Playing with Your Food

Soon enough the Seder will be here. After we sit down and have our first cup of wine we will say, “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and celebrate Passover.” These are not original, but I wanted to ask three questions. Why do we open the Seder with these words? Why do we make the Matzah the focal point of our discourse on freedom? Isn’t it a little late to be inviting people to our Seder?

Both literally and figuratively we want to make sure that everyone has a place at the table. So while we should be concerned about people who are hungry and are excluded due to poverty, we are also concerned with those who for other reasons are excluded from joining in the celebration. At its core, Passover is a holiday in which we celebrate becoming a nation. As we start the Seder we remind ourselves that we need to retell the national narrative in a way that includes everyone.

It is not surprising to see food as the media of choice for a ritual. We do love our food. In many respects we preserve memory with all of our eating. At its core Passover is a celebration of the vitality of the Jewish People. From its conception we split up into family groups to celebrate the Passover sacrifice. In reality as much as we talk about living in a greater Jewish community; we all live in many different smaller communities. So while we have a mitzvah to sit and eat and remember, inviting people to our Seder knits together our communities into this ideal larger community.

We might think that it is too late to wait until we are sitting at our Seder to invite people. I prefer to think about the fact that we are challenging ourselves for the work of the entire upcoming year. Whether the issue is poverty or inclusion in the community, there is not going to be a quick fix that we can accomplish in the night of the Seder. To the contrary, we are actually committing ourselves to do the heavy lifting throughout the course of the whole year. Through sharing meals we each can connect to the network of Jewish tables, but is one meal enough? We need to work all year to link these communities in a deep and lasting way.

The Seder begins with this Matzah and it ends with the finding and eating of the Afikoman. In the Seder, the Matzah keeps our attention focused through a game of hide and seek. Through the course of year we are also playing another game of linking people to our common table. Similar to what we see on Purim it would be an interesting game of connecting the dots if we were to map out how a network of Mishloach Manot was connected.

Thanks to a grant from Avi Chai this past summer I attended Games for Change. This is a wonderful conference on using games for education and social change. There I learned about Macon Money. Macon Money is a community-wide social game designed for the residents of Macon, Georgia. Using a new local currency with a fun twist, the game builds person-to-person connections throughout the community while supporting local businesses. This game seemed to have been an amazing way to create positive incentives around the people of Macon building community. I would encourage you to learn more about how the game worked. In addition to giving its participants the feeling of community, it produced amazing data.

I am not trying to limit our imagination about Passover to a large social game like Macon Money, but you have to admit that there are some similarities and they are both fun. I have no doubt that if you mapped out the Mishloach Manot from your community or our efforts to invite people to our Seder it would look like this data from Macon Money.

In addition, there is no doubt that realizing this network on Passover has an effect on community throughout the year. What would it look like to play a version of Macon Money in a local Jewish community? How might this change how we think about and even do community throughout the year? What would it look like as an experiment to take some money out of core allocations from our local Federations and give that money to the users to create community and let them use this communal currency to “play Jewish community”? I am not only interested in making participation fun; I am also interested in inverting how we spend our time and money. What would it look like for agencies to be spending less energy, money, and time arguing and reporting on the importance of their work to the people who volunteer and work at Federations and more time reaching out to people to use their services and participate in the community? The work of Federation is serious work, but this does not mean we should overlook the value of games. I am not overlooking the fact that games can craft serious fun, but this kind of game is important because the game mechanics themselves create incentives for the desired behavior at every level.

I am not suggesting that we leave the future of our community up to chance. I realize that there might be a risk of putting this spending power in the hands of the players, but this will all be happening within the larger planning process for a community or what the players call the rules of the game. But structuring this like Macon Money ensures that our communal currency is current and up to date with the changing needs of our community. It might be interesting to see how this kind of game might play out (pun intended) in terms of including the people most excluded from our Seder. Our future is way too serious to not have fun with it. It is time to play with our food.

Chag Kasher V’Sameakh- Have Fun and Liberating Passover

-As seen on Avi Chai’s Education Technology Blog and Adapted from my blog on Purim


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