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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8) Hiddushim (innovations). Each year, experienced seder leaders look for new ideas to incorporate into the ceremony. Here are a few of my favorites. Instead of filling Elijah's Cup with wine at the beginning of the seder, wait until just before opening the door and pass Elijah's cup to each participant who pours some of her/his wine into it. This is a demonstration of the need to act to bring the Messianic era. The Sephardim [Jews of Spanish and Mediterranean descent] pick up the seder plate and place it over every person's head during the recitation of Ha Lahma Anya, the invitation to participate in the seder. Another Sephardic custom is to beat the leader with green onions during the singing of Dayyenu as a reminder of the plagues. Save your lulav and use it instead of a feather to collect the last vestiges of hametz during the annual Bedikat Hametz search on the night before the seder. Ask a set of modern "Four Questions" to discuss at the ceremony. Challenge your guests to sing all the verses to "Had Gadya" [the song "One Kid"] in one breath. Sing Had Gadya with sound effects: choose a person to create the sound of a goat, a cat, a dog, a stick, fire, etc., which they make after the words are sung. (The most interesting sounds will be for the "Angel of Death" and "Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu")!

9) Choose a good Haggadah. There are 3,000 editions of the Haggadah catalogued in the great library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and every year more versions appear. Jews have always felt comfortable in putting together Haggadot that reflect their particular slant on experience of the seder. So, we have "The Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb" (a vegetarian Haggadah) and "The San Diego Women's Haggadah" (a feminist Haggadah). We have traditional unedited texts and greatly abbreviated liberal texts. We have new "family" Haggadot and that old standby, the Maxwell House Haggadah.

In the Conservative Movement, we have the excellent Rabbinical Assembly Haggadah, The Feast of Freedom. Choose a Haggadah that fits your family's needs. Since the cost of multiple copies is often quite substantial, pick one that will last a number of years in style, substance, and construction. Remember, the book itself should stand up to extensive use.

10) Prepare. Of course, the ultimate Haggadah may be one you yourself put together. With inexpensive printing widely available, it is not difficult to edit your own Haggadah text. You can easily combine traditional texts with modern interpretations and readings, songs, and information. By studying the Haggadah text with the help of guidebooks like The Art of Jewish Living: The Passover Seder, you can develop a text that reflects your understanding of the seder story and that fits the needs of your family. This will take some time, but the reward will be a seder experience that is meaningful and memorable.

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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.