By Ron Wolfson
1. Give Homework. When the Weber family invites the Wolfson family for the seder, we are asked to prepare a presentation on some aspect of the ceremony. The presentation could be a drash, an explanation of what the haggadah is trying to say. But over the years our presentations have also been given as a play, a song, and a takeoff on a game show. Not everyone in your family may be able to do this, but there is no better way to encourage participation than by asking people to prepare something in advance.
2. Buy Time. The seders of my youth never lasted more than 20 minutes. One way to buy time to dwell on the story is to offer your guests something to nibble on between the vegetables of karpas and the meal. My wife, Susie, often prepares an edible centerpiece. She and the children slice jicama (a kind of vegetable) very thin and, with Jewish cookie cutters, stamp out Stars of David, Torah scrolls and kiddish cups. After karpas, we invite our guests to eat this centerpiece.
3. Tell the Story. The core of the seder is the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The traditional text of the haggadah contains four different tellings of the story, each one beginning with a question, a response, and praise for God. Think of ways to tell the story that supplement the haggadah. One year we were invited to a seder where the host family put on a skit. Stan Reiner’s “Seder Scenes” (Alternatives in Religious Education) is a good resource for this activity. Another family we know of used puppets and storybooks. The most unusual telling, however, had to be the family who presented a magical version of the Ten Plagues in costume.
4. Ask Questions. The haggadah invites questions. Encourage your guests to liberate themselves from the book and discuss what it is that the haggadah is trying to tell us. A favorite point at which to do this is after the recitation of the Ten Plagues. “What are 10 things that plague us today?”
5. Have Fun. Having family fun is serious business, especially at the seder table. The seder was never meant to be dull. Quite the contrary, it is to be a relaxed, informal educational experience. Some families add favorite songs that children learn in religious school.
6. Be Inclusive. Inside most Jewish adults is a child who was upset at not finding the afikomen, or ceremonial piece of matzah. We have created a way to include everyone in the afikomen search. We make a chart with the order of the seder and select one letter from each word. We put these 14 letters on 3-by-5 cards and then hide them around the house. The children must find at least one of the cards for us to find the real afikomen. Everyone who participates gets a prize.
7. Use Materials. One of the problems in keeping young children interested in the seder is that most haggadahs are not designed for them. When our children were in nursery school, Susie created a “Pat the Bunny”-type haggadah using the coloring sheets. She added tactile materials and gave each child a “goody bag” filled with Passover symbols.
8. Innovations. Each year, experienced seder leaders look for new ideas to incorporate into the ceremony. Instead of filling Elijah’s cup with wine at the beginning of the seder, wait until just before opening the door and pass the cup to each participant to pour some of his/her wine into it. The Sephardim pick up the seder plate and place it over every person’s head during the recitation of Ha Lachma Anya.
9. Choose a Good Haggadah. There are 3,000 editions of the haggadah catalogs in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and every year more versions appear. Choose a haggadah that fits your family’s needs.
10. Prepare. The ultimate haggadah may be one you put together yourself. With desktop publishing software and inexpensive printing widely available, it is not difficult to edit your own haggadah text and combine traditional texts with modern interpretations.