A letter to parents by Ganit Shaked, Eliya’s Social Worker at the Rehovot Branch, herself a person with visual disabilities
Many of us have childhood memories of the Passover Seder. There are those who remember it as a pleasant family experience, while others remember it as a tense and even very difficult evening.
As parents of children with visual disabilities in particular, we have a meaningful role to play in imparting the importance and enjoyment of this evening to our children so that the experience of the Seder will become a pleasant and memorable one. We would like to highlight some important points that will help to make this evening more enjoyable for your children and for the whole family.
First, gather all the children together and give them a general description of what to expect, what will happen on the Seder night. Explain to them in simple terms what the order will be and what they will be expected to do during each stage. For example, let them know when they will be expected to sit at the table, instructed to page through the Hagadah, when can they participate, when to wait patiently for the meal, and at what stage will they be allowed to get up from the table to play.
In the event that the Seder is not held in your own home, make an effort to arrive early so as to give the children an opportunity to familiarize themselves with their surroundings, with the Seder table, and with the special objects on the table. Introduce them to the other people sitting around the table and perhaps describe the seating order of the guests, letting your child know who will be seated nearby. Also, if you know in advance that the meal will be served late, make sure to give the children an earlier light meal so that they will not arrive hungry and can be more patient as they wait for the festive meal to be served.
Try to bring specially designed Hagadot suitable for your children that will arouse their curiosity and make the reading interesting for them. Always keep in mind that if children are not capable of reading and understanding the text itself, it is only natural that they will feel bored during the reading of the whole Hagadah. Introduce them to the various sections of the Seder as it progresses, allowing them to see up close, to handle each item, to taste the wine and the other special foods on the Seder table. Depending on the age and the capabilities of each child, you can even ask them to help, for example to pass the matza around to each participant sitting at the table.
Allow your children to take part in searching for the Afikoman. Even though this is usually a very visual game, you can adapt it, for example by having the children imagine and guess where the Afikoman might have been hidden, and then to help them reach parts of the room where they would like to search for it. Or you can pair up your child with another child to search together for the hidden Afikoman. (Of course, in this case the prize will have to be doubled!!).
As in many social situations, the more the subject of sight disabilities is openly discussed, the more the child will feel calm and relaxed while seated at the table. The guests too will feel more at ease and will act in a more natural manner. It is important that your expectations of your child be realistic and suited to his or her age, personality, and temperament. The more these expectations are based on the reality of the situation at hand, the less the chance of feeling disappointment at the end of the evening.
In the event that you are not satisfied with your child’s behaviour, you should discuss this in a gentle and respectful tone, without embarrassing the child in front of the guests, just as you would want other people to relate to you. The Passover Seder is not the right time to try to teach your children about proper behaviour. If need be, you can have a different conversation under quieter and calmer conditions at home.