our everyday life

Explaining the Passover Symbols to Teens

by Erica Loop, studioD

Passover, the Jewish holiday that marks the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, is much more than matzah balls and gefilte fish. Before sitting down for your Seder, explain the Passover symbols, such as the bitter herbs, lamb shankbone, matzah and charoset, to your teen. Activities to help her better understand the meaning behind these objects will make the holiday more memorable for her and give her a better idea of the significance that this holiday brings.

Age and Maturity

Unlike a toddler or preschooler, who most likely can't fully comprehend the significance of the Passover holiday and its symbols, your teen should have the maturity level to understand what you are explaining to him. According to the University of Delaware's Cooperative Extension's family and Human Development specialists, teens have the ability to think abstractly, understanding and pondering more esoteric concepts such as religion. This cognitive development allows your adolescent to get a grip on the symbolic nature of the Passover Seder plate, and see the items as more than just food.

Parsley or Karpas

While your teen might see the parsley on the Seder plate as garnish, the karpas is actually a symbol that has a few meanings in the Passover context. According to rabbi Jill Jacobs at the My Jewish Learning website, the karpas typically symbolize the way in which the Israelites flourished at the beginning of their time in Egypt. Additionally, this leafy green herb can also symbolize the new buds of the spring season.


Charoset, also known as haroset, might look like an odd little pile of nuts and assorted fruit bits to your teen, but she should know that this holiday mixture symbolizes mortar. As you tell your teen the story of Passover, explain to her that it was the Jewish slaves that built many of the buildings that the pharaoh commissioned. The charoset's mortar-like consistency is a symbol that refers back to the Israelites' days of building, before they were freed from the Pharaoh's forced labor.

Bitter Herbs

Unlike the parsley, which while technically an herb doesn't hold the same symbolic meaning as the mound of horseradish on your seder plate, the bitter herbs symbolize the bitterness that slavery brings. Spark a conversation with your teen about slavery, including the Jews slavery in Egypt and the slavery of other groups of people over the course of history, to help him to think about why bitterness is a symbol that reflects feelings about slavery.

Lamb Shankbone

If a roasted bone seems like a strange thing for a holiday plate -- at least to your teen -- help her to understand that the z'roa is a symbol of the sacrificial Passover lamb. While Jews don't still maintain a tradition of sacrificing animals, thousands of years ago the Israelites offered a sacrifice before leaving Egypt.


Before your teen reaches for the boiled egg sitting on the Seder plate, explain to him that this lunch-time staple is a symbol of the cycle of life or new beginnings. Have your teen think about eggs in general, and how they are literally the beginning of life. This will help him to see the symbolism of the "new beginnings" that the egg represents.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images