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Originally published March 17, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 17, 2007 at 2:00 AM

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Ask Martha

Keeping the kids involved (and rested) during Seder

Q: How can we make our Seder fun for kids while maintaining the sanctity of the celebration? A: The Passover Seder, a 15-step ritual dinner...

Syndicated Columnist

Q: How can we make our Seder fun for kids while maintaining the sanctity of the celebration?

A: The Passover Seder, a 15-step ritual dinner commemorating the Jews' Exodus from Egypt, is one of the most important events in the Jewish faith.

But because the ceremony traditionally begins after sundown and often lasts well into the evening, it's a long night for children. With a little planning, you can make your Seder engaging and enjoyable for young guests.

Start by including kids in the preparations. Let them help you make some of the foods, such as the haroset (a sweet chutneylike dish), and explain their relevance to the ceremony.

Some families organize a hunt for chametz, or leavened bread, the night before Passover begins, hiding bread and cereal around the house for children to find and clean up. This is often done in addition to the game commonly played during the Seder, where kids search for a hidden piece of matzo, called afikomen. Both games are good ways to prompt questions about why certain foods are not permitted during the holiday.

Discuss the Haggadah (the book of prayers, blessings and stories that maps out the order of the Seder) with kids beforehand. Children like to hear stories repeated and will get more out of the Haggadah if they are familiar with it, says Rabbi Amy Scheinerman, of Beth Shalom Congregation in Westminster, Md. There are many versions of the Haggadah; be sure to choose one with children in mind — in this case, the best is usually the shortest.

It's traditional to ask the youngest child to recite the four questions, which begin the telling of the Exodus story. Depending on the ages of your guests, you can also ask them to come up with a skit based on the Passover story — complete with props and costumes — and to perform it at the Seder.

Kids who are enrolled in Jewish schools probably know some relevant songs they can sing during the ceremony, says Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz, regional director of admissions and recruitment at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Kids should get plenty of sleep on the nights leading up to the Seder. If possible, have them take a nap on the day of the Seder, Scheinerman says.

Keep the ceremony lively: Do some of the steps in different rooms or outside. Offer a snack before the Seder starts, and provide hearty helpings of foods eaten early in the ritual — adults will appreciate this, too.

Q: Last year, I planted a pink hybrid tea rose bush, but this year its flowers are red. Why did this happen?

A: Plants that would not otherwise be strong enough to grow on their own, such as hybrid tea roses, are often grafted. This means one or more stems from a weak but desirable plant — in this case, a pink rose — are inserted into the root system of a hardy related plant — here, a red rose.

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The stems and the root are then bound together with wax or tape and left to grow into a single plant. With proper care, the new plant assumes the physical characteristics of the weak rose but the strength and longevity of the hardy one.

But grafting has a downside — namely that it is possible to "lose" the traits of the desirable plant, which is what happened to your rose bush.

Most likely, it was not sufficiently protected for winter. The pink stems froze, but the tougher red rose they were grafted onto is still going strong. The pink roses will not come back, but there are a few things you can do to increase your success with grafted roses in the future.

First, make certain the graft union — the knot between the root and stem that identifies a grafted plant — is buried 1 inch to 2 inches deep in well-drained soil, says Michael Ruggiero, former senior curator at the New York Botanical Garden.

He advises planting with the graft union at the soil surface in slower-draining soil, then covering it with a mound of compost or soil.

When shopping for roses, know what you are buying. Check the label: If it does not specify "own root," then the plant is probably grafted. Also, look for the graft union. Grafted plants are often less costly, but own-root varieties may be stronger and longer-lasting.

Questions may be sent to mslletters@marthastewart.com or Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10036. Sorry, no personal replies.

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