“My mother always made the Jewish holidays lots of fun when we were growing up, so is it any wonder I started my own Judaica business?”
My daughter is looking directly into the television camera as she says these words and I’m kvelling. You plant seeds and then you wait for moments like this.
An acquaintance of hers at the Jewish Television Channel (JTC) was planning a program on Passover and contacted my daughter, the owner of a youth-oriented online Judaica store, for innovative ideas. When she began to reminisce about the Ken and Barbie Seders at her house, the producer was smitten. Tell me more.
And so yom tov came even earlier this year. It may have been mid-February, but my dining room table was already set for Passover, complete with Seder plate, matzah holder, Kiddush cup and Barbie dolls. Sometimes a doll is just a doll, but when Passover rolled around at our house Ken and Barbie were honored guests, not just “at” but also “on” our Seder table. A short explanation.
Ken Doll in the role as Moses on Seder Table display
Growing up the child of immigrants, without even a television set in our modest Brooklyn apartment, I eagerly anticipated the Passover Seder. When my mother replaced our simple everyday dishes with pearly white plates trimmed in gold, it was the signal that we were in store for a special night of delicious holiday foods and a blockbuster story of heroic proportions.
That was the ’50s. But it was obvious that the next generation, our children, who had been weaned on Star Trek and Indiana Jones, needed more to engage their interest for the long evening ahead. My background in design and marketing convinced me that the medium is the message and so I set out to add punch to the epic with visual representations of the starring cast. After all, who doesn’t love action figures? When I resurrected my daughter’s extensive Barbie and Ken collection I was ecstatic to discover a Ken figure with a flowing mane, a la Charlton Heston. Perfect!
Barbie Doll in the role as Miriam with her tambourine on the Seder Table
Off came the glitzy, immodest costumes to be replaced by attire more appropriate for a sojourn in the desert, with no sewing involved. I merely cut a hole in a big square piece of fabric, slipped it over Ken’s head, tied it with a sash and voila, Moses was ready to confront Pharaoh and his minions.
Barbie’s transformation into a Jewish maidel involved a little more ingenuity. With a bit of lace tied around her hair and a long tunic draped over her shoulders, Bridal Barbie morphed into the prophetess, Miriam, playing her tambourine. Additional dolls provided the supporting cast, Aaron and Tziporah. A Styrofoam platform covered in faux grass and desert friendly foliage, with a few plastic frogs and diseased cattle, completed the scenario.
“This is our Victorian dollhouse,” my daughter continues, as the camera follows her to a corner of the dining room. After two hours of filming she has become a pro. “My mother changes the decorations for every holiday.”
Like my dining room table, the dollhouse has also become “Pesachdik” with miniature matzos replacing the latkes and doughnuts that graced the Chanukah setting. In between holidays, the dollhouse is decorated for Shabbos with traditional challah and gefilte fish.
I first began furnishing the dollhouse over 20 years ago as a result of visit to Princeton, New Jersey, during the December holiday season. Our children were enchanted by the town that resembled a Victorian postcard, so I adapted the idea for a Victorian Chanukah, foraging for items wherever I traveled. A small town in Massachusetts provided one of my most treasured finds, a miniature copy of The Jewish Press.
Today a new generation has arisen who delights in the Seder at Bubby’s house so that when Ken and Barbie make their annual appearance at our table this year they will be greeted by my little granddaughter. And just like Afikoman and matzah ball soup, another tradition will be passed on from generation to generation.
Helen Zegerman Schwimmer is the author of Like The Stars of the Heavens. To contact Helen, visit Helenschwimmer.com. To view the online Judaica store, visit popjudaica.com.
Helen Zegerman Schwimmer