Creating a Pesach seder experience that’s meaningful is always a challenge. How do you lead a seder that is on the one hand steeped in tradition, but on the other entirely relevant. We are taught that we must see ourselves as if we came out of Egypt as individuals. So how do we create a seder that reflects that goal? The seder is, at its best, an example of experiential education. So how do we best use that teaching opportunity?
This year, as I prepare to lead my own family’s seder (an honor i’ve had for a few years now and I’m still a bit awed at the fact that i’m leading it) and a seder for Machar, the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s-ish group at Temple Beth-El, I find myself digging through old ideas and figuring out which ones I want to use. It’s kind of like cleaning through old ideas, and dusting them off, and figuring out what I want to keep and how I want to keep it. and how I can make room for new ideas
So, as you figure out what to do for your own seder, here are my top 13 thoughts. To some extent, creating the right experience depends on who is at our own seder. But here are a few thoughts. Perhaps, as you clean through your own files, they’ll give you some new thoughts:
1. Eat after Karpas: Once you’ve said the blessing over the greens, you can eat anything other than matzah. So serve veggies and dip (which is what karpas is based on). Have the gefilte fish. Dip the eggs and eat them. If you have munchies out from this point on, people are WAY less antsy and don’t really ask “When do we eat?” because they’re eating already.
2. Strawberries and Chocolate: My favorite addition to karpas. Strawberries are a symbol of springtime and therefore appropriate. Also, it’s dipping. Also, it brings chocolate into tradition and that can only be a good thing. Also, it gets folks to ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The original intent of the 4 questions was to suggest questions for those kids that had trouble coming up with their own. This is another opportunity to encourage questions.
3. Ask Questions: And on that point, the seder is all about questions. Give people a forum to ask. Go around and give space to ask questions or have people write them on note cards (depending on your own interpretation of halachah). But give space for asking.
4. So May Ways To Ask: In my family, we’ve long been asking the 4 Questions in as many languages as we can muster. It’s a fun way to get everyone involved and to hear the questions in a variety of ways.
5. Kiddush Cups: I’m not sure when my parents started collecting kiddush cups, or if it was even a conscious decision, but they’ve acquired many over my lifetime. It’s always a fun project to decide who gets what glass, and to go around and share who has what glass, and to remember where that glass came from and whose had it before and why that person has it.
6. Signing In: At my aunt and uncle’s seder, we all sign our names in the haggadah that we have that year. It’s wonderful to see who had it last year, and sometimes poignant. When a relative who has now passed had it in a past year, it’s a moment to remember them. When you notice a stain from a previous year, it’s fun to tease someone who had it before you. It’s a wonderful way to keep the chain of tradition.
7. Welcome the stranger: My family has long taken this idea seriously, and we often have many “seder orphans” at our seder–people who can’t get to their own family, or who don’t have a family that celebrates. We invite them to join us. It’s a great way to keep things lively, and to take seriously the idea of the seder of “May all who are hungry, come eat.” And we’ve gotten many new insights from brining new people in. As an added bonus, many of them return, year after year (you know who you are).
8. Music: Last year, I decided to make a Pesach playlist. We listened to it in the background over dinner. It was a combination of secular music on the themes of the holiday and contemporary Jewish music from Pesach or on the themes. It was a nice way to connect the meal itself to the seder. And a fun way to have relevant background music.
9. Beat Each Other with Scallions: During Dayenu, we beat each other with scallions. The tradition comes out of Iran and Afghanistan, from the suggestion in Numbers that the Israelites yearned for onions, and also because the green onion shape is reminiscent of the whips that would have been used against the Israelite slaves. At any rate, it’s fun.
10. Coloring: I put out coloring pages and crayons for the younger people at the seder. I can’t expect that they’ll be entirely focused on what’s going on, so I give them something else on topic on which they can focus. If they’re sitting coloring, then they’re still at the table so they’re still hearing what’s going on, and their parents don’t have to take them away. And I get fun things to hang on my fridge.
11. Afikoman: So, I learned at some point that my family does the afikoman in the opposite way of most families. In my family, the kids hide it and the leader has to find it. This encourages cooperation, and team work, and the whole thing is not competitive, but a fun game for all of the kids. Whichever relative of mine came up with this was clearly ahead of his time in terms of how to teach and engage kids. I highly recommend this way of doing things. Usually the kids steal it during the hand washing, and then go to hide it. When it comes time to eat it, the leader goes to find it and it turns into a game of hot and cold. When the leader “can’t find it,” s/he offers ransom money so that the kids reveal the hiding place and the seder can be completed.
12. The second half of the seder is the best part. Some of the most fun comes after the meal. If you need to start earlier so that it doesn’t go late, then do so. The singing, the fun, the cup of Elijah all come after the meal. I encourage you to not let this part just be ignored.
13. Experiment: Don’t be afraid to try. Sometimes, something won’t work. Sometimes, it will. You’ll never know until you try. This also, incidentally, works as a life lesson. But for the seder, our tradition itself gives us permission to innovate. So go for it.
So what are your ideas? How do you create a unique seder experience? What are some fun ideas you’ve tried?