Sign In Forgot Password

Adding FUn to judaism  #763

01/27/2023 04:56:16 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Bo: 
“You shall observe Passover as an institution for all time—for you and for your descendants.”(Exodus 6:24)
Adding fun to jadaism

Growing up within a traditional Jewish home, one word that was rarely used during rituals was: “Fun.”

I have fond memories of sitting around the Passover table and listening to the adults race through the all-Hebrew, no-photos Haggadah.

There’s a warm place in my heart for the off-key chanting of my late Grandfather “Duddie,” who led the Seder. I miss him and the many others around the table. “These are the times we remember,” as we recall Passovers past.

But fun? Not so much.  

An interesting statistic emerges as we examine Long Island’s Jewish population. Depending on the survey and the criteria, about 15 percent of Long Islanders identify as Jewish.

And less than half are officially affiliated with a Jewish place of worship. The non-affiliated Jews cite many reasons for not joining a synagogue. Here are some:

“Organized religion does not speak to me spiritually.”

“Religious rituals do not resonate with me.”


“My parents, grandparents or rabbis never explained anything.”

“Who I love has not always been respected.”

 “I am spiritual, not religious.”

“Religion should not feel like an obligation.”

“I am afraid of being embarrassed when I enter a place of worship.”

Almost daily, the Cantor and I discuss how we can make Judaism more meaningful, more spiritual, and more engaging.

Many who don’t attend regular religious services sometimes confess that they feel like “bad Jews.” But I believe that too often it is not Jewish people who have failed Judaism, but vice versa.

While attending services can be a meaningful experience, I believe that “our true temples exist at home.” It’s about how we model kindness, and how we embrace others as they pass by our Mezuzah.

More critical to the survival of the Jewish people, is how we welcome those family members and friends who may not be Jewish, or do not practice the way we do.

Every year, around Passover, I receive phone calls from people asking:

“Does the Seder have to be that long?” The answer is, “No.”

“Can we add props? Can we include non-Jewish readings? Is singing the African American spiritual “Go Down Moses” acceptable?

The answers are, “Yes, yes and absolutely yes.” And this is not me articulating my own beliefs. I believe the Bible tells us so.

In synagogue this week, we will read the following words, and will do so again next April as we celebrate Pesach.

“You shall observe Passover as an institution for all time—for you and for your descendants.” (Exodus 12:24)

What does that really mean?

The Torah instructs us to prepare a meal—which included a slaughtered lamb—and counsels us to recall the events that occurred in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.

It also tells us that the pascal lamb shall be eaten in one sitting. Simply stated, there shall be no leftovers.

So, how do you honor that commandment? You invite others to share the meal. That is how the Passover Seder was born.

And while you are sitting at the table, your children may ask, “What do you mean by this rite?” Translated—“Why do we have to sit here?”

And we, as parents and grandparents, are told about our duty to explain to them the importance of tradition, heritage, freedom, and the pursuit of a more perfect, equitable world.

This is the spirit of Judaism, which—along with the rituals and traditions—has enabled us to survive for thousands of years.

In Israel, about 45 percent of citizens identify as “secular.” But on Passover an estimated 91 percent of Israelis mark the festival through some type of freedom meal.

And fun can be included on the menu.

As we mention the plagues, we can enhance the celebration through wind up frogs, sunglasses, or by using colored stickers to represent boils.

In Iran and Afghanistan, it's a Passover tradition for Seder participants to playfully hit each other with scallions. That serves as reminder of how the Israelites were afflicted by their Egyptian taskmasters.

Some families add an orange to their Seder plate to honor those who have often felt left out by Judaism. They can include women, non-Jews, or members of the LGBTQ community.

Alongside the Cup of Elijah, many include Miriam's Cup to honor the many women of the Torah, and those in our own lives, who have made our stories possible.

The idea is to make Judaism fun and engaging—not only for a new generation, but for us, as well. Those are the memories that will last forever.

Judaism in its inception was not created to be boring or mechanical. Rather, religion is here to help raise our spirits and connect with a higher, loving power.

And if we are not doing so, then we are missing the point.

Therefore, as we read this week’s Torah portion which instructs us to inspire our children and grandchildren with an appreciation of our freedom, let us consider new and “fun” ways to make Passover more “biblically correct.”

For as the Torah teaches, and as the Haggadah reminds us, children absorb knowledge in many ways.

With two months to go before Passover, in addition to our reading of the Haggadah, let us begin thinking about what kind of readings, props, stories, songs, and explanations we can include to make the celebration more meaningful.

The issue here is not how long the Seder lasts, but rather the quality and depth of values it can inspire. To achieve this, “Fun” can be a powerful teaching tool. 

The Mishnah instructs us to serve God with joy.

Our tradition also teaches us that each us is created in God’s image.

Indeed, if we can laugh, so can God.

As many of us can attest to in our lives, God does have a sense of humor.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Fri, September 29 2023 14 Tishrei 5784