The Making of a Passover Seder

Chapter 1 The Great Pesach Divide

I don’t think there are many days in the year that can cause greater strife in BT-Familial relations than Pesach. I think the reason for that is twofold. First, Pesach is a holiday that involves a high level of kashrus scrutiny. Second, many non-religious people take Pesach seriously on their level and a BT’s unwillingness to eat in their home often comes across as offensive.

Growing up, one seder was always held at my Aunt’s house, approximately 45 minutes away by car. Although my Aunt and Uncle weren’t religious, they were fairly traditional and they took Pesach seriously. My Aunt is one mean cook and my Uncle (he should rest in peace) always prepared the entire seder, complete with written explanations for each participant to read at the appointed time and his strawng awshkenawzi pronawnciation. He also freshly grated horseradish that could clear a stuffed nose from across the room. Other than my eternal fear of botching the four questions, I actually looked forward to those Seders every year. I was one of the few youngsters who stayed with the older men to complete the hagadah long after the others had retired to watch a post-meal hockey game. The seder at my Aunt’s was also pretty much the only time of the year that my extended family would get together.

So, it was with great trepidation that I approached my parents when I was approximately 16 and told them that I was no longer willing to ride in the car on Passover. At the time, I thought I might have more easily launched the first missle of WW III but, though my Aunt was not pleased, my parents handled it as well as could be expected and my Aunt, I think, eventually forgave me.

Chapter 2 A Teenager’s Seder
To my parents’ credit, they decided that if I wasn’t willing to go to my Aunt’s, they would stay home as well. That meant that I would have to prepare the Seder. Every year I would meticulously prepare my father’s hagadah with notations, explanations and parts so that he could “lead” the Seder. My father a’h, mother, brothers and any guests bravely persevered as we completed the entire hagaddah both nights for years. Knowing that this experience would not be the most pleasant one for the others, I did everything I could to try to make the seder relevant to them. I would spice it with history, family remembrances, riddles, jokes, etc. (One year we went through an entire scientific analysis of the process of leavening, another year I contacted the seder participants and asked them to submit advance questions about pesach the answers to which I researched and presented at the seder)

Chapter 3 The Seder in My Own Home
Though I am only in my mid-30s, I have been preparing a seder for the past 20 years. I think that my early seder experiences have helped fashion the seder I presently run. I am blessed with my own children now and I try to prepare a seder that is fun, interesting and relevant to them and any guests. Our seder is becoming well known for our children’s Ten Plagues skit (especially the famous water into blood scene, a must see), mixed minhagim (I have incorporated many of my Father In Law’s sephardi minhagim), interesting niggunim (kadesh, urchatz… to the tune of the Egyptian National Anthem) and the signed, notarized statement I procured from my wife and mother-in-law promising that they will not stay up all night the day before Pesach. I still think the time my father-in-law, already in his 70s, stood on his chair like a little boy to recite the Four Questions so he could get a chocolate covered marshmallow was the best.

Though my decision to break from my extended family’s passover seder was a difficult one that had relationship reprecussions, it forced me to develop a deeper understanding of the Hagadah and to (I hope) prepare a seder that is interesting and meaningful to its participants.

First posted on April 10, 2006

14 comments on “The Making of a Passover Seder

  1. One of the most painful parts of Yom Tov (for me, at least) are the memories of my dear mother and father, who are no longer here. Although they passed away many years ago, I think of them every day and remember them most vividly on special occasions and on Jewish holidays like Pesach. I recall the Seder forty-five years ago wheh I was a little girl asking the Four Questions.

    But the Passover Time Machine spins around, and at the First Seder this year, all three granddaughters named for my dear mother Rhoda (Rochel Leah) were there. And at the lunch seudah the next morning, all three boys named for my dear father Joseph (Yosef Chaim) were there.

    A tremendous nechamah (comfort), the promise of Jewish eternity, “Yet in every generation, someone else rises up to destroy us….but HKB”H saves us from their hand.” Whether that enemy is named Hitler, or Nasser, or Ahmadinejad, the Divine promise to the Jewish people is that we will live on.

  2. Never mind your non-religious relatives, many frum people refuse to eat at the homes of other frum people during Pesach, for reasons that are often ( to me at least) unclear. It doesn’t exactly promote achdus!

  3. I no longer attend the so-called “Passover Seder” of my non-religious relatives. It was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I wish that I had done it much sooner.

    Now instead of being buried underneath a mighty avalanche of non-stop nivul peh, lashon hara and mocking the Torah, I recite numerous divrei Torah relevant to Passover at the homes of my friends. Some Torah scholars have invited me to their homes because they want to hear my quick but carefully selected Torah quotes about Passover.

    Last but not least, the kashrut of my Passover hosts is 1,000 times more reliable than that of my non-religious relatives.

  4. I should clarify – don’t ask a shaila about whether they are allowed to drive; rather, ask a shaila about whether you are allowed to invite them for a seder, knowing that they will drive home on yom tov.

    I realize that the answer to a shaila about whether they are “allowed” to drive will likely be “no”.

  5. I think most non-frum family of BT’s would love a traditional seder if they would avail themselves of the experience.

    I agree – but many would hesitate to accept an invitation because their frum relatives require them to sleep over for 2 days in order to do so. If you are considering inviting non-frum relatives for a seder, ask a shaila if they are permitted to drive home afterwards, if this is the only condition on which they will attend.

  6. I’ve been frum over 30 years, and only once did my family attend our seder. Although we’ve always had enjoyable sedarim with friends, it’s not the same as sharing Pesach with your family.

    As an aside, many years ago we adopted the family minhag of having no (non-family) guests the first night so our kids were able to share all they’ve learned. It completely changed the way our children experience the sedarim.

    Four years ago, my mother, who lives locally, started to stay with us for the entire week of Pesach (& RH, YK & Sukkot) out of necessity. Although I grew up in a traditional Sephardic home with a Pesach seder (on Pesach dishes), over the years the seder got shorter and less important than the meal.

    My mother (now 85), has a blast. It’s fun, intellectually stimulating and everyone contributes and gets involved with skits, flying plastic frogs, etc. She is amazaed at the depth of my children’s knowledge and looks forward to Pesach all year.

    I’m so glad that we have been able to share Pesach with her while she’s still well enough to participate. It has also reinforced what was BH, an already good relationship with their grandmother.

    I think most non-frum family of BT’s would love a traditional seder if they would avail themselves of the experience. It’s a shame that many non-frum relatives cannot free themselves from secular bondage.

    Chag kasher v’sameach to all

  7. I think of Pesach as a Time Machine. It brings back memories of Seders more than forty years ago, conducted by people who are no longer with us. That was when I was the youngest girl and asked the Four Questions. Also coming back to me are remembrances of Seders held when my children, now adults, were young. Now I am the “Bubbee.” I am reminded of the Manischewitz commercial that says, “We remember when the oldest at your Seder Table was the youngest.”

    Every family should have their own Seder Night customs and rituals. It’s part of making (hopefully good) memories. In our house, the kids (now adults) sing, “Matzah zoo, the matzah’s in the zoo,” and “Pesach – Matzah – Maror; What is it all for?” Every few minutes, someone at the table says, “And the answer is….” in a singsong voice. I suspect they got all of this Pesach shtick from an old Pesach tape in the nineteen-eighties; nevertheless, all this shtick has shtuck.

  8. David,

    Perhaps the phenomenon we are witnessing here is that the son who does not know how to ask has BECOME the father who does not know how to answer. And a son who asks questions is Hashem’s way of forcing him to find out…

  9. Sometimes people can feel MORE comfortable eating in their non-Orthodox but traditional parent’s home on Pesach than during the rest of the year, because if the parents take Pesach seriously, it can be the one time that you’re sure that all the food has a hechshor.

  10. Just thought of a different angle along the lines of Jak’s point.(I guess my brain does work on four hours of sleep) The Haggadah speaks of the child who doesn’t know how to ask, we are witnessing the father who doesn’t know how to answer. Baruch Hashem, many of us have been fortunate enough to help them get to the point where they are able to answer.

  11. I never thought of that one specifically but either way, I’m pretty sure it’s an indication that the final redemption can’t be too far off.

    Chag Kasher v’Sameach to all at beyond BT and may we merit to see that final redemption soon!

  12. Jak,

    Great point! Perhaps the fulfillment of the prophecy: And they shall return the hearts of the fathers through the hearts of the sons.

    Chag Kasher V’Sameach.

  13. For the past few years, my family has gone to my aunt in Jerusalem for seder, however this year my Dad has decided to hold it at home for the first time.
    I can fully relate to chapter 2 of the above post. Currently I am helping my Dad go through the Haggadah and prepare the steps for the seder.
    And yesterday it suddenly occurred to me what a strange phenomenon this is in Jewish history – for the first time sons are telling their fathers how to fulfill the mitzvah of v’higadta lebincha!

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