Ten Tips for a Better Seder

It's a great performance. A dramatic Off-Broadway revue.

I have always had fun directing the reading of the Haggadah at the Seder. I learned this dramatic art as a child by watching my father (Rabbi Zev Zahavy) masterfully conduct the performance of the communal synagogue Seders as the rabbi of the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan.

So in the spirit of the season of rebirth and freedom, let me offer you ten tips for your seder extravaganza.

1. Script! 
Spend an hour before Passover reading through your favorite version of the Haggadah. Sort out the rituals (like Kiddush), the liturgies (like the Hallel) and the learning (like the ma nishtanah and what follows). Make marginal notes or use a highlighter.

2. Actors!
Find out who is coming (yes, Seder directors need to know that). Think through what their skills are and what role they can play in the Seder. Remember some guests may be simple, some wise, some won't know how to ask a question. Try to meet the needs of everyone assembled.

3. Casting!
The Best Ever Seder will be a collaboration of all the guests. Those who can't read Hebrew can read a passage from the Haggadah in translation (English, Russian or otherwise) or perform another essential task.

4. Props!
The matzo, maror, haroseth, shank bone, egg all have familiar symbolic meanings worth mentioning. You can include other props of your choosing for added flavor to the event: use miniature pyramids, toy or paper or chocolate frogs, relevant family memorabilia or a special illustrated Haggadah (hold it up to show it off or pass it around).

5. Child actors! 
Give them something nice at the retrieval of the afikomen or distribute something small anytime they start to lose interest.

6. Improvise!
During the reading of the Haggadah tell about how your family matriarch or patriarch conducted the Seder or prepared the meal. Reminiscing in small doses adds great flavor to your production.

7. Really! Drama!
The Seder is a drama. The guests are the actors. Yemenite Jews have the custom to dress up and walk around the table to reenact the exodus. Even if you are not much of an actor, at the very least, you can talk about how other people are dramatic.

8. No melodrama!
You and your guests all are on stage. This is not the time to bring up old family arguments. If you do, your Seder might become the "last supper" that you eat together.

9. Charm the critic! 
The matriarchs (of the families) must greet Elijah at the door. Watch as the wine in Elijah's cup changes color as he sips from it. Talk about loss and the mystical redemption.

10. Bring down the curtain with with over-the-top gusto!
Sing the closing songs in all the ways you can remember. You can sing Chad Gadya in Yiddish, if someone knows how, or you can add the animal sounds. Have fun -- these are supposed to be rowdy songs that you sing after drinking four cups of wine.

As the seder thespians say, "Break a shankbone!" Good luck and have a happy and kosher Pesach.

[annual repost, with a rewrite]


michael said...

Very nice suggestions...
I could add, try to do great dvar Thora, or comments from sage...

bryce said...

Very nice suggestions.

Tzipporah said...

How about - "Invite the rabbi, to ensure that your guests behave" ? :)