If you are a seder leader, you work a tough crowd.
Just as the Children of Israel complained in the desert to Moses, all gathered at the seder table will level their pre-meal kvetching at you.
Fear not. The Passover seder is the ultimate multi-sensory teaching tool that asks each of us to think of ourselves as going on a journey and leaving Egypt and slavery behind for freedom in the Promised Land. Long before any educational theorist came up with the idea of teaching to multiple intelligences, the Hagaddah text clearly states that all who participate in a seder must feel as they themselves experienced the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of redemption.
“From sports to music fans, you’ve got to know your audience,” said Jeff Lasday, director of Alliance for Jewish Education. Lasday has led family seders for the past 30 years. When Passover falls during the annual NCAA basketball tournament, Lasday emails his family in advance a Jewish-themed “bracket” of favorite Passover foods, Jewish traditions and Jewish heroes. Before the seder, he compiles the results and intersperses reports between different parts of the Hagaddah.
STEP AWAY FROM THE SEDER TABLE
In the 2005 Passover comedy, When Do We Eat?, a dysfunctional Jewish family celebrates Passover in a Bedouin tent pitched on a suburbanite Long Island lawn. Though it is not necessary to go through such lengths, setting the stage visually will get your seder guests in the right frame of mind for the evening. At the beginning of the seder, don’t even bother with the table. For one seder, I brought the whole family into the tiny front storage area of my parent’s basement. This subterranean start symbolized that we were about to go on a journey and the dark basement represented just how low we felt during slavery and how we were about to rise to freedom. Amy Newman, director of leadership development for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, suggests hanging blue cellophane from doorways to simulate the parting of the Red Sea. She also recommends giving permission for kids to draw on the dining room walls — covered carefully with butcher paper — to depict scenes from the Haggadah. “The more experiential you can make your seder, the more meaning it will have for your guests, no matter their age,” Newman said.
YES, YOU CAN EAT
Nibbling is permitted during the first half of the seder after reciting the blessing for karpas (green vegetable, often parsley). Pass around bowls of dried fruits and nuts, even crudites with guacamole to stave off hunger during the seder.
Prior to the seder, get them invested by asking them to think about their own interpretation of slavery, freedom or plagues. Newman also suggests providing older kids and young adults with a lunch bag filled with different items to be used during the Maggid section of the Haggadah to tell the Passover story. From food insecurity to the environment to human trafficking, teens and young adults are passionate about causes. The internet provides great supplementary Haggadah readings that can spark conversations on all of these topics to bring the messages of the holiday into a contemporary light. When it comes to including a discussion about Israel, organizations from AIPAC to J Street publish Haggadah supplements. For example, last year, a friend of my niece joined the IDF as a Lone Soldier. I was able to find a Hagaddah reading online that offered short profiles of Lone Soldiers and what it meant to them to serve in the Israeli army.
SONGS OF FREEDOM, REDEMPTION
My earliest Passover memories are steeped in song. Growing up at my no-nonsense Hebrew school, teachers taught us how to lead the seder by singing our way through the Haggadah. The more singing and music you add to your seder, the more enjoyable it will be for all guests. My husband’s own “Passover Rappin” YouTube video has not gone viral like those of the Maccabeats, but in our family, it has become a seder standard. If you are fortunate to have Jewish preschoolers coming to your seder, your evening will ring with the wonderful songs they learn. For older guests, if you want to divert a bit from the traditional Haggadah text but still stay on topic, Newman suggests having a sing-down. How many songs can those around the table think of about slavery, freedom, spring or redemption?
My grandmother used to tell me stories of being shushed at the seder table as a child while a bearded elder quickly mumbled through the whole Haggadah. As time went on, American Jews started to read from the Maxwell House Haggadah in a round-robin fashion, but they were still bored with the formal English and cumbersome sentences. One year, my brother-in-law proclaimed, “This is awful. Why do we use the same boring Haggadah with these ‘thines and thous’ year after year?” Before the next Passover came around, I researched and found other Haggadot, such as A Family Haggadah (Kar Ben Copies) and A Different Night by Noam Zion. Do not be afraid to cull different passages from different Haggadot. But when all is said and done, don’t permanently retire your Maxwell House Haggadot. As corny as it is, my kids and their cousins still love to use them to read Hallel: “Thine yea thine, thine only thine” … verse after verse late into the night. There are many new traditions to enhance your seder, but sometimes the old standbys are the ones that truly create family seder memories.*
It would be funny if it were not so tellingly sad.
After weeks of rehearsing Passover songs for a school wide Seder and in anticipation of April break, I knew my students would be feeling a bit burned out. But still, there was so much left to teach about Passover, especially the idea of redemption and how for modern Jews, Israel is our redemption. However, as our generations get further away from knowing a time before there was the existence of the modern Jewish State, one can take Israel, and teaching for Israel for granted. In afternoon supplementary Hebrew schools, where hours are shaved for time’s sake, teachers must focus most of their time just teaching Hebrew reading. There is little time to teach Israel.
So, in the final Hebrew school hours before Pesach, I wanted to part with my students with thinking about the Israel-Pesach Connection with a slide show. (if you want a copy of this slide show, please send me an email at email@example.com and I’ll happily send it along.)
I put a picture up from my laptop projector of the following people. Can you name them?
Now, to give them credit, I said I was going to show students slide show presentation from photos that were mostly ones I took in Israel, and told them that most of the photos were mine, but others were those I found on the Internet.
I just didn’t tell them which were which.
So, when I put this picture up and asked if anyone knew who these folks might be, I got some pretty interesting answers:
“Umm…. they must be husband and wife.”
“Are they your parents?”
No. No, I corrected them. These people are two of Israel’s most influential leaders in the formation of a Jewish state. Can you name them now?
Still no answers.
“Children, the man is David Ben Gurion, the first prime Minister of Israel and the woman is Gol-“
“Oh, now I know! Is that Golda Meir, the first woman Israeli prime minister?”
“Yes, that’s right!” Now we were getting somewhere.
The next hand flew up.
“Did you… meet them?”
So, in the final weeks of Hebrew school after Pesach, I realize I have my work cut out for me. I’m pretty sure I knew who David Ben Gurion and Golda Meir were by the end of the sixth grade. And I knew that, like Moses, these pioneers of the modern state of Israel went to European leaders in the 1930’s asking to let their people go to emigrate to the British Palestine Mandate to escape Hitler’s mad plan for the Jews.
When I get back to class, even though there are only weeks to go, I will put up photos up of Ben Gurion and Golda Meir. And Moshe Dayan. And Menachem Begin. And Rabin and Sharon.
Because, just as we tell our children the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and just as we vow to never forget the horrors of the Holocaust, so must we tell our children the history of the formation of the modern State of Israel. We must somehow weave that right into our Seder narrative just as we sing Dayenu and Adir Hu.
One great resource that I found online this week is the Israel 365 Hagaddah. It is 60 pages of the traditional hagaddah text combined with beautiful Israel photography plus specially marked “Israel moments” to highlight at your Seder. I hope that just some of this amazing Hagaddah makes it to your family’s Seder celebration.
Pesach Sameach. Happy Passover. And next year in Jerusalem.