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Simcha in the Seder

March 20, 2013

Note: This article was first published in the Beth Israel Judea Bulletin, March/April, 2010.

Passover is coming. It’s a time to find the best price for matzoh and clean the house of chametz. For me, it’s also a time to crack out the Haggadah and take a fresh look at the family seder. But why the fresh look? After all, don’t we want to focus on the familiar “order” of the Seder, to tell the story with the words of the Hagaddah (the one we’ve always used), and to strive to “get right” every ritual and symbol?

Yes, there’s a comfort in that process as well as a good dose of nostalgia. However, is the Seder about the recalling of past Seders? Or is it more the discovery of fresh ways to make each individual feel as if they had gone out of Mitzrayim. After all, this is what the Haggadah asks of us.

For me, the rituals, symbols and discussions found the Haggadah comprise what we today would describe as an interactive, creative educational process; one that both teaches the Exodus story and finds ways for us to experience it.

On that point, I’m enjoying reading Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, Texts and Activities, written by David Arnow and published by Jewish Lights Publishing. He talks about the educational model of the Seder (as you may know, the Hagaddah is a pedagogical tool as well as a textbook). At the same time, he points out that while the younger generation can learn the story, there’s also a lesson in the process.

Arnow says that:

Telling the story of the Exodus must be geared to the level of understanding of the younger generation — and I would broaden that to include the interests of adult participants as well. Remember, that the Haggadah alludes to the Seder of five illustrious sages who discuss the Exodus all through the night. Children should participate in the Seder, but it’s also important for them to observe their parents and other adults seriously engaging the issues the story raises.

The book offers many suggestions for discussions and activities we can add to our Seders, ranging from study texts and questions to crafting projects and even the enactment of dramas. The ideas aren’t all big: For example, we can grow our own horseradish and other greens for the Seder.

However, with all the serious subjects in the Hagaddah, there’s a chance that we may forget that the Exodus was a moment of great joy for our people. Shouldn’t joy be purposefully incorporated into our Seders and in our remembering of the tale? The Seder can be serious, and at the same time, fun.

For example, at our family Seder, we follow a Sephardic custom of putting a green onion on each plate at the beginning of the Seder — as big as possible with the greens intact. This isn’t to eat, but to enrichen the story. In the Maggid section of the Seder, the narration part of the story, whenever a word such as “affliction,” “burden,” “task master,” or “hard labor” is mentioned, everyone at the table shouts out the word and uses the green onion like a whip on the backs of the persons sitting on either side. It’s great fun and keeps everyone glued to the text, young and old alike.

The Torah describes in the Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea, at the moment of our people’s liberation, Miriam took a cymbal in her hand and led the women in dancing and singing. Hey, if that’s also your thing, add it to your Seder. If it was good enough for Miriam the prophetess …

Just as it’s important for the younger generation to witness their parents engaged in discussing the adult issues presented in the Exodus story, it’s also important for them to experience the joy in our Jewish tradition. Make a fresh memory this year at your Seder.

A joyful Pesach to everyone.

David Morgenstern

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