Modern Jewish educators frequently use drama as an educational tool in order to bring a Biblical or Talmudic story to life, or to get a child more actively involved in the subject under discussion. Much of the Pesah Seder is also geared towards children, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of “v’higadita l’vinkha” – “and you shall tell your children” (Exodus 13:8).
Indeed, there is one custom which is very common today among Jews from Islamic lands, which uses drama in order to arouse the interest of children and bring the Exodus to life.
In 1853, the Jewish traveler Benjamin II described a ceremony which he saw at a Seder “in Asia”. They dress up a young man in “kley golah” (Ezekiel 12:3 – “gear for exile”) and before the recitation of the Haggadah, he appears before the participants with his staff in hand and his satchel on his shoulder. The father asks him:
From where do you come, O pilgrim?
From the land of Egypt, says the lad.
Did you go out to freedom from the bondage of Egypt?
Yes indeed, replies the lad, and now I am a free man.
Where are you going?
I am going to Jerusalem, he replies.
With great joy the participants begin to tell the story of the Exodus…
The Jews of Morocco had a similar custom. After reading the Haggadah, all of the men put a stick with a bundle on their shoulders and they leave the house in haste, running and shouting: “So did our ancestors leave Egypt, ‘their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks upon their shoulders’ (Exodus 12:34)”.
However, surprisingly enough, this custom is first mentioned in Germany 650 years before Benjamin II described it in Asia, and it is also documented in Poland, Germany and Hungary!
In the year 1210, Rabbi Asher of Lunel states in his Sefer Haminhagot: “I heard that in Allemagne [= Germany], after eating karpass, they uproot the table and take the matzot and wrap them in coverings and bear them on their shoulders and walk to the corners of the house, and then they return to their places and recite the Haggadah”.
Rabbi Shlomo Luria (Lublin, 1510-1573) wrote in his responsa (no. 88): “After the meal [the person leading the seder] takes out the… afikoman… wrapped in a cover, and he drapes it behind him and he walks approximately four cubits in the house and says: ‘So did our ancestors go, with their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks’ ”.
In 1951, Prof. Alexander Scheiber documented similar customs among his students at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Budapest. In Puntok, when they reached Yahatz, the father would wrap the afikoman in a scarf, put it on his shoulder, stand up, and say to his family in Yiddish: “geimir, geimir!” (Let us go! Let us go!).
This custom has survived among German Jews until today. When I lectured on this topic in Jerusalem a number of years ago, a woman told me that in Karlsruhe, in southern Germany, her father would put the matzah wrapped in the sedertuch (white matzah cover) on his shoulder and say: “So sind die Kinder Jisroel aus Mizraim gegangen, so war es” (Thus did the Children of Israel leave Egypt, so it was).
I was so impressed by these customs over 30 years ago I began to perform the first custom with my children every year and I now perform it with my grandchildren.
This is exactly the type of educational approach we have been using at the Schechter Institutes for almost 35 years in all of our many programs, which now serve over 65,000 children and adults every year. With your help and support, we will continue to spread inviting, pluralistic Jewish education throughout Israel and Ukraine. Hag sameah!
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