10 Tips for a More Experiential Seder
by Tali Frank Horwitz
I had an amazing, experiential seder 25 years ago. I was a guest for a second seder. I was cautioned ahead of time they “do it differently”. I thought, “Cool, how different could it be?” It knocked my socks off! Creative juices were unleashed. No more standard seder. If tonight is different than all other nights… so be it!
- Start outside! Invite your guests outside for two minutes. Look up at the moon. It is the 15th of Nisan, a full moon. Ask your guests to huddle together. Whisper. Tell them it is a perfect night to escape Egypt by following the moon’s light. – OPTIONAL: Have the leader wear a robe or ‘kittel’ to appear Biblical. Hold a walking stick. Place back packs on the kids. Quietly hold each other’s hands and enter the house. (Prior to walking outside, set up the entrance.) As everyone enters the house, walk across the Nile (a blue table disposable table cloth is placed on the floor. I use it from year to year). On the Nile is a big pan of water (my roasting pan) and everyone must pass over it while someone is standing on the side spritzing the guests (gently) with mist from a spritz bottle. (See image above right).
- The physical set up! Thousands of years ago, people were not sitting at a table. More likely our ancestors were sitting low to the ground on cushions/pillows, reclining. Set up your home to feel like ancient times. (See image above left). OPTIONAL: Set up two physical areas. A. The dining table for eating and B. a seating area to tell the Exodus story (through Magid). We bring mattresses, pillows, bean bag chairs to the living room. Everything is covered with white/cream colored sheets to feel festive. Each person’s personalized Pesach pillow case is taken out and used. (When coloring your pillow case be sure to place a card board inside the pillow case to ensure the permanent marker does not run onto both sides.) The seder I attended took place in a tent in the living room! Suddenly leaning left was not awkward.
- Sing! I know people who start their seder with the songs at the of the Haggadah (‘Chad Gadya’, ‘Who knows one?’ ‘Dayenu’ etc.) Songs tell the Exodus story. It sets the mood and gets the kids involved. The Internet has loads of catchy tunes, parodies of songs about Pesach. We have a collection of songs that gets larger from year to year. I have 20 copies of each so they can be handed out (and collected for next year). If the seder starts to feel too long or boring …sing!
- Chose a theme or opening statement! Each year my husband or I open the seder (before we start to read the Haggadah) by sharing a personal statement and/or focus on the relevance of the Exodus to us. It could be a Dvar Torah, elaboration on a word or sentence in the Haggadah, a recent activity in the world, a tradition, or an ethical dilemma. It could be to ask everyone the question, "What would you take with you if you had one hour to leave your home and homeland?" It sets a tone and often we return to the theme during the evening.
- Internationalize the moment! Jews all over the world on the same night are telling the Exodus story; it is a pivotal experience. Hence, we say the “Ma Nishtana” in 10-15 languages to depict the multitude of Jews sharing the story the same night. We have a collection of Haggadot, but you can translate it on the Internet into different languages and have each guest read it. After many years we have someone who knows it in Yiddish, Russian, Arabic, French, Dutch, Italian, Amharic, English, Hebrew, Greek, Latin. We have not yet learned Chinese but hope to.
- Be Inclusive! Include traditions and customs from around the world into your seder. There are many Haggadot that explain customs from different cultures. We incorporate many of them.
For example: There is a Syrian custom to act out ‘Yachatz and Afikoman’. The Afikoman is placed in a bag and passed around the room while asking each person three questions.
- “Where are you coming from?” Answer: “From Egypt”
- “Where are you going?” Answer: “To Jerusalem”
- What are you bringing?” Answer: “Matzah and Maror”
Following the question/answer, the person waves the bag over his/her head three times and passes it to the next person. The Afikoman bag is then returned to the seder plate to be hidden.
Another example: A Persian custom is to hit each other with scallions during the song “Dayenu”.
- Add to the text! The Haggadah story lends itself to be embellished or to add to it. For example: Add 4 daughters to the 4 sons, add Miriam’s cup, add a 5th son – the one who could not speak, symbolizing the Holocaust. Have kids write a skit ahead of time and act it out. We download pictures from seders around the world i.e. the largest seder in the world (2,000 Israelis in Nepal organized by the Chabad House), pictures of baking matzot.
- Add games/jokes! Include quizzes, riddles, and jokes at various point. For example: We have a hairband that is placed on someone’s head. A card is placed in the front, on their forehead. The person has to guess within 20 questions. The cards could say “Elijah”, “Chametz” or “Afikoman”.
- Use Props! Have your ‘bag of tricks’. My bag includes acting out the ten plagues. We use syrup to color our drinking water to look red, we have ping pong balls as hail or throw ice-cubes, place stickers on our skin as boils, spread out toy frogs/snakes etc.
- Make a file/box! Throughout the year collect items, articles, toys to enhance your seder. Keep inside it the pillow cases, song sheets, blue Nile table cloth, frogs etc.
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