My father passed away this past year. I will be leading the family Seder this year for the first time; we are expecting 30 people. My father held a somewhat traditional Seder, which didn’t go too far in holding the interest of people our generation and younger. What points do you think should be stressed in a Seder? Also, is there a Haggadah that would help make this Seder more relevant?
I am sorry to hear about your father’s passing. I’m sure your running the Seder in his stead and honor will bring him much nachas as he participates from on high.
I’m not sure how your father led the Seders, but yours should be conducted mostly in English, so all will understand the meaning of what is being said. Even if songs you sing from the Haggadah are in Hebrew, be sure someone reads the English first, so everyone understands the meaning of the songs.
An important point to stress is that the Haggadah story is the first time in history God revealed Himself to the entire world. Egypt was the seat of world trade and culture at that time, and people from all the inhabited world frequented that country for trade and other reasons. The 10 plagues took place over a period of 10 months, close to an entire year, in front of the entire civilized world. This showed the world there is a Creator who knows what is going on in the world, who controls and interacts with people, and even speaks to them directly. This event caused a paradigm shift in the world’s concept of God. This shift continued through Sinai and the following 40 years in the desert. Our belief in God and what He stands for came from this period. The Passover story is the key to the core Jewish belief in God.
Another key concept to stress is that of appreciation. All Seder rituals express our thanks to God for having redeemed us from Egypt and all the troubled times throughout our often-rocky history. Many have said that the greatest miracle since leaving Egypt is that we have survived. When is the last time you bumped into an Egyptian, a Babylonian, or even a Roman in Tom Thumb? Jews were the downtrodden, the vanquished, and they were the powerful conquerors, so where are they? The Seder focuses on appreciation and thanksgiving, and ends with the Hallel prayer, a prayer of thanks in its entirety. Some classical commentators stress that we need to tell the Seder story in a way that allows all participants to feel they have been redeemed, and to express their appreciation to God. This also is meant to be the cornerstone of teaching Jews to be an appreciative people, always expressing their thanks, not only to God, but to anyone from whom they benefit.
Finally, the real key to a meaningful Seder is to make it fun. Use your imagination to dress up the room or the table in a way which will draw everyone in. Use toy animals and army men to act out the plagues or to tell the story of slavery. A handful of marbles (or small Passover marshmallows) can create great hail. I always strongly recommend the “Passover Survival Kit Haggadah” (Shimon Apisdorf/Leviathan Press), which makes the Seder fun, meaningful and relevant.
Good luck with your Seder this year. I wish you and all the readers a pleasant and successful journey in making this year’s Seder the best one ever.