I’ve had to wait a long time from Rosh Hashanah (if you follow me shofar) to my next horrible holiday pun, but despite outside appearances, Spring has arrived and the countdown to Passover (Break) has begun!
This week, while we gear up in school for next week’s model sedarim and a new Middle School “Passover Experience”, many families are gearing up for sedarim of their own…
The Passover Seder is the most widely observed Jewish ritual throughout the world. Yet, many sedarim are spent with families sitting around the table with books in front of their faces, until Uncle Morris asks, “When do we eat?”
The seder is a wonderful opportunity for families to spend time doing something they might not otherwise do—talk with one another! The seder was designed to be an interactive, thought-provoking, and enjoyable experience, so let’s see how we might increase the odds for making that true. Without further adieu, here are my top ten suggestions on how to make your seder a more positive and meaningful experience:
1. Tell the Story of the Exodus
The core mitzvah of Passover is telling the story. Until the 9th century, there was no clear way of telling the story. In fact, there was tremendous fluidity in how the story was told. The printing press temporarily put an end to all creativity of how the story was told. But we need not limit ourselves to the words printed in the Haggadah. Feel free to be creative in the way in which you tell the story (we certainly will in school!). This could be done by means of a skit, game, or informally going around the table and sharing each person’s version of the story. If there are older members at the table, this might be a good time hear their “story,” and perhaps their “exodus” from whichever land they may have come.
2. Sing Songs
If your family enjoys singing, the Seder is a fantastic time to break out those vocal cords! In addition to the traditional array of Haggadah melodies, new English songs are written each year, often to the tunes of familiar melodies. Or just spend some time on YouTube! Alternatively, for the creative and adventurous souls, consider writing your own!
3. Multiple Haggadot
For most families, I would recommend choosing one haggadah to use at the table. This is helpful in maintaining consistency and ensuring that everyone is “on the same page.” Nevertheless, it is also nice to have extra haggadot available for different commentaries and fresh interpretations. Encourage your guests to bring to the seder any unusual haggadot they may have collected over the years. Consider starting your own haggadah collection, it is never too late!
4. Karpas of Substance
One solution to the “when are we going to eat” dilemma, is to have a “karpas of substance.” The karpas (green vegetable) is served towards the beginning of the seder, and in most homes is found in the form of celery or parsley. In truth, karpas can be eaten over any vegetable over which we say the blessing, “borei pri ha’adamah,” which praises God for “creating the fruit from the ground.” Therefore, it is often helpful to serve something more substantial to hold your guests over until the meal begins. Some suggestions for this are: potatoes, salad, and artichokes.
In our extended family, where adhering to candle-lighting times may not be everyone’s norms, we tend to eat our gefilte fish before we light candles to tide (younger) folk over.
5. Assign Parts in Advance
In order to encourage participation in your seder, you may want to consider giving your guests a little homework! Ask them to bring something creative to discuss, sing, or read at the table. You may suggest that your guests come in costume—dressed as their favorite plague! All you have to do is ask, and you may be pleasantly surprised with the response.
6. Know Your Audience
This may seem obvious, but the success of your seder will largely depend on your careful attention to the needs of the seder guests. If you expect many young children at the seder, you ought to tailor the seder accordingly. If you have people who have never been to a seder before, be prepared for lots of basic questions and explanations. Do not underestimate your guests; if you take the seder seriously, they will likely respond positively.
7. Fun Activities
Everyone wants to have a good time at the seder. Each year, try something a little different to add some spice to the evening. Consider creating a Passover game such Pesach Family Feud, Jewpardy, or Who Wants to be an Egyptian Millionaire?! Go around the table and ask people fun questions with serious or silly answers.
8. Questions for Discussion
An adult seder ought to raise questions that are pertinent to the themes found in the haggadah. For example, when we read “ha lachma anya—this is the bread of affliction,” why do we say that “now we are slaves?” To what aspects of our current lives are we enslaved? How can we become free? What does it mean/what are the implications of being enslaved in today’s society?
We read in the haggadah, “in each generation, one is required to see to onself as if s/he was personally redeemed from Egypt.” Why should this be the case? How do we go about doing that? If we really had such an experience, how would that affect our relationship with God?
As you read through the haggadah, push yourself to ask these type of questions, and open them up for discussion.
9. Share Family Traditions
Part of the beauty of Passover, is the number of fascinating traditions from around the world. Encourage your guests to share the traditions they remember about Passover as a child. Some families begin their own new traditions as well. One family I know likes to go around the table and ask everyone to participate in filling the cup of Elijah. As each person pours from his/her cup into Elijah’s, s/he offers a wish/prayer for the upcoming year.
The more thought and preparation given to the seder, the more successful the seder will be. Don’t expect to just “wing it,” and hope that everything will fall into place. A thoughtful, creative, and enjoyable seder takes time to prepare. We often get so caught up preparing for the meal, that it is easy to forget about the content of the seder. Spend the time, and you won’t regret it! Don’t forget to have fun.
And for one final quote to get you in the spirit to take action this holiday season…I leave you with:
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote, “History, Judaism says, cannot move or progress without the individual. God waits for man if there is something to be done. God does nothing until man initiates action. God waits for man, for a single person, to accept responsibility and initiate the process of redemption.”
The story of Passover is a dramatic example of this. While there is no question as to the divine authorship of the Israelites’ deliverance, freedom had to wait for Moses – for just one person – to see a burning bush, hear a call to service and answer…
“Hineini – here I am.”
Next week in “Part II”, we’ll explore the tradition of adding a “Fifth Question”…