Being Present for Passover

Brothers are sitting at a dinning room table participating in a Passover seder.  rm
Brothers are sitting at a dinning room table participating in a Passover seder. rm

Think about your last Passover Seder. Were you present? I don’t mean were you there physically, but rather were you there emotionally, appreciating every moment? My curiosity about the state of being present and how it ties into the Passover holiday led me to Los Angeles author, April Halprin Wayland, for some answers. Wayland, who grew up both in Santa Monica and on her family’s farm in Northern California, is the Sydney Taylor Gold Medal winner for best Jewish picture book of the year, New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story. Her latest picture book, More Than Enough: A Passover Story, for three- to five-year-olds, “is about being grateful for having more than enough each moment as a family prepares to celebrate Passover.” Inspired by the Dayenu song, her favorite part of the Seder, Wayland adds, “Dayenu’s message goes beyond Passover.” In fact, the word Dayenu is accented every few lines, reminding readers to savor special times and count their blessings big and small. Whether wandering through the local farmers market with their mom while looking for Seder ingredients, or getting a new kitten, the brother and sister narrators of More Than Enough enjoy every minute leading up to Passover.

Wayland grew up with few boundaries. Farm life allowed her unfettered access to 300 acres of mostly walnut trees. She and her sister would play for hours by themselves in their oak grove. The outdoors has always beckoned Wayland; it’s where she feels a spiritual connection. And, just as the sea fostered the idea for New Year at the Pier, nature’s other treasures planted the first seed for More Than Enough. I wanted to know how Wayland’s unconventional childhood influenced her take on Dayenu and how families can apply that concept to their own celebrations.

As Wayland recalls, the idea germinated while hiking with her family in Kauai, Hawaii. “There were a lot of steep hills. But the leaves were glistening from the morning rain, the soil was a rich red, and I was with the ones I love most. I thought of my favorite Passover song, Dayenu … [which] means ‘it would have been enough.’ We sing about being grateful even if we’d only been freed from slavery; grateful even if we’d only been led out of Egypt, etc.” Wayland found herself thinking about what all great religions and philosophies teach: be aware of and grateful for the blessings of the moment and as she hiked, she was “keenly aware of the blessings of each step.”

Wayland’s story serves as a wake-up call for Jewish families everywhere. As we gather around the table on Passover, “It’s a chance to reflect back to when our families were immigrants,” says Wayland. “It’s also a time to be in the moment.” Put away the electronics and avoid clock-watching. Take a mental snapshot of guests and engage in meaningful conversation, really listening to one another. Make this year’s Seder not just about eating, but when you do move from Beitzah to Haroset, eat slowly and focus on the food’s flavors and aromas. Enjoy the songs, the camaraderie and your shared history.

My favorite Passover ritual is taking turns grating fresh horseradish root. Guests bond over this memorable but teary task. Plus it’s a great icebreaker! Add other personal touches: create your own Haggadah including your children’s art, ask everyone to contribute ideas for tikkun olam, gather props for the Ten Plagues, act out the Four Questions. Go online for ways to make the evening fun, fresh and memorable. Most importantly, remember that being present means being in the here and now. So, at the Seder, enjoy quality time with family and friends and cherish the gift that is today.  _

Ronna Mandel is a contributing writer to JLife. You can find her blog at


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