Friday, March 23, 2012

Shabbat HaChodesh--How to Spice Up Your Seder

In every generation, it is incumbent upon us to see ourselves as if we went out of Egypt


This Shabbat marks the beginning of Nisan, the month of our liberation from Egypt. That means Pesach is just around the corner. In that spirit, I’d like to offer a few suggestions on how to spice up your seder this year. My fundamental assumption as I approach this sacred event is that the seder is NOT about remembering something our ancestors did. It is about EXPERIENCING the journey from Mitzrayim—our own Egypts, our own “stuck” places of narrowness—to liberation in our own lives. With that in mind:

  1. Before the seder, contact all of your guests. Ask them to choose one question that they think it is important to discuss at seder this year and email it back to you. As host, print out all of the responses, without names. Then be sure to cover them in your seder.

  1. Start your seder someplace outside of dining room. Sit on pillows in a relaxed setting. Don’t go to the table until it is actually meal time. This will diminish the whining, “Can we eat yet?”

  1. In that same spirit, make a mini-meal out of the greens or karpas. Instead of just dipping parsley, set out pickles, olives, artichokes, and more—a whole antipasto that will take the edge off everyone’s hunger.

  1. If you have a diverse crowd of guests, you might sometimes divide into small groups, for separate activities and discussions. This can, among other things, allow those with younger children to focus on activities that will maintain their interest.

  1. The Talmud teaches that for centuries, before the Four Questions were scripted, they were meant to be raised spontaneously. The kids were supposed to see all the different dining customs taking place at their table and, on their own, ask “why”. In this spirit, if you are leading a seder, be spontaneous and flexible and creative, rather than sticking slavishly to the “script.” It is all about freedom.

  1. To encourage people to ask questions, toss pieces of candy to anyone who asks (or answers) a good question. I’ve done this for years and it never fails.

  1. When people do start complaining, “When do we eat?”—recognize that this is not new. It is, in fact, part of the Exodus experience, as people complained about food the entire forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The grumbling inevitably happens in the seder because the grumbling is a part of the bigger story, in the event itself.

  1. Use drama to re-create events and experiences. Try re-living the exodus. Let people play Moses or Miriam or Elijah. Or set out a bunch of items (flashlight, I-pod, can of tuna fish—whatever strikes your fancy) and ask people which they would take if they had to leave Egypt in a hurry and could only bring one or two.

  1. Encourage art. Put out crayons or paper and glue sticks, etc. Let people create their own artistic signatures of the journey.

10. And this is the most important of all: have fun! It is good to be free!

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