Experts and events offer engaging ideas for your Passover seder.
The ancient rabbis from centuries ago knew it all along: The seder is the ultimate teaching tool designed to immerse Jews in the exodus from Egypt by engaging all our senses.
Following this cue, many activities around town are preparing Jewish Detroit for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. From The Well’s holiday-themed Escape the Room event March 22-28 in Ferndale to Thread’s Passover by Pinterest women’s evening earlier this month at Hillel Day School to a multitude of classes and programs at individual synagogues, there was no shortage of ideas for creating lively, engaging seders that will leave guests — no matter their age or religious background — with food for thought for Passover 2018.
Tradition With A Twist
JCC JFamily Director Lisa Soble Siegmann, who describes herself as an “immigrant from Ohio,” has hosted many seders with friends who have become her adopted family here. She suggests balancing tried-and-true traditions with new twists when planning a seder. If family members expect no seder would be complete without certain recipes or songs passed down through the generations, include them, but mix it up with new additions.
Through the years, Soble Siegmann has invited her children and other young guests to bring pillow pets for reclining. She has served dried seaweed and Swedish Fish to represent saltiness and the parting of the Red Sea, and she never shies away from using props to enhance storytelling.
Another way to keep things lively is to give guests an assortment of Haggadot.
“Most Haggadot are variations on a theme but pretty much follow the order of a traditional seder, so I give my guests different Haggadot,” Soble Siegmann said. “That way when it is their turn to read, they may find something interesting or new to share with the others. This keeps everyone on their toes and is especially a good way to keep teens and young adults engaged.”
A variety of Haggadot can be found in synagogue and local Judaica shops, or you can customize your own online.
They may not like to admit it, but Soble Siegmann said teens still like the toys and props on the table that they grew up with, and they still relish the after-dinner competition of finding the afikomen.
“The end goal is to make it a fun, positive experience for all your guests,” Soble Siegmann said. “If you don’t get to every part of the seder, it’s OK. I want my Passover guests feeling like they had a positive experience. And your guests don’t have to starve waiting for dinner. Pass out nibbles to nosh on after the dipping ritual, and it will help them hang on longer before the festive meal.”
Include Main Themes
With his family in Australia and his wife’s in Israel, AISH Detroit Managing Director Rabbi Da-vid Rosenthal also created family from nearby friends and hosts a seder each year. He has held pre-Passover programming for men to improve their seder leading skills and has also published articles with tips on how to prepare for the ritual meals.
“The toughest guests to please at your seder can be the teenagers, but having good questions on hand are worth their weight in matzah balls!”
— Rabbi Da-vid Rosenthal,
Rosenthal cautioned that leaders need not cover the entire Haggadah text but should be sure to touch upon the main themes: the Paschal lamb sacrifice, matzah and maror. If your guests are receptive to mindful meditation, ask them to close their eyes to imagine the life of a slave or what it was like to walk through the split Sea of Reeds. Above all, seder leaders should prepare in advance and come equipped with lots of engaging questions.
“The toughest guests to please at your seder can be the teenagers, but having good questions on hand are worth their weight in matzah balls!” Rosenthal said. “The night is all about getting people engaged in the topic, and there is no better way to do that than with questions. If you have a large group of people, get everyone to talk to their neighbor about a question and give their own answer — that way everyone can feel like they are participating without it taking all night!”
Reclining And Slavery
One question that is part of the traditional Four Questions is about reclining at the feast. At a 2018 Limmud class, Frankel Jewish Academy bible educator Michael Langer suggested this is an often overlooked and underdiscussed seder element that deserves more attention and can be seen as the ultimate physical symbol of freedom during the seder.
“As slaves, we ate standing up,” Langer said. “Today, as busy, modern people, we sometimes eat standing up at a lunch counter or in our cars or with our cell phones in hand. Therefore, what is a better symbol of freedom today but putting aside all that business and distractions and recline and dine and simply be with the people seated at your seder table. Reclining at the seder symbolizes the freedom to not be beholden to all the outside distractions of life and that we do not have to jump up and do the tasks of the outsider’s bidding.”
At Temple Beth El’s 76th annual Rabbi B. Benedict and Ada S. Glazer Institute on Judaism to be held at 7 p.m. today (March 22), members of all faiths are offered an opportunity to experience elements of the seder.
“Of all the Jewish holidays, this is the most observed holiday because it is situated around the home, family, ritual and food,” Rabbi Mark Miller said. “Something we can take from learning about the seder in an interfaith setting of learning and then at our own Passover observances is that after we spend a night learning about freedom from slavery, from moving from a narrow place through one of redemption, what will we do, how will we act, to carry this ideal forward?
“After we engage in dialogue at our seder tables, how can we act upon this after the holiday is over to make our towns and our communities better and more socially just?”