Making a Memorable Seder

The seder need not--should not--stick to the script. Innovation is key for a memorable and fun educational experience.

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I don't know what the tradition is in your family, but in ours, seder night is a dress-up affair. Suits and ties, dresses, new clothes for the kids--"Shabbes" clothes we call them. Imagine our surprise when one year we arrived for seder at the door of our friends David and Shira Milgrom-Elcott in our dressy clothes and they greeted us wearing the long, flowing robes of Bedouins!

"Welcome to our seder!" they exclaimed. "Please take off your shoes before you come in."

We dutifully took off our shoes and entered their home. On the right, we saw the formal dining room, the table set with fine china and crystal, seemingly ready for the seder guests. David and Shira, however, led us right past the dining room, down the hall and into their large family room. We should have known what to expect from the desert garb worn by our hosts, but we were hardly prepared for the sight of that room.

Opening the door for Elijah...into new seder possibilities.Draped from the beams if the vaulted ceiling were large white bedsheets, forming a tent-like structure encompassing the center of the room. All the furniture had been taken out, except for some beanbag chairs and overstuffed pillows scattered around the floor, in the center of the "tent," on a low coffee table, was the seder plate.

"Welcome to our home in the desert," David and Shira explained. "The seder ceremony is a simulation of what really happened on that first night of the Exodus from Egypt, so we've decided to conduct our seder in this tent. Please make yourselves comfortable--take off your ties and jackets--and recline with your kids on the floor."

Well, you can imagine what followed next! In a masterfully-led, fun-filled experience, the families in attendance enjoyed a delightful, relaxed telling of the Passover story. Once we completed the Maggid [narration] section of the Haggadah, we moved into the dining room for the seder meal. After opening the door for Elijah, we returned to the tent to complete the seder ceremony.

It was a seder we'll always remember.

And that, in a word, is what the seder is designed to help us do--remember--remember the story of the Exodus and, more importantly, our place in it. After all, the most important words of the Haggadah are, "B'khol dor va-dor hayav adam lirot et atzmo k'ilu hu yatzah mi-Mitzrayim"--"All people, in every generation, should see themselves as having experienced the Exodus from Egypt." The seder is much more than a history lesson; it is our yearly re-enactment of the liberation and continuity of the Jewish people.

Thus, seder night is the family education experience par excellence. The rabbis who created its structure and content were brilliant family educators, filling the ceremony with an array of multisensory methods of transmitting the messages of the evening. The seder is filled with symbolic foods, elaborate rituals, words and song, and most importantly, questions designed to keep even the youngest of children interested.

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Dr. Ron Wolfson

Dr. Ron Wolfson is the Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University and the president of Synagogue 3000.