We deliberated for several days about what to do about Pesach this year. Our ideal is to host a Seder and invite friends, but most of our friends are 1500 miles away (or more), and we had trouble reaching the few we do have here. We looked into the San Miguel Jewish community’s Seder, but their response to “would a three-year-old enjoy it?” was not very encouraging. So we decided to just have a Seder for the three of us, with Joy cooking and me in charge of creating an abbreviated Haggadah.

Then, a few hours before the Seder, Joy saw an e-mail from a woman looking for a child-friendly Seder for her and her six-year-old son, K. We always have more food than we need, so we called them, they came, and we were so glad they did. They were really nice, interesting people; they’re UUs too; the munchkin and K hit it off (what a find, a six-year-old who’s happy to play with a three-year-old!); and having them here made our holiday complete. Eating dinner with just our family is lovely, but for the holidays it doesn’t feel quite right.

It was a funny business, creating the Haggadah. I’ve done it almost every year for several years now, for our church Seder, but having to really cut out most of it brought home to me what a crazy conglomeration and compilation it is. It shows all the signs of having been built by accretion; not just the recent, feminism-inspired additions like the orange and Miriam’s cup, but many elements, have been incorporated in response to some need or political moment that’s fallen into the obscurity of history. The four children, for instance; when did that come along, and why? All the lists and formulations, like the singing of the order of the Seder itself, and the “matzah, maror, pesach” bit—where did they come from? Why the four cups of wine? What does Chad Gadya have to do with Passover? Reading a typical Haggadah is like a walk through Jewish history. I’d love to see one that includes the works, with annotations about how each element entered the flexible canon that is the Haggadah.

What follows is what we considered essential and absorbable by our daughter. She has been to four or five Seders in her three years, starting with the one we held with close friends at home when she was a month old, but I don’t think she remembers anything from any previous ones. If she remembers anything from this one a year from now, I’m betting it will be playing with K, and the prizes they won.

(ETA that I notice a lot of people are finding this entry via searches for “unitarian haggadah” or “abbreviated haggadah” or the like. So if you’re wondering if you can use this, yes, and if your family doesn’t do “mad face” or blessings in Cat, adapt it to your own kids. Just please credit me, and make it clear to whoever uses it that it is drastically edited out of the vast realm that is the Haggadah.)

Morgenstern Family Haggadah, San Miguel de Allende, 2010

Tonight is the beginning of the holiday of Passover. We have a super-yummy dinner that comes with a story. The story tells how we were rescued from slavery and brought to freedom. Our story and dinner are called a Seder.

The four questions

How different this night is from all other nights!
On most nights, we eat either bread or matzah. Why tonight do we eat only matzah?
On most nights, we can eat any kind of vegetables we want. Why tonight do we have to eat a bitter vegetable?
On most nights, we don’t have to dip one food into another, even one time. Why tonight do we dip it twice?
On most nights, we eat in regular chairs. Why tonight do we put extra pillows on our chairs?

We’re about to find out!

The story

A long, long time ago, our ancestors, the Israelites, were slaves in a country called Egypt. Our ancestors are like our great-great-great-grandparents, except even longer ago than that. They lived so long ago that we don’t know their names. In Egypt, their lives were very hard. They had to work all day in the hot sun, building the cities of the king of Egypt, the Pharaoh. They stirred mud and mixed it with dry grass and made it into bricks, then they carried the heavy bricks on their backs and piled them up and stuck them together with mortar and made them into walls.

To remember the mortar, we make charoset, which looks like mortar but tastes yummy. Let’s eat some now.

We eat the charoset (on matzah if we want).

They didn’t get any money for their work or get enough rest. They couldn’t quit. They just had to do it all again the next day, over and over again, all their lives.

Their lives were very bitter. To remember that, we eat something bitter, called maror (point to four questions picture). We can dip the maror in the charoset if we want to.

We dip the maror in the charoset and eat it.

They were very sad and cried a lot (everyone make crying sounds). To remember their salty tears, we taste a little salt water now. And because the story of how they were rescued happens in the spring, we also taste some delicious green leaves that grow in the spring. Let’s dip the cilantro into the salt water now to remember how sad they were and how spring was coming and good things were about to happen. (point to four questions picture)

We dip the cilantro in the salt water and eat it.

Spring is also the reason an egg is on the Seder plate: new life comes from eggs, and in hard times like slavery we want to remember that new life and better times can be coming. That’s also one reason we have roast lamb on the plate.

A young shepherd named Moses was one of the Israelites, and he was very sad and angry about how his people were treated. God spoke to him and said, “Go to Pharaoh and tell him to let my people go.”

Moses was very scared. He was sure Pharaoh would be angry and kill him. But God said not to worry, and Moses went. But when Moses said to Pharaoh, “I am here to tell you to let my people go,” Pharaoh was angry (mad face), and he also laughed at him (laugh). “Why should I do what you say?” he said.

Moses said, “Because if you don’t, my God will bring terrible plagues on your people. With his help, I will turn all your water into blood!”

“So what? My magicians can do the same thing,” said Pharaoh.

“Fine, then, I warned you,” said Moses, and he struck the water with his stick and it all turned to blood. The river turned to blood, the water in the wells turned to blood, the water they already had in their cups and jars turned to blood. EW! No one could drink anything. Except the Israelites—when they picked up a cup of blood, it turned back into water for them.

The Egyptians were very upset and very thirsty, and the Pharaoh’s magicians couldn’t turn the blood back into water, so the Pharaoh called Moses back in and said, “All right, I’ll let your people go. Just give us back our water!” So Moses did.

But as soon as it was fixed, Pharaoh changed his mind and said the Israelites still had to be his slaves.

So Moses said, “Then I’ll bring another plague on you and your people!” And he waved his stick and suddenly there were frogs everywhere. Everywhere! The water wasn’t any better to drink than before because it was so full of frogs. Frogs jumped up and down the stairs, frogs jumped in people’s hair. When the Egyptians pulled back the sheets to get into bed, there were frogs in their beds. They could hardly walk without stepping on frogs. ICK! And just as before, wherever the Israelites were, the frogs mysteriously vanished.

Pharaoh said, “OK, I’ll let the people go!” but as soon as Moses made the frogs disappear, he changed his mind again. And so Moses sent another plague.

By the end, there were ten plagues. And it was very hard and sad for the people of Egypt. We don’t want anyone to suffer, and even the people who hurt us are human beings who don’t like to be hurt or sad. So we can’t be totally happy about the way we got free from Egypt, and the cup of wine or juice we’re about to drink can’t be totally full, so we take out a little wine for each of the ten plagues.

We take a drop of wine out with our little finger or our spoon with each plague:

Blood, water turned to blood
Frogs covering the land
Lice that made everyone itch
Swarms of flies that crawled all over everyone
Diseases that killed their cows and sheep
Boils that were owies all over their skin
Hail that hurt people when it landed on their heads
Locusts that ate up all the wheat and vegetables and grass
Darkness everywhere, not only at night but all day, so that there was no light
And the most terrible plague of all: the death of the first-born person in every family.

And now we drink our juice.

We drink a cup of wine/juice

Before the last plague, God told Moses, “Get the people ready. Pharaoh will really let them go this time, and they need to prepare. Have them pack up their stuff and whatever food they can make in a hurry—they are running away to a new land.

The people had made their bread dough for the next day’s bread, the way they did every day, but it didn’t have enough time to rise. Moses told the people, “Just bake your dough the way it is,” and so they put it in the oven before it had had a chance to rise, and it came out flat and crispy. That’s why we eat matzah on Passover, instead of regular bread. So let’s eat some matzah now to remember how our ancestors had to run away fast and eat only matzah. (point to four questions picture)

We eat some matzah.

Passover lasts for a week, and if you want to remember this story all week, you can stop eating bread, tortillas and crackers and eat matzah instead as a reminder.

We are so happy our ancestors were freed from Egypt. If they hadn’t been, we might still be slaves there. So one way we celebrate being free is that we sit in extra-comfortable chairs. Free people can sit comfortably, and slaves have to sit on hard chairs or on the ground. We are free people and so we sit on pillows during our Seder. (point to four questions picture)

Now it’s time to eat our special dinner!

Thank you for the food




Hebrew: Baruch atah, Adonai ha-ruach ha’olam, ha-motzi lechem min-ha-aretz
Blessed are you, ruler and spirit of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

Any other languages, such as cat, that people might wish to include [Ed. note: The munchkin likes to say “thank you for the food” in Cat.]

Dinner & Dessert

Possible dinner conversation: ways we are free and ways we (and others) aren’t

Cups of Elijah and Miriam/opening the door optional


Now we’re going to hide a piece of matzah. It’s called the Afikomen and it’s the last thing we eat on Passover night. (hide matzah) Oh no! We can’t finish our Seder! If you’ll look for it, and give it back to us so we can finish our Seder, we’ll give you a prize . . .

The kids search for the Afikomen and get a prize for finding it

We all eat it [Ed. note: We totally forgot to do this, and never got around to the songs either. Maybe we were all too distracted by the prizes.]


Pastures of Plenty
Woody Guthrie

It’s a mighty hard row that my poor hands have hoed
My poor feet have traveled a hot dusty road
Out of your Dust Bowl and Westward we rolled
And your deserts were hot and your mountains were cold

I worked in your orchards of peaches and prunes
I slept on the ground in the light of the moon
On the edge of the city you’ll see us and then
We come with the dust and we go with the wind

California, Arizona, I harvest your crops
Well its North up to Oregon to gather your hops
Dig the beets from your ground, cut the grapes from your vine
To set on your table your light sparkling wine

Green pastures of plenty from dry desert ground
From the Grand Coulee Dam where the waters run down
Every state in the Union us migrants have been
We’ll work in this fight and we’ll fight till we win

It’s always we rambled, that river and I
All along your green valley, I will work till I die
My land I’ll defend with my life if it be
Cause my pastures of plenty must always be free


Eelu hotzi-anu mi-mitzrayim . . .
Eelu natan Torah . . .
Eelu natan Shabbat . . .