Historical Passover Games

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by Miryam Gordon, Research Intern, Center for Jewish History

Jewish life in general, and Jewish holidays in particular, places much emphasis on children. Kids are constantly encouraged to get involved in their religion and culture and learn more about it. Perhaps the best way to interact with children in order to encourage them to want to learn is through games. Throughout the archives of the National Jewish Welfare Board, held by the American Jewish Historical Society, (finding aid here) there are examples of over fifty different games to play with children that relate to Passover in some way.  These games may teach a lesson on Passover, use common Passover items, or be used just for the children’s entertainment. Passover is a time for family. This Passover, bring a little old fashioned fun to your Passover celebrations!

Quizzes and Crossword puzzles are a popular homemade educational tool. See this series of blog posts on Hanukkah for many examples of questions and clues.
Passover examples I came across include:
– “He led the Israelites out of Egypt” = Moses
– “The haughty ruler of Egypt” = Pharaoh
– “The well known goat of Chad Gadya” = Kid
– “The number of plagues” = Ten

I also noticed a very cute maze in the collection. The instructions tell the player, “You may not be as great a leader as Moses, but let’s see if you can also bring the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land.”  Egypt is labeled on one end with Eretz Yisrael on the other.
Some children may enjoy more boisterous, interactive sort of games. Youth groups or just groups of children looking to have fun might use these suggestions:
Charades might include words like Passover (acted out by placing an object on the floor and passing over it) and Red Sea (acted out by pointing to something red and saying “see”).
“Crossing the Red Sea” also seems like a perfect idea for competitive kids that want to play a more active game. A large broken circle is drawn on the floor. The break in the circle represents the Red Sea and must be wide enough that it cannot be jumped over. The children represent the Egyptian soldiers chasing the Jews. Music is played as the children walk around the circle. When the music stops, the child in “the Red Sea” is out.

Another category of games I found for Passover seems to be exclusive to this holiday. Apparently, games played with nuts were all the rage from the 1920s until at least the 1960s. More than half of all the games in the collection are games involving nuts. The games varied from simple games to very complex. Apparently, because nuts are cheap and kosher for Passover, children invented all sorts of variations of rolling or throwing nuts.

The simplest type of nut games are those simply involving nuts, with no other props required. An example of this is “Heads or Tails.” A player places a nut in his hand in a horizontal position. The other players must guess the position of his nut. If they guess correctly they keep the nut, otherwise they must give one of theirs away. Another easy game would be “Which Hand.” A child simply puts a nut in one of his hands and closes his fist. Everyone else must guess which hand it is in. “Guessing Odds and Evens” is a simple game where a quantity of small nuts is placed in a player’s hand. The rest of the group must guess if the amount of nuts is an odd or even number.

A slightly more complex form of nut game requires drawing lines or circles on the ground. For the game “Logging Nuts,” two lines must be drawn about ten to twenty-five feet away from each other. Players stand on one line and must throw nuts toward the other. Whichever player lands closest to the line wins all of the other nuts. In “Nut Golf,” circles are drawn along a path. Each circle should be named after various elements of the Seder. Players proceed along the course and attempt to flip their nuts into each circle. The player that completes the course with the least number of flips wins. There is a suggestion to complicate the game by creating hazards. These would be named after obstacles that the Jews faced after leaving Egypt, such as the Red Sea and Amalek.

For the “Hazel Nut Tournament” an “area shaped like a Matsoh” (also known as a square) should be drawn. The words Pesach, Matsoh, and Morror should be written inside the “Matsoh box.” Players stand a distance from the square and try and get their nuts into the box. If the nut lands on a letter, points are awarded based on the numerical value of the letter. The first player to reach 613 points wins the game. This would end up being a fun, educational, and competitive event. From the game, children would learn the Hebrew letters’ numerical value and the significance of 613 in Judaism. The game could be conducted in a tournament fashion, with various rounds to determine an overall winner.
Other games involving nuts I came across:
1. Pitch in the Kettle
2. Pegging Nuts
3. Football
4. Rolling the Nuts
5. Passover Polo
6. Variation of Passover Polo
7. Nut Race
8. Roll Board
9. Under Plates
10. Nut Hunt
11. Drop a Nut
12. The Nut Ferry
13. Nut Push
14. Nut Relay
15. Bowl Full of Nuts
16. Throw Them Out
17. Pool
18. With a Handkerchief

For other ideas on how to celebrate Passover look at our other posts here including this one on the diversity of Haggadot in the collections. Or start your own search here: http://search.cjh.org

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