting psychotherapists about the Haggada’s effect on the *kinder*? Spare me.
Then we have psychologist Clark Goldstein helpfully advising parents to:
“…take their cues from their children, paying attention to the child’s age and disposition…If the child brings up concerns… address them. Try not to ask leading questions, like, ‘Does that section scare you?’ Let them lead with any concerns or questions they might have.”
Dear God. Was this quote lifted from some Parents’ Guide to Divorce or God Forbid, Death? Have we lost our minds? This is nothing less than a meshugeneh stop along the Coddling Continuum. Disturbing? We were shown Night and Fog at Hebrew School at age nine, and I don’t recall ever even considering approaching my parents about its, shall we say, disturbing aspects. And now we’re supposed to add “Possible Effect of 10 Plagues on Yankeleh’s Sensitive Psyche” to our list of 21st-century Parenting Concerns, underneath Exposure to Germs and Abduction by Sex Predator?
Later on, Neuman adds: “Seder’s focus ‘should be about the children, and connecting to them.”
Says who? Actually, if I hear one more person say this, I’m going to throw myself into a vat of locusts. Let’s take a minute to realign our tires here: The Haggada was compiled between 160 and 360 CE. Granted, the Mishnaic concept of “engaging children” is obviously light years from ours; and certainly no one wants to return to the days of Uncle Moishe or Zaydeh droning through the Haggada so tediously that a vat of locusts would actually have beeen a relief from your boredom, but does that mean we have to go to the other extreme and turn Seder into an episode of Sesame Street?
Cannot Seder be lively and thought-provoking without having to dodge whizzing stuffed frogs and Styrofoam hail? In short, where is it written that engaging has to equal fun? Fun is what Purim is for. Fun is what birthdays are for. Not everything that occurs in the presence of children has to be fun.
The Haggada tells of a solemn, dramatic event, and the telling thereof should be appropriately solemn and dramatic. One of the major themes is to “tell your sons [i.e., children] of the Exodus. I’d venture that the reason Seder is so central to Jews’ collective memory is precisely because of its solemnity and drama. Do we want our kids’ memories of Seder to be no more impactful than an afternoon at Discovery Zone?
Next, I looked up the product pictured with the article, Passover Ten Plagues Finger Puppets. Here’s my Amazon review thereof:
"...products like this are a turn-off for me. First of all, a basic "requirement" for me to buy any Jewish-themed product is the inclusion of Hebrew. Where's the Hebrew? So right away I'm not buying it. The other turn-off is that I'm loath to add anything to the Seder that's not already there, especially if it's something cutesy. You can have a good time at Seder and include the kids without turning it into a nursery school. This is pushing it too far in that direction for me."
It’s not the commercial aspect to which I object; I'm certainly in favor of clever, enterprising innovation. But to purport to sell a Jewish product sans Hebrew? Veto from here: Hebrew is what held us together for over two millennia in the Diaspora; I refuse to patronize any Jewish enterprise that omits it. Even if the recipient doesn’t know Hebrew — and I’m aware that most Jews don’t — the visual of the Hebrew words for the Plagues does have its effect, however small, and does transform the product into something that if not holy, is special: It’s not Just Another Toy in the kids’ collection.
To that end, I wrote to both companies to ask: Where’s the Hebrew? Perhaps if others followed suit, the manufacturers would be convinced to add it; certainly no one would be opposed to its addition, and who knows? It might even boost sales.
I’m not calling for a boycott, here; Lord knows there are more important products to boycott; I simply seek to call attention to the fact that Hebrew is not just another language: It’s our “brand”; without it, we become “generic”. And I’ll jump into a vat of locusts before I let 5,000 years of history go down the drain like so much chametz.