Monica Shapiro’s Passover Article: Reflecting and Taking Action | Camp Ramah Northern California

Monica Shapiro’s Passover Article: Reflecting and Taking Action

It goes without saying that Passover will look much different this year for many people, our family included.  Typically at this time of year I am feeling the strain and stress of kashering the kitchen, shopping for food, developing the menu, welcoming family from near and far, and planning for an interactive Seder for our three children and our guests.  Like many of you, our Seders are typically filled with blessings, stories, songs, poems and more. And as my mom has shared in years past, we’ve come a long way since the Maxwell House Hagaddah she grew up using as a child in her apartment in Brooklyn.  


Although the world looks different this year and many of us are still feeling confused, overwhelmed and concerned for the health and wellbeing of our family, friends, neighbors, loved ones and more, I am still thinking about Passover and trying to develop a plan for the Seder that includes some new and creative activities to help make this holiday meaningful and spiritual.  But before I continue, I would like to encourage everyone to stand up, take a step back, and breathe. I know this seems like an easy task, but when the days are busy and the news overwhelming, sometimes we take for granted the simple act of breathing. Studies show that breathing is the brain’s “pacemaker” because the brain’s activities can be adjusted by altering breathing rhythm (slow, controlled breathing decreases activity in the circuit; fast, erratic breathing increases activity in the circuit), which in turn influences emotional states.   We should remember that the simple act of breathing can help decrease anxiety and emotional distress. 


A good friend of mine recently shared a story her Rabbi told her community in preparation for Passover that I would like to share:  


There’s a great story about a professor who holds up a large white canvas with a very small dot on it. The professor asks the students what they see. Most students only notice the dot. But the professor reminds them that what they are missing is the white canvas that surrounds the dot. COVID-19 and the challenges that have been caused by it are becoming our dot; they are the only thing we see. COVID-19 has turned our world upside down.


Our tradition reminds us to remember the canvas. Through our three R’s, Rhythm, Ritual and Reverence, we have the ability to see beauty in our world and we have the ability to color in and to fill the canvas in any way we want.


So, as I prepare for the holiday and the weeks to come, I have wondered: how do I want to fill my canvas?  I am delighted to say my family is actively looking past the dot and filling our family canvas with evening game nights of Telestrations, poker and backgammon.  My children are mastering their cooking skills as each has chosen to prepare one dinner a week. Themed dinners to include costumes are quickly becoming a favorite, and let’s not forget the increase in delicious baking.   


As we move from this week to next and continue Passover preparation I am reminded of the “canvas we have.”   After doing some research I am pleased to say that our Jewish Partners have compiled many lists of creative activities, socially conscious ideas, and interactive games to use during the Seder to see past the dot and to help fill the canvas with the colors and patterns that reflect our beautiful traditions.  With that in mind, I would like to share with you three activities I liked and plan to use out our family Seder this year. 


  • This year, we may not be packing for Passover travel, but we can still explore the meaning of the holiday by “packing” for our trip from slavery to freedom. Have each member of your family pack a suitcase or duffel bag with items that they would want to take if they were embarking upon a journey like the ancient Israelites. Gather together to show what you packed and to talk about what it might have felt like for our ancestors to leave on this momentous journey.


  • Another plan-ahead option: Gather together various household items (a tennis ball, a sponge, a timer, a remote control, a sock, a light bulb, a bar of soap, etc.) into a bag to have available at the table.  At various points during the Seder, invite someone to pull out item an and offer an explanation of how the item fits into the Passover story.



  • No Seder is complete without honoring the holiday’s essential command: “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” 


We encourage everyone to donate to organizations that are engaged in this vital and lifesaving work amid our crisis – only a dipped fingertip away. Consider your local food bank and Mazon, A Jewish Response to Hunger as places to donate food or supplies.


Here is a list of resources for additional Passover preparation and Seder ideas: