Ideas for a more interesting & meaningful Seder
Opening stanza: a kids Seder
Last night we ran a kids Seder. Our parents were overseas, visiting our nan and so the job of planning and running the Seder fell upon us; and with it, the job of making it interesting, fun and meaningful.
We come from a pretty informal, cultural family, which means that if at any point in the past one of us wanted to add or attempt something different at the Seder, we could have done so easily.
And yet, in our case, it was not until it became our responsibility to organise the Seder, that we actually got around to properly thinking about it. The result was a pretty fun and meaningful night, filled with a few extra bits that we’d probably try and attempt again, in some variation next year.
I’m writing this piece as both a reminder for our future selves trying to pull together a Seder (probably last minute), as well as anyone doing second night this year and wanting to try something new (that someone though, would have to be in a different time zone since it is already 9 pm on second night when this is written).
Making it meaningful
A moment of appreciation for the Haggadah
Before I suggest a few new things to add, I’d like to stress out one point — ‘hats off to the Haggadah’, truly, what a wild piece of writing. Think of it from whatever angle you choose, the Haggadah and the seder, is an amazing tradition that has stood the test of time.
Not to mention that, in many ways, the Haggadah was years ahead of its time. These days, immersive design and catering for different types of learners is all the rage. The Haggadah experimented with immersive design, experiential learning and mixed-aged cohorts, long before it was cool. Someone back then was onto something, and again hats off to them.
That said, the Haggadah and the seder around it, is a tradition that was made a long time ago. Why not update it a bit to make it more meaningful for us today? Not changing what is there, as much as adding bits throughout it.
We made an attempt at doing so. This piece includes some of what we tried.
First cup- a celebration of everyone around the table.
This one is less our own idea and more, an embellishment of an old tradition that we came across while researching for the Seder.
Apparently, it’s traditional in some families to have everyone fill up each other’s first glass of wine. We took this tradition and embellished it making it our first activity of the night.
The activity— each person pours a glass of wine for the person next to them and takes it as a moment to introduce themselves if they haven’t yet done so.
Once that is done, we thank everyone for making it and raise a toast, celebrating the fact that we are together, that we are free and that we have the privilege to wine and dine in peace.
Second cup — stories from our families.
One of the main themes of the Haggadah is to appreciate that your own freedom is the result of your ancestors going through hardships, overcoming them and subsequently resulting in our freedom today.
It is a beautiful tradition that has the dual effect of:
- Reminding us not to take our own freedom for granted.
- Develop a sense of care and empathy for those who are going through similar hardships these days— remembering, that our families too, were once unfree.
Yet, while the Haggadah guides us to think back to 3000 years ago, give or take, many of us have much more recent stories to think of and appreciate.
The activity— once arrived at the second cup, you get everyone around the table to share their own family stories of hardships, slavery, difficulties etc. Something that their families went through, overcame and as a result, they now sit around the table as free people.
Once introduced, the activity looks as follows: someone gets the ball rolling by telling a story from their family (briefly of course, everyone is already quite hungry by this point). When they finish, we ask them for the names of their family members and then raise a toast to them.
In our Seder, we started with the story of our grandma Lila and her mother Esther, who escaped the Warsaw Ghetto and then hopped between small towns in Poland under false identities, staying out of the spotlight till the end of the war. Once the story was told, we all raised our glasses and said, “to Lila & Esther”.
The next person then shared their story, and so you go till there are no more stories to be shared.
Hot tip– avoid asking people to go around the table, simply wait a moment for someone to jump in with their story. It means only whoever wants to share does so and makes it more comfortable to participate.
Conclude this activity by raising a toast to all our ancestors, and the fact that thanks to them, we are now free.
Rachtzah- what are you freeing yourself from?
A few days before Passover, a friend asked me what it was I was freeing myself from this year.
The question is a really nice take on Passover, reminding us that while we may be free in the broad sense, we each have our own personal things that we hope to free ourselves from.
For our next activity, we combined the spirit of this thought with the already established activity of Rachtzah— washing of the hands.
The activity— each person thinks of what it is they would like to free themselves from this year. Unlike the previous round though, this time you do not share it with anyone. This one is just for you.
Once ready, each person goes and washes their hands, imagining themselves washing off whatever it is they hope to be freed from.
Third cup and an Olive— Ukraine
Ukrainians are currently going through their own version of Passover, only in real-time. Draw whatever further parallels you may, the broad one is simple— they are a people with a rich culture and history, fighting for their own freedom.
Being an ocean away, many of us have wondered before, what is it that we can do to support.
Well, one thing we could do, at least on Passover night, is to do for them what we have been doing for ourselves for the past few millennia — tell their story.
One of the key threads of the war in Ukraine is an attempt to erase their rich history and culture as distinct people, and through that, deny their freedom.
Our activity for the third cup is thus intended to counter these efforts.
The activity— First, someone gives some context about the history of Ukraine. Who are the people, how far back they stretch and how they got to where they are now.
In our case, we started from the 17th century, with the Cossack people and went all the way to the modern-day, with the various periods of autonomy throughout it all. I’m sure we made some inaccuracies, not to mention that you could have gone further back in history, but the attempt was what mattered.
Moreover, this historical context then gave us the scaffolding for the rest of the activity. We asked everyone around the table to share anything interesting they knew about Ukraine— its people, history, culture, food etc.
One at a time we each shared the bits and pieces we knew, built upon them and had really interesting conversations around those.
We concluded the third cup by raising a toast to the Ukrainian people and their strive for freedom.
Oh and about the olive— we found this one online, while researching ideas for the seder. Turns out that all over the world, people have been planning on adding an olive, or an olive branch (or in some cases a sunflower) to their seder plate this year — a symbol of peace for Ukraine.
Fourth cup & Jerusalem — ‘Freedom to’
The Haggadah concludes with the verse ‘next year in Jerusalem’, and its accompanying song. To that as well, we added one last activity.
The activity — First, we established that Jerusalem could be used as a broad reference to freedom, a metaphor for whatever it is you are trying to get to or achieve.
Using it as such has in fact been used in songs and poetry for centuries, by both Jews and non Jews alike.
And hence when we drink the fourth cup and say ‘next year in Jerusalem’, we each hope to achieve the freedom we hope for this year.
A little addition— something we didn’t do, but which we will attempt to do next year, is to bring in the concept of ‘freedom to’.
The philosopher Erich Fromm’s speaks of two types of Freedoms that work in tandem with one another.
The first type of freedom is referred to as ‘Freedom from’. This freedom is a freedom from whatever it is that oppresses us. It is this freedom we speak of when we speak of freedom from bondage, from hardships, from oppression.
The second type of freedom is referred to as ‘Freedom to’. This freedom is the freedom to create whatever it is that comes next. The freedom to create a new reality; what we’d like to do/be etc.
This second type of freedom is often missed when we speak of freedom and it is in fact a necessary second step, following the first step, ‘freedom from’, in achieving the full impact of freedom.
Next year, I’d like to dedicate the fourth cup of wine and the verse ‘to next year in Jerusalem’ to this second and often missed part of freedom. And as we raise our toast, challenge everyone to think, not just about what they hope to free themselves from, but what is it that they would like to put in its place. What they would like to come next.
And so concludes our attempt to make Passover a bit more meaningful. Let us know what you thought, if you attempted any of these, and also, what are some other ways you have attempted or seen, to make the seder more interesting & meaningful
Chag sameach everyone!