Like many mostly-extroverted people, I love a good dinner party; I love the idea of people sitting around for hours over good food and wine talking about deep things, sharing stories, reminiscing and maybe even singing. And the most magical thing is, that at a great dinner party, a group of strangers can leave as friends. So it’s no surprise that my favorite Jewish ritual is the ultimate dinner party: the Passover seder. Hours of storytelling, four cups of wine, multiple courses of food, and as we learn in the Haggadah (from a group of wild rabbis who recounted the exodus from Egypt for so long that their students had to come tell them it was time for the morning prayers), the longer the seder goes the more KfP (Kosher for Passover) brownie points we get in God’s book.
Which leads to the story of my longest seder, where I sat around with a crew of rabbis and friends into the wee hours of the night. It was my last year of rabbinical school and we gathered in an apartment in Columbia University graduate student housing. Each attendee planned a part of the seder and with 25 eager folks, there was a lot to cover. I had walked the 15 minutes from my apartment in the early evening in flip flops and a tank top, enjoying the balmy warmth of a mid April day. But when it was time to walk home after helping my hosts clean (around 4 am) the ground was covered in snow! We had discussed the exodus until the seasons had changed!
So now you know that my dream seder is long and deep with meaning, the wine is plentiful and the carpas (dipping appetizer) course has enough apps so that no one is mad that the main meal begins at midnight. Of course, I have learned that not everyone wants an eight hour seder (including my own wife and in-laws! In fact, our parents met for the first time at a seder I hosted and my father-in-law was very jealous that my dad felt comfortable to just nap through the long discussion from his reclining spot). But in my many years of seder attending, planning and hosting, I have learned a few things I am excited to share. Because no matter the length of your seder there are a few things that make a seder magical:
- Be present. Turn your phone off. Decide how long you can be present and just be in the moment for that time. I would say at least two hours is a good guideline if you are able!
- Ask questions. Whether you are the youngest attendee asking the official four questions, someone older or in between, ask any question that pops into your head during the seder. This will make you the dream guest and everyone else will benefit from your asking! When I was in college my family attended a seder in Jerusalem hosted by an Orthodox friend of mine and her family. My dad and brother were asking questions every five minutes and the hosts were overjoyed – we found ourselves walking home at 1 am!
- Be vulnerable. This is at least half of why I love the wine element of the seder (the rabbis have a saying “the wine goes in, the secrets come out”), but you don’t need wine for vulnerability. Come ready to learn, like I said above, don’t be ashamed of what you don’t know. Be ready to share yourself and receive from others in return.
- Meet someone new or get to know someone in a new way. I always like to have new faces at my seder, but even the one year that I was just with my immediate family (at the Mayo clinic before my mom’s stem cell transplant), I made sure to get to know new things about them over the seder evening.
- Eat good food. (I think this one is self explanatory)
- Connect to our history and connect that history to the present. Every Jewish person is obligated on seder night to see themselves as one who personally was freed from Egypt, so make sure you do that, but also use that as an opportunity to think about who in our society is not free today and renew your commitment to do something about it.
At the end of the seder we say next year in Jerusalem. This year I will say “next year in Philadelphia” (as my family prepares to move to the city in May!) I hope to host many of you at my table in the coming years – and I promise to let you go home before the seasons change!
Some of Rabbi Megan’s favorite Seder Resources:
- What should I put on a seder plate? https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-seder-plate/
- What else can go on your seder plate?
- Make your own Haggadah- https://www.haggadot.com/
More Resources for your seders:
One Table Passover Resources (including an abridged Hagaddah I helped create last year!)
Seder Plate: New Imaginations from HIAS https://www.hias.org/sites/default/files/hias_illustrated_journeys_seder_plate.pdf
Understanding the Seder Plate through the lens of Mental Health https://www.haggadot.com/clip/mental-health-interpretations-of-the-seder-plate
Welcoming people to our seder https://www.haggadot.com/clip/welcoming-all-an-inclusive-passover-reading-1
Yachatz-What is still broken? https://www.haggadot.com/clip/the-matzah-of-peace
A Woman’s Dayenu https://www.haggadot.com/haggadah/womens-seder-1
For a haggadah of Inclusion-Understanding all our children https://www.haggadot.com/haggadah/inclusion-haggadah-0