The Pesach Seder – I Did It My Way

The Pesach seder is the most observed Jewish tradition in the world. More than Shabbat, more than lighting Chanukah candles, more than crowding into the synagogue on Yom Kippur – the most Jews actually observe the custom of sitting down to a Pesach seder more than any other custom. Incredible.

I love hosting the seder. Why? The main reason is that the seder is one of the best opportunities for creativity. It is a ceremony that begs to be renewed and re-examined year after year. The hagadah is ultimately a guide for how to hold a discussion on the different aspects of Pesach and the various ideas about slavery, liberation, salvation, and collective responsibility. I have a hard time sitting at a seder where the ceremony is only to read straight from the text. In our seder, everyone was asked to bring a plant or flowers to help us celebrate “Chag HaAviv” (another name for Pesach – the springtime holiday); after reading about the ancient seder in B’nai B’rak, everyone at our table recalled the most outlandish seder he ever attended; the kids were given costumes and acted out the Four Children (the smallest and shyest just had to shake a rattle – “the one who doesn’t know how to ask”); the kids were given a 10 plagues kit and had to rain down all the plagues on the adults; and when we left Egypt, everyone shared what he can’t leave home without. Israelis have lots of Pesach songs from the hagadah, so we sang a lot! And people shared stories and other tidbits that they had learned or heard in other places. We kept going until the kids collapsed (For the first time in his 2 years and 8 month life, our son asked us if he could please go to sleep!)

On a cultural note — I love hosting the seder because this way, we don’t have to travel in any traffic jams. You heard me – In Israel, the biggest traffic jam is not rush hour on Monday morning, it is the night of the seder. Everyone is on the road going to their family. On the one hand, it is a sign of national bonding. On the other hand, there is something to be said for living in Jerusalem which is more religious than the rest of the country – by the time the sun goes down and the holiday has started, everyone had already arrived.

On a cynical note – I love hosting the seder because this ensures that our apartment will not get broken into. This is also a popular night for thieves in Israel who know that once someone goes out, they will not be back until late in the night. (I know people it’s happened to!)

And on my most important and favorite note about the Pesach seder – I love hosting the seder because I love the memories that we are creating for our children that are going to stay with them for their entire lives and warm their hearts when they have their own seders. My husband laughed at me the night before and called me “grandma” as I sat in my apron wearing slippers and knitting as I waited for him to finish cleaning the kitchen so I could finish making the matzah balls – using a recipe that I received from my grandmother and remembering how she taught me how to make them on my last visit to her before she died. And for the seder, I decided to wear a necklace that was hers. And as I chopped the Ashkenazi charoset, I remember helping my mom in the kitchen as a little girl chopping the walnuts and apples in the bowl. I remember the book of Pesach jokes that the adults would tell at the table throughout the seder. I put parsley for the “karpas” because that’s what I grew up with, and mashed the hardboiled egg in my bowl of salt water, just like when I was a kid. I was the only one at our table who ate the gefilte fish, but I couldn’t imagine a seder without it.

My heart leapt with joy as our kids enthusiastically joined in our seder, throwing cardboard frogs and Styrofoam balls on the table, the smallest ones kind of sang the Four Questions with everyone’s help, they all gorged on Charoset, got their present from savta (grandma) for finding the afikomen, and sang with gusto all 13 verses of “Echad Mi Yodea” (Who Knows One?). They heard the stories that their parents told. We laughed, we did a few things out of order, there were a few heated (but friendly) discussions –

And everyone left with a feeling that we had done the seder “just right.”

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