Choose your own adventure

Creative ways to host a meaningful and memorable seder

Hacks for Passover image

No two Passover seders are alike. 

Families observe in their own unique ways. While some go strictly by the book in commemorating the enduring story of the Jews' Exodus from Egypt, others chart the fastest course to the seder meal and cherry pick the Haggadah's greatest hits: the four questions, "Dayenu," recitation of the 10 plagues, and blessings over the wine. Some seder leaders are compelled to address current events as they relate to the Jews' struggle against oppression, while others insist attendees leave their politics at the door. Meanwhile, conspiratorial children plot to go National Treasure on the afikomen. 

Although there is no one right way to conduct the Passover seder, here are several creative ways to help ensure that your own seder proceeds smoothly and successfully. 

Know your audience

Our family Haggadah (Rabbi Nathan Goldberg's edition) served us well for decades, but, admittedly, isn't very kid friendly. Growing up, it invariably came my turn to read at the paragraph with all the hard-to-pronounce rabbi names, or the giggle-inducing passage that ended, "…and yet you remain naked and bare." 

Today, a wide range can be downloaded or purchased. My brother uses the self-billed, rabbinically approved "30 Minute Seder: The Haggadah That Blends Brevity with Tradition."

The seder plate

Passover is a labor-intensive holiday, and many choose to prepare seder staples, including soup or brisket, ahead of time. One Passover tradition you can take off your plate is the preparation of the seder plate. Call your local grocery store in advance to see if they will prepare a traditional seder plate for you. In fact, Sunset Foods in the northern suburbs offers this service. 

A recipe for a delicious seder

 

Chicago suburban resident Shira Cohen and her Israeli parents have their own time-honored recipes that make their seder unique. When it comes to the great matzah ball debate, they are proponents of "small size and fluffy with fresh dill…not the size of a baseball with the consistency of cement." 

They also recommend marinating brisket all night in the refrigerator with mustard, honey, wine, and a lot of herbs. 

"After we suffered enough in building the pyramids, we deserve an easy cake: a chocolate matzah cake, which is matzah dipped in wine with melted dark chocolate," Cohen says. She also recommends that if your seder is potluck-style, make sure that the dishes your guests bring are salads or desserts, and not main courses.

 

Make it fun

While mileage may vary on Passover puns ("afikomen is better than none") or jokes (the one about Queen Elizabeth with the punchline, "Why is this knight different from all other knights?"), injecting some fun into the proceedings keeps young attendees engaged in the proceedings. 

The Cohen family decorates the table with small toy frogs and other holiday symbols. Highland Park resident Rachel Schulman reports that at one seder she attended, the host made a game out of the Haggadah readings. They set an oven timer, and when it went off, the person reading won a prize.

Raiders of the lost Afikomen

One rookie mistake is hiding the afikomen in a location that so baffles the hunters that it leads to frustration and a torn-up house. Maps are an interactive way to keep children involved in the search and encourages teamwork. Clues related to Passover are not only instructive, but lead the hunters closer to their goal.

Donald Liebenson is a Chicago writer who writes for VanityFair.com, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, and other outlets.

 


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