Life & Culture

Shake up your Seder

Shake up your Seder traditions to help you through another disrupted year - and don't be afraid to deploy leeks and jelly


fresh leek on a white background

I think the biggest takeaway is to not try to do the Seder the same way. If you
do, you’ll inevitably be disappointed.
It would be better to just plan a different kind of Seder which is adapted to the circumstances rather than a poor substitute (as, I think, Zoom is). There’s much to revive in Pesach which we don’t normally do — especially the part about relaxing! The Seder is meant to be a really chill affair, lounging around on couches. This is a great opportunity to do exactly that.

Last year, the three of us moved all the furniture in the living room and had a proper lie-down picnic Seder. We put all the food on blankets on the floor and each stretched out on a sofa, loveseat or rocking chair, and went through the steps of the Seder.
I also think it’s important to show some self-compassion — it’s OK not to read every word in the Haggadah. It’s far more important that the Seder is thought-provoking than that it’s thorough. If you have to choose between doing less but keeping the interest and engagement of your family or doing more but having everyone bored, you should, halachicallyspeaking, do the former. I think this is hard for people as they feel an allegiance to some past relative or previous Seder to do it “the right way” but the only barometer of whether a Seder is successful is whether the participants, especially the younger ones, are engaged in the dialogue of slavery and freedom, the idea of liberation. That’s the goal.
Also, lastly, don’t be afraid to be silly. Obviously the Seder is about a very serious topic, but that doesn’t mean the Seder has to be. We’re Sephardi and there are several things you see at a Sephardi Seder which I think everyone should do — basically, camp it up.
A lot of Persian/Afghani Jews have the custom to smack each other with leeks (ouch!) or salad onions during Dayenu, which is both fun and therapeutic (and the roomsmells great!). Many Maghrebi Jewish families have the practice of conducting a whole camp drama where someone knocks on the door asking for shelter, and everyone else acts out a part. Get into it! This is the chance to spend
more time on the narrative aspects and less worrying about whether there’s enough food for the 20+ guests.
So my advice is, don’t try and replace a ‘normal’ Seder, don’t bother with Zoom (if you don’t have to), have a lie-down, focus on the important parts, and hit your
loved ones with vegetables.

Rabbi Adam Zagoria-Moffet is the rabbi of St Albans Masorti Synagogue

The Pesach Seder is the original immersive educational experience, and food
plays a major role in engaging participants.
From the Seder plate to the afikoman, we use food to tell our story. I think that the tangible messages that food can deliver is one of the reasons we have been able to tell the story for so many generations.
Coming into a second year of social distancing when we yearn to be together and tell the story again, it’s all the more important. We aren’t just telling the story of those who came before us, we are telling our own story. We are asking our children to learn the story so that one day they will pass it on to their children, and food is the great bridge, remaining consistent even as the faces at our table may change.
So, this year we’ll have a family Zoom call on the Thursday night before Pesach, where we will do a practice run of all our favourite songs. I’m creating a series of charoset balls in different flavours, which I will package and deliver to friends. There will be four different flavours, each one representing one of the four sons.
I usually build up the Seder plate on my own, rushing to get it done before the guests arrive. This year, I’ll build it slowly with my husband and children, giving us time to discuss the different elements on the plate. One of the gifts of this period
in our lives is the ability to slow down, and think, and learn.
I’m fortunate that two of our children will be with us for Pesach; we have started discussing what their favourite Pesach foods are and what they look forward to
every year (aside from matzah and butter!) and those are the dishes I will be making.
When our children were young, I used to turn Kedem grape juice into jelly in shot glasses. For the four cups of wine, I will be reviving the trick even though the kids may be too old for it; I think they will see the fun of eating their four glasses rather than drinking them.
I’ll make coconut pyramids to decorate the table, along with Lego figures and a blue tablecloth split in half running down the centre of the table to represent the Red Sea.
There is an old Sephardi custom of ‘beating’ your own back with leeks or green onions to signify the harsh treatment of the Jews in Egypt — I’m not sure if we’ll go that far, but it may be the year!

Rebbetzin Ilana Epstein is the rebbetzin of the Western Marble Arch Synagogue 

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