“Frogs here, frogs there, frogs are jumping everywhere!” I must have heard this song, specifically this line, at least 100 times.
As I stand in my cousins’ dining room in New City, in Rockland County, I am surrounded by familiar faces. All are singing along to this amphibious tune. The song is your traditional Passover jam about the slaves in Egypt and the many plagues used to free them. Singing this song is one of many family traditions on Passover.
Let me paint the scene here. Every year my family drives two hours up to New York from our town in Pennsylvania and spends one day of Passover with my cousins. We have a seder, nosh on some food, sing songs and more. When I was little some of my most prominent holiday memories were from Passover. I’d always look forward to going to my cousins’ house because it was so much fun. They’d always sing songs, tell funny stories about the holiday and let the little kids perform for everyone. What child wouldn’t enjoy that?!
As a kid, Jewish holidays can be really boring. You have to sit and listen to adults drone on for hours on end in a language that you don’t understand. The great thing about my cousins is that they always gear their services toward children and make it fun for everyone. I clearly recall being a small child poking my head over the dining room table and singing, very loudly, the frog song. With around 20 people at the seder, there was always someone there to listen to my screeching.
As the years passed so did many of our family traditions. I didn’t know it at the time, but my role in the services would be changing as well. One really big change was our matzah hiding tradition. At first the adults would always hide it for the kids and give “hot and cold” hints as the little ones diligently searched for it.
But as I grew older and baby cousins were born, the tradition slowly transformed. All of a sudden the kids would hide the matzah for the adults and would give them hints as to where it was. At this point in time I was no longer in the single digits and was quickly heading toward bat mitzvah age. The changes in the traditions I knew so well were throwing me off a bit.
As my baby cousins grew older and older, my younger brother and I were no longer needed to read the four questions. That honor was then bestowed upon the new little ones. It was hard for me to adjust at first. No longer was I the little kid in the spotlight, now I was the oldest among the children.
The songs I used to belt out as a child weren’t sung in my direction by the adults anymore; rather they were now directed about a foot lower than me. I wasn’t allowed to be super loud anymore because that meant I was taking the attention away from the little kids. I couldn’t be the one to find the matzah or give the big obvious hint as to where it was, because I would find it too quickly and would ruin the fun for the little kids.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my baby cousins like crazy, but it was hard for me to adjust to getting older and to relinquish some of the attention that I was used to getting.
As my bat mitzvah came and went and I joined my youth group, BBYO, I started to accept my changing position in the family holidays. BBYO made my tough transition from child to teenager a lot easier. BBYO taught me how to accept change and helped me grow up and become a more confident person. Being in BBYO brought me out of my shell. It showed me how to be a leader by giving me opportunities I’ve never had before like being in charge of events and holding important responsibilities. BBYO taught me that the things I do affect everyone around me and that I can make a difference. I realized along the way that what I was doing in BBYO I could apply to my family, especially at Passover with my little cousins.
A couple of years ago my cousins added a new tradition. They bought silly masks and little toys (like a frog that hops when you squeeze a pump) that depict the 10 plagues. I started to help out with the Seder by playing, singing and teaching more about Passover to the little kids. I wore a mask and acted out the plagues. I also hunted for the matzah with my little cousins. I pretended that I couldn’t see the brightly covered cracker that was right in front of me until my cousins, finally fed up from screaming at me that, “It’s right there!” grabbed it themselves.
I still look forward to traveling to New York for Passover. Even though I’m in my junior year of high school and can’t believe how fast the years have gone by, I still enjoy the child-friendly services. By playing with my not-so-little-anymore-cousins I am still able to maintain the fun part of my childhood, yet be a grown up role model to them as they start to grow up too.
So why was this year different from all other years? Well, I’ve begun to make the next big transition in my life — college. I’ve taken the SAT and started visiting schools; in a few months I’ll begin applying to them. I will go from being a teenager to being a young adult. As my journey into the world of colleges begins, I start to appreciate the preciousness of time with my family.
Passover just ended, so I guess this means it’s time to plan games and collect props for next year’s seder. If all else fails, there are always frogs to sing about.