Book Review: Afikomen Mambo

Looking for a way to enliven your Passover with a Latin flair? Popular children’s songster Rabbi Joe Black’s Afikomen Mambo, a sing-along book and CD set, is a lively and entertaining way to introduce young ones to Passover and teach them one of the most famous stories of liberation while honoring the diversity of the Jewish community. 

It’s Passover time! Each year, families gather around the Passover seder table to retell the Exodus story. The Torah sets the dates of the holiday, as well as the prohibition against eating chametz (anything leavened) and the directive to retell the story of the Exodus. Each year we eat matzot for eight days to remind us that the Israelites fled from captivity in Egypt with such haste that their bread had no time to rise. 

At the beginning of the Passover Seder, three matzahs are placed in a stack. The middle matzah is broken in two pieces, and the larger piece of this matzah is called the afikomen. It is saved and hidden to be eaten after the meal. 

The haggadah, “the telling” of the liberation of the Israelites from Pharaoh is read. The Four Questions are asked, and prayers and songs are sung. But before the seder’s done the afikomen must be found. 

The afikomen is one of many ways to engage children in the Passover Seder. Some families hide the afikomen, asking children to find it to end the meal, as Black playfully articulates in Afikomen Mambo. “I’m gonna find it / I’m gonna find it / Gonna find the afikomen.” Children search high and lowㄧunder the carpet, under the couch, in the dog dish, perhaps it’s in the closet?  Painted in warm, bright colors, Black’s multiethnic cast exudes familial tenderness and cheer. The festive Latin music and rhythmic, rhyming prose will have children itching to get their hands on the afikomen.

The tradition of the afikomen is celebrated differently around the world. Iraqi Jews don’t hide the afikomen, but rather tie the afikomen to a child’s back, helping him or her to understand their special role in the seder. But no matter the tradition, the goal is the same: to remember to pass on the story of our heritage to every single Jew creating an indelible memory that will go on generation to generation.

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