by Shira Wallach
Things I hear this time of year:
“I lead our seder, and I’m bored.”
“I don’t know how to create a seder for all of the different participants.”
“What is there at the seder for the adults? It’s all kiddie stuff!”
“How can I get my kids to stay at the table longer than 5 minutes?”
Whether we lead a Seder or participate in one, we all have the responsibility to see ourselves as if we had personally come out of Egypt; our Haggadah teaches us: bechol dor vador chayav adam lir’ot et atzmo ke’ilu hu yatzah miMitzrayim. How are we supposed to access this level of experience when we feel so disempowered and overwhelmed? Fear not, friends! I offer some (unleavened) food for thought.
First: we’re all coming out of Egypt, and we’re all heading toward a Promised Land. At its fundamental core, our Exodus narrative is timeless. We all know what it feels like to be stuck in a place that feels oppressive and limiting. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is from the root meitzar, which means “narrow place.” Ask yourself and your Seder comrades: What is your narrow place? How are you stuck? If you could cross the Sea, what would the other side look like? How would you feel if you could live in this liberated, unstuck place?
The trouble is, our liberation from Egypt came at a great price. We recall the Egyptians’ pain as we remove ten drops of wine from our cups, knowing that they had to suffer and die so that we could escape. But should we do more than that? What is our responsibility to the world now that we’re free? Our Haggadah prompts us all night to ask questions, but ultimately, what does the Seder ask of us?
If you’re lucky enough to have children at your Seder table, no matter what age, they will be ecstatic to help you. Kids will love to sing their favorite Pesach songs, create art for the table, decorate place cards and kippot, and ask questions (especially if you throw marshmallows at them when they participate!). They’ll gladly dress up in costume, act out parts of the story, design posters for each character in Chad Gadya and direct each participant in their animal noise. They’ll put on a beard and robe, sneak outside, and surprise everyone when you open the door for Elijah the prophet.
Make sure to adopt the Dayenu custom of Jews from Iraq and Afghanistan: distribute scallions and whip your neighbor during the chorus. Sure, I could tell you why, but do you really need a reason?
And finally, I give to you the most important paradigm shift I’ve ever experienced when it comes to the Seder: after the blessing over the karpas, the green vegetable, you can then serve anything that falls under the category of pri ha’adamah, fruit of the earth. This means more than parsley, celery, and salt water! Create a gorgeous crudité with a rainbow of vegetables and dips like guacamole, salsa, and eggplant tapenade. Forget potato chips, serve French fries and sweet potato fries with ketchup! This way, however long your journey and discussion take, you’ll have a variety of tapas to keep your bellies from rumbling.
From my family to yours: I wish you a chag kasher vesameach, a joyous festival of freedom. May your journey from oppression to liberation be delicious, thought-provoking, cathartic, and just the right length.
Shearith Israel clergy, staff and congregants share