JWR Pesach
April 9, 1998 / 13 Nissan, 5758

Chassidic seder
Wait! You're Not Finished!

By Neil Rubin

A COUPLE OF years ago, I went to a remarkable seder. It stands out not because of the food, prayer or singing, but because of the original spin that the host took on the rituals.

He made the seder come to life. We guests were appropriately sitting there, reading on cue, chanting in unison and respectfully paying attention. All the while, the effects of far-too-sweet wine on an empty stomach becoming creepingly apparent. I suspect my host's kids knew what was coming. But I didn't. So imagine my surprise when I glanced up while we were reading about those nasty plagues. A black sheet of locust were rapidly heading toward my head. Our table captain had calmly reached into a bag hidden under the table, moments later showering guests with plastic critters.

The kids loved it -- but no more than the adults. Fantastic. Funny and fun.

And most important, memorable.

That episode quickly became one of my favorite Passover memories, ranking with making charoset for Aunt Florence on the back porch. (My thumb still hurts a tad from missing the walnuts.)

But it's the adult experience that intrigues me on this Passover weekend, one in which a remarkable number of Jewish adults will sit down at the prescribed meal. Indeed, the numbers are staggering. While less than one in three Jews in these parts joins a synagogue, Friday and Saturday evening about four in five of us will participate in a seder.

Harnessing the potential energy of that to create positive, meaningful Jewish experiences is attainable by seder hosts, many of whom will have legions of those mythical barely affiliated Jews in their homes.

It's worth recognizing that while many of us are at this moment focused on setting the table, preparing food and cleaning house, a larger plot is at work here.

That is because Passover is the one time when a huge majority of American Jews willingly do something Jewish. Similar numbers of Jews light a menorah, but that is but a momentary event; even an abridged seder is an hour or so of prayer, recitation and ritual food.

In other words, we got 'em. So let's make this Passover, even at this late moment, more memorable for our guests and ourselves. Here's a few quick suggestions that can be achieved even an hour or two before everyone arrives.

Decorate the room: You do it for birthdays, theme parties and other events. Get the kids of all ages to make some last minute drawings of Passover, or anything for that matter, and tape it to the wall of the living room. OK, OK, use the tape that doesn't rip the wall paper.

Call family and friends not there -- right now: Sure, we're creating new memories. But don't forget the old ones. You grew up sharing seder with relatives and friends. Some of those people are no longer with us. But share memories of them with others who still are. The holiday is quickly approaching. Dial now. Loved ones are standing by.

Do your own thing: I like to start the evening with a special reading. It might be a personal Passover reflection or something about the Jewish world. One year I read from the dairy of a rabbi who held seder as the Warsaw Ghetto was erupting in flames. Another year at the conclusion we sang Hatikvah and the Star Spangled Banner.

Sing baby, sing: Please, don't skip the songs at the end, or in the middle, or in the beginning. Singing is one of the great under-rated spiritually awakening, camaraderie building activities. Sing the songs a few times with different tunes. Sure, it's late. But it's only a once a year holiday.

Ask questions: You don't have to be a Talmud scholar (or even know what the Talmud is) to have a group discussion. The story offers enough philosophical questions, paradoxes and twists to make for lively talk. (Ex: Would it really have been dayenu, enough, to just leave Egypt and not gain the Torah?)

So interrupt the proceedings by starting debate. After all, it's a Jewish thing to do. Don't know the answer? Assign someone to come back next year with a few responses.

Cherish the moment: Passover is a remarkable holiday, one that blends the old memories with the new. Relish the opportunity to sit again at a comfortable table to explore, in all the right ways, the depth and diversity of our common heritage.

Chag sameach.

JWR contributor Neil Rubin is the editor of the Atlanta Jewish Times.


3/29/98: April means Passover ... and baseball
3/15/98: Has Jewish money run out?
3/9/98: Downsizing Jewish life
2/10/98: Film, Lies And Jewish Mothers
2/1/98: The news according to Sid

© 1998, Neil Rubin