Years ago, unplanned repair work on our house in early spring devastated our kitchen and dining room, ripped up our living room carpet, and threatened to destroy our plans for a comfortable, traditional Passover Seder. Add to it that more than half the guests were under 6 years old and could barely sit still long enough to dip the karpas in the salt water and we quickly realized that our Passover celebration needed to be creatively re-imagined.
We wondered: how were we going to make a Seder experience that taught our multi-generational gathering about the holiday’s central messages? That we journeyed from slavery to freedom, and that we must help others do the same. Sitting around a traditionally set table was just not in the cards.
We discovered that with creative and open minds, a willingness to merge tradition and innovation, and an accessible flexible Haggadah, an engaging Passover Seder can be had.
We threw borrowed gym mats over the living room concrete, placed Seder symbol-laden coffee tables around the room, and let the kids roll around while we told stories, read interesting tidbits from the Haggadah, and experienced the tactile sensations of the rituals. We realized that like for any other meaningful celebration – a birthday party, for example – the key to memorable success was to intermix food, family, songs and stories, ritual and readings in a meaningful way. We discovered that tradition and innovation needed to go hand and hand.
We also realized that our Seder needed a Haggadah that was filled rich and varied readings, colorful interpretations, easily accessible instructions, and enticing visualization from which we could sample. We have become enamored with Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family (written by Alan S. Yoffie, illustrations by Mark Podwal) published by the CCAR Press. This rabbi-approved Haggadah is as accessible and creative as our personally cut-and-pasted booklets of our younger years with a few fantastic differences: Adults and children alike always seem to discover age appropriate material that uplifts and inspires. Teens and college students appreciate its ability to challenge contemporary understandings, while the grandparents like that it has enough traditionalism to recall their Seders of old. We like the fact that we can use it both at one night’s creative and another evening’s more traditional sit down Seder.
Over the years our Seders have changed. Our guests still enjoy the unique touches that invite contemplation: the football on the Seder plate, (suggesting that just as the Angel passed over the Israelites, perhaps we need to ensure that we hit our intended moral target), and history books strewn around the room (sparking a great discussion of whether the Exodus is historical or not and whether that matters). We just schepp nachas (are bursting the pride) that to this day our kids, relatives and friends enjoy these longer and deeper annual opportunities to explore the abiding lessons of Passover.
Rabbi Paul Kipnes is Vice President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and serves Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California. Paul also co-wrote Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness.