Talking with Ellen Zimmerman of Jewish Holidays in a Box
A few months ago, I reached out to Ellen Zimmerman, founder of Jewish Holidays in a Box. I loved her idea of putting together kits and games to make Jewish holidays more fun for kids and families. Today, I'm excited to share our conversation with you. If you're looking for a way to make a Passover seder more fun and engaging for the kids in your life, keep reading!
Can you tell me a little about yourself and why you decided to start Jewish Holidays in a Box?
The idea for Jewish Holidays in a Box started when our girls were young. I was leaning on the kitchen counter, peeling carrots on the morning of our Seder when I had an “aha” moment.
The Haggadahs we’d been using weren’t kid-friendly. And they didn’t truly tell the story of Passover, with its wonderful drama and symbolism. Dropping everything, I moved to the computer and started to draft a shorter, more descriptive Haggadah – even though the kitchen was nagging at me.
While there are now Haggadot that do a much better job, I felt that we could help families celebrate more joyfully. The idea percolated for over two decades, as we experimented with different activities. In 2011, we launched JewishHolidaysInABox.com to bring these activities to life.
What kinds of resources do you offer on your website? What age ranges are they good for?
Experts have told us that the bingo games are great for many children on the autism scale who are visual learners.
We also created downloadable e-guides for Shabbat, Hanukkah, and Passover to help families embrace the holidays with more joy – and give them the confidence to lead home celebrations. In addition, we offer blog posts and a robust Pinterest page with 35 boards and hundreds of holiday- and kid-friendly ideas.
Can you tell me a few of your favorite stories that you've heard from customers about using Jewish Holidays in a Box?
AJ, a busy mom of a 3-year-old, shared this: “When I opened my Hanukkah Family Fun Kit, I breathed a gigantic sigh of relief. My daughter’s Hanukkah party was already planned for me!”
About our Hanukkah Games Box, Estelle said: “If you have kids or planned nights with the grandparents, you need to get this NOW.”
We’ve also had encouraging responses from Jewish educators. A Chabad rebbetzin gave us a thumbs up on the bingo games, and a Reform rabbi told us that “The Passover Seder Steps Follow-Along is a solid winner . . . great look and feel to the game and it does the trick of teaching the steps of the Seder without becoming heavy handed.”
Another rabbi gave us this feedback: “I love the idea! I’m always looking for things to make the Jewish holidays accessible at home!”
How do your own grandchildren inspire the resources you create?
Our little guys inspire me beyond what I could have imagined!
Last year, we used the Passover Seder Steps Follow-Along, with its pathway featuring the 15 steps of the Seder. When we got to Shulchan Orech and collected the game boards before the meal, our 4-year-old grandson pondered, “Grandma, how will we know where to start again after dinner?” I couldn’t have gotten a better leading question for why there is a seder to the Seder!
They also taught me that you don’t have to play the games only on the holidays. When they want to play Rosh Hashanah Bingo in the spring, why not?
Are the games and materials useful for synagogues?
Yes. The Passover Seder Steps Follow-Alongs help congregations that offer second Seders. Our Hanukkah Blessings Tutorials have been a hit with Mother’s Circle members.
And the bingo games work well for children pre-K to 3rd grade to play in religious school. Just this year, I led game after highly spirited game of Hanukkah Bingo with Sunday school kids and discovered that the spot of “caller” is the most coveted!