Following the release of my newest cookbook, Let My Children Cook! A Passover Cookbook for Kids, people often ask me whether it’s REALLY possible to get the kids to be helpful in the kitchen with all the holiday food prep. The answer is: Yes!! While it may take longer to peel those potatoes or to whisk the eggs, it’s well worth it. Kids love to be helpful (though it may not always seem that way!) and little jobs keep them entertained during the pre-Passover hustle and bustle. Besides, they’ll always remember it as special quality time and will even learn along the way.
Over the years, my kids have spent many enjoyable hours in the kitchen with me. I find it’s all about expectations. I try to set out a certain amount of time we will spend together and try not to push it. Cooking with kids is wonderful but best if done in increments rather than a marathon of kitchen time. If there’s more to be done, I finish it myself after they’ve gone to bed. For the younger ones, I make sure to designate very specific, simple jobs. Once they finish, say, rolling out dough for cookies or chopping veggies for a salad, I make sure to thank them and let them know they’ve been very helpful. This has proven to have gone over well in my family, as my bigger kids are now great cooks. They truly love to prepare anything – but they do have a preference for desserts. (Who doesn’t?!) My son is excellent at braiding challah (not for Passover, of course) and baking apple crisps. Last year, my girls made delicious potato blintzes and Passover egg noodles.
Besides for keeping my kids involved, our time spent in the kitchen together also serves as bonding time. Everyone says they grow up too fast…and it’s true! Soon they’ll be busy with friends and other interests. I like to make cooking time an enjoyable activity for the family, even if it may take longer than doing on my own. Memories that will last a lifetime are being formed. We even have some funny stories involving a few kitchen flops that certainly won’t be forgotten. I once made a beautiful cake with my children and it slipped out of the pan right onto the counter. Of course, they were thrilled since they got to eat it right then and there.
So, I say, instead of dreading the hours of cooking and baking you are planning, embrace it. Get the kids some cute aprons, put on some music, enjoy the quality time. When you sense they’ve had enough, do some crafts together (that is why I included some crafts in Let My Children Cook!) and sit the kids down with some art supplies. The atmosphere will be pleasant and you will be able to check some things off that pre-Passover “to do” list while creating positive memories.
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We don’t belong to a synagogue. My husband and I have defended this in various ways over the years. We wouldn’t go enough. It costs a lot. We’ll join when our daughter is old enough to go to Hebrew School. But beneath all these justifications – at least for me – there’s a less practical, more spiritual concern: the synagogues we visit don’t feel like home.
I grew up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, part of a small, tightly-knit community of Jews, all of whom went to the only synagogue in town. The synagogue had originally been a church, but to me, as a child, it was perfect. I knew the smell of the wooden pews, the sound of the rabbi singing (there was no cantor), the feel of my tights on the basement rec hall tiles. My mother had been taking me since I was six months old and more than anything else, I felt known and loved there, especially by the older people who ruffled my hair and kissed my cheeks.
There was one man I loved more than all the rest: Maurice, a Sephardic Jew from Egypt who sat with me at services every Saturday morning in the two years leading up to my bat mitzvah. I loved Maurice’s soft voice, his accent, his kind eyes winking at me as we turned the pages of the prayer book together, and the beautiful Sephardic tunes he sang.
A few years ago, the Gloucester synagogue burned to the ground. I felt devastated yet distant – we were living in Brooklyn at the time – and didn’t dare go visit the spot until the rebuilding of a new temple had begun. Finally, this past summer, the new synagogue was completed. It’s about as different as it could be from the old one: modern lines, a soaring roof line, sand-colored bricks that evoke Israel.
The room in which we performed – with high ceilings and white walls – felt somewhat sterile at first. There was a different feel to the place, a different smell, a different quality of light without the old stained glass windows. And then, as people began to arrive, there were different faces. Many of them I knew, but many I didn’t, and more importantly, many people whose faces I longed to see were gone, including Maurice.
These absences hit me hard as I got up to introduce our performance. I tried to say something – “I’m thinking of the people who aren’t here tonight, too” – but I choked up. In the audience, people nodded – many eyes filled with tears. It seemed nothing more needed saying. Clare and I began to play and the room filled with a kind of electricity, coming not only from us but from the audience, too. People held hands, and swayed, and listened with such an intensity they seemed to make their own music.
By the end of the night, I felt comfortable in this new place. But it wasn’t mine anymore. It wasn’t home. And somehow knowing this made me feel free. A couple weeks ago, I took my daughter to a synagogue near where we live now, in Providence, Rhode Island, and the unfamiliar faces, the strangeness, didn’t make me want to run away. I liked the service. I liked the people. I could see how, with a little time, it might become a place where we belong.