Tag: Passover

Wandering the Wilderness in the Sunshine of Sedona

Reflections as We Prepare for Pesach
Pesach 5766 / April 2006

I was taught that our Israelite ancestors wandered for forty years in the wilderness as punishment for remaining tied to slavery. When offered the opportunity at Kadesh-Barnea to enter into the Promised Land, they lost faith in God and followed the fearful advice of the ten spies. Thus, that generation had to die off so a new generation could arise that knew not the mindset of slavery. Lessons learned. I never really contemplated what else years in the wilderness might teach, until a pre-Passover trek to the Arizona desert aroused my senses.

It all began when my wife proposed a fabulous idea: Let’s use the few days prior to Passover to take a family trip to Sedona. So, after finagling seats at a friend’s first night Seder table (we will host our second night), we took off for on our wilderness trek.

The Irony of Driving out to the Desert
We chose to drive. Did you know that five hours out of Los Angeles, much of the stretch on the 10 Freeway appears to be nothing but dry soil, scraggly desert plants, and a whole bunch of dust? It became a challenge to keep the brain from bursting with boredom and the kids from descending into the oppressive crankiness of an interminably long trip. I retreated into my rabbi-brain as we passed time by reviewing the menu for our Seder meal.

Just outside of Phoenix, I began to realize the irony of this pre-Passover trip. Here we were getting a jump on the holiday spirit, by driving from the jungles of Tarzana out to the desert, even as our Jewish brothers and sisters world-wide prepared for that ritual journey from Egypt into the Wilderness. What the ancient Israelites did with trepidation – leaving the known, venturing out toward the vague promises of a land flowing with milk and honey – my family did with carefree anticipation. After all, Sedona, reportedly an oasis of beauty, art and spiritual vortexes, offered clear promises of rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Of course, the rabbi in me wondered, what other lessons for Passover might be gleaned from this irony?

Leaving Egypt: Much More than Charlton Heston Showed Us
I love Pesach. Yitziat mitrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, is engrained in my soul. We relive it every year, in keeping with the rabbinic injunction – b’chol dor vador chayav adam lirot et atzmo ke-ilu hu yatza mimitrayim, in every generation, a person must see him/herself as if he/she left Egypt. Unlike many of my generation whose vision of the Exodus trek only references those depicted in Cecile B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments and Steven Speilberg’s Prince of Egypt, my exodus memories are steeped in much more. I have twice glimpsed Egypt, having traveled physically through Egypt’s poverty-stricken streets, cruised down the Nile, and climbed up the sides of the Pyramids reportedly built by our ancestors. I once even experienced yitziat mitzrayim, the going out from Egypt, by way of an arduous sweaty bus journey back to Israel, just days before the first night of Passover. Moreover, after a semester study of possible Exodus routes, my class wandered the wadis and walkways of Sinai on an organized trip. Through each experience, the transition from Egypt to the Wilderness was paradoxically a journey from slavery to freedom and (temporarily at least) from bad to worse.

Wilderness Wanderings: Ain’t No Palm Desert Vacation!
I have vague memories of the Sinai desert as being hot, dry and only barely hospitable to humans, unless you were either a Bedouin, a Palm Springs native, or trucking in with you sufficient supplies of water, food and directions to the nearest Desert Hilton. The Biblical exodus must have been challenging to endure. No wonder our people complained profusely about the lack of meat and water. The boredom was bitter as they journeyed from here to there (“How much longer, Daddy? Oh, thirty-five or so years…now be quiet and watch your DVD – dromedary viewing device”).

One even can imagine how the Golden Calf incident was possible. What would you do, a few weeks out of Egypt, when the legendary leader Moses disappeared for forty days to commune with God only knows what atop that nearby mountain? Chances are you too might begin to look for reassurance that the trip was really worth it. How easily might we all idly slip back into the comfort of idol-worship! Back in Biblical times, idols were to the ancients what Christmas trees and Easter eggs are to today’s Gentiles – the public symbol of a deeper religious system, easily enticing us non-believers into a ritual-filled romance with their “holiday season.” So some of them constructed the Golden Calf, turning away from the Holy One, and leading to behaviors that ultimately set them wandering for forty years.

Yet, if the Exodus and its wilderness trek were so terrible, why do we bother reliving it each year? Why not focus solely on the uplifting moments – receiving Torah, arriving finally at the Promised Land, tasting for the first time the milk and honey that flowed unimpeded?

Wilderness Without Massages: How Different Must Their Desert Trek Have Been!
This year’s trip to the Arizona desert reminded me that we moderns cannot begin to comprehend what our Biblical ancestors had to endure in their trek through the desert. In Sedona, the food was plentiful. We dined at the Red Planet restaurant, tasting fried cactus and sharing the scenery with UFO’s and an array of aliens. As Torah teaches ger hayiti b’eretz mitzrayim, I too was a stranger – an alien – in the land of Egypt. Of course, my journey was far from hazardous. Our Pink Jeep Trek driver expertly navigated the dips and drops along Broken Arrow trail, returning us on time to our hotel. (It made me wonder: if Driver Dave had been leading the Exodus, with big tips looking promising, might the Israelites have made it more quickly into the Promised Land?) Of course, in Sedona the amenities were many. It was amazing what an hour and a half hot rock massage can do to rejuvenate the soul after an arduous day spent lounging at the pool or scouring nearby art galleries.

Still, watching the sun set beautifully over the mesas surrounding Sedona invited visions of divinity that we so often miss. Who but the Creator on High could so artfully blend the bright red rock with the green of desert brush to affect such a vision of holiness? Even the best of Tinseltown’s lighting crews cannot approximate that majesty of Sedona at twilight, when each new moment brings out different shades and colors from the Creator’s palate of hues. Golel or mipnay choshech, v’choshech mipnay or – rolling light away from darkness and darkness away from light. As the Ma’ariv Aravim prayer reminds us nightly, it is God who shines the light just right, so that the panorama of our lives shifts exquisitely, highlighting new possibilities here, backlighting the curve of a beautiful butte there. Simply put, this family retreat reopened my eyes to the beauty surrounding us. Perhaps herein can be found the lessons of our Sedona Exodus.

Open Your Eyes to the Majestic Colors, the Ethereal Lights
In Egypt, where our ancestors were forced to make their home for four hundred plus years, we were in exile. Though rooted in the intensity of Egypt, the stunning capital of the ancient Near East, the Israelites couldn’t see the light. In Egypt, like in our much of our lives today, they failed to recognize the bright colors of their existence. Lost amidst the very real sufferings of slavery, a discerning vision of holiness was nowhere to be found. As the Baal Shem Tov taught, m’lo chol haaretz k’vodo, the whole earth is filled with God’s glory. Only we humans take our little hands and cover our eyes. It took the bright lights and bold colors of the exodus and the wilderness trek to shake our ancestors from their sensory complacency. The radiant orange and yellow of the burning bush. The deep red of blood in the Nile, the smothering black of the darkness, and a spectrum of froggie greens. The luminescence of that pillar of fire that guided us by day. These opened their eyes to the wonders surrounding them and to the holiness within. Only then could they prepare themselves for the promising future as God’s chosen.

And so ends this pre-Pesach get-away. I imagine that preparing this year’s seder will be different. Awed as we were by the majestic color and the ethereal light of the world around us, will we be more open to the holiness within? Eyes opened to wonder, will we be more fully prepared to raise a cup of wine, or four, in recognition of the beauty of creation and of the Creator’s role in bringing us to it? I hope so.

This year, take a moment at your seder to reflect upon the blessings the Creator bestowed upon you: the freedom to move in and around God’s world. Chag Pesach Samayach – May this Passover be wonderful!

Passover: Ancient Rituals, Contemporary Perspectives

Dressing in Drag, Getting Stoned, Pillow Talk, Feeling the Beat! Passover Like You’ve Never Considered Before!

Pesach, the story of our people’s ancient flight from slavery to freedom, reminds us that ours is the way of freedom. The Haggadah, more than a backward-looking book, calls upon each and every one of us, in each and every generation, lirot et atzmo k’eelu hu yatza meemitzrayim, to see him/herself as if he/she went out of Egypt.

Judaism compels us to translate into reality the sacred ideal of the humanity of each individual and the Divine spark within us. Judaism not only condemns all racial bigotry; it affirms the belief in the sanctity of humans created in the image of God. Judaism thus places a moral responsibility upon its adherents to affirm the equality of all human beings as children of the One Universal God.

The Jewish community has been the quintessential victim of religious persecution, and of all people, we understand the duress of persecution and will devote ourselves to any measures designed to lessen its impact. It is our duty and obligation to prevent any future persecution. The most repeated commandment in the Torah, appearing 36 times, is that we must not discriminate against the stranger in our midst, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Our evening around the table calls us to reenact on that very night – through symbolic foods, dramatic readings, and intense discussion – the quest for justice and freedom. Throughout history, Jews have creatively reengaged our traditional story, creating new rituals, to teach ever new messages.

Dressing in Drag 1: In 1853, Yisrael ben Yosef Benjamin described a ceremony in Asia before the recitation of the Haggadah in which a young person dressed up in kley golah (from Ezekiel 12:3 meaning “gear for exile”) and appeared before the participants with a walking staff in hand and a satchel over the shoulder. An adult asked, “From where do you come, O pilgrim?” “From the land of Egypt,” answered the lad. “Did you go out to freedom from the bondage of Egypt?” “Yes indeed,” replied the lad, “and now I am a free man.” “And where are you going?” “I am going to Jerusalem,” he responded. Then with great joy the participants begin to tell the story of the Exodus… When possible, invite new immigrants to your home so that they can tell their stories.

Civil War Bricks: During the American Civil War (1860-1865), a group of Jewish Union soldiers made a Seder for themselves in the wilderness of West Virginia. They had none of the ingredients for traditional haroset available, so they put a real brick in its place on the Seder plate! Families having remodeling work done on their houses might save a chunk of plaster or brick to place on the Seder table. What better way to highlight the difference between our freedom to choose to build and the oppression of living a life of forced labor.

Getting Stoned: Shemuel ben Hallal relates that his Moroccan uncle, who is a rabbi in Brooklyn, is accustomed to grating rocks into the haroset. Indeed, he adds so much rock that the haroset tastes terrible! While we do not suggest anyone adopt this custom, it is a creative attempt to illustrate the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt in a very “concrete” fashion!

Dressing in Drag 2: Back in the 1530’s, when participants opened the door for shefokh, (Elijah’s cup), someone in costume enters the room quickly, as if he is Elijah himself coming to announce the coming of the Messiah. R. Yosef Yuzpah Hahn (1570-1637) says “how good is the custom that they do something in memory of the Messiah.” How surprising that my family was not the first to think of this!

Communal Drinking: Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz (1760-1827) initiated a beautiful custom. Following Birkat Ha’Mazon (the blessing after the meal), each participant poured some wine from their kiddush cup into Elijah’s Cup. In this way, he taught that each person has the responsibility to create conditions in the world that would encourage the messiah to come and finish the perfecting of the world. As you pour wine from your cup into Elijah’s, share with those at your Seder what you have decided to do this year to grow closer to God and to bring more justice into the world.

Buying Dessert: Others suggest that in ransoming or redeeming the afikoman, instead of just “paying off” the children, each participant at the Seder should also “purchase” his or her share to eat. Money seems inappropriate for such a purchase. So make a pledge of action, vowing to carry out ma’asim tovim (good deeds), as well as acts of tzedakah (charitable giving) and gemilut hesed (lovingkindness). For example, one might pledge to bring food to a homeless shelter or begin to visit the sick at a local hospital. Or, one might begin our search for the Messiah by engaging in Jewish learning or participating in personal and communal prayer. Think of what you will offer for the afikoman this year as it is passed around the table.

Pillow Talk: Noam Zion of Israel teaches that the idea of reclining on Pesach presupposes a social world in which, as in the Greco-Roman nobility, meals were often taken while the guests reclined on their left arms on couches, leaving their right hand free to dip and taste. At each couch was a small table with individual portions, like today’s Seder plate. However, since the European Middle Ages, it is no longer the way of nobility to recline. In fact, eating while reclining on pillows is the way of the sick. Still, Rabbi Y. M. Epstein teaches that everyone should be provided with a pillow precisely because it is an outmoded and outlandish custom. For the point of the Seder is to introduce changes into the meal, so the children will be roused to ask “Why is this night different from all other nights?” By the same token it would be ideal for everyone to have his or her own Seder plate.

Lesbians at the Seder Table: In the early 1980’s, Jewish scholar Susannah Heschel (daughter of the famous Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King), was introduced to an early feminist Haggadah that suggested adding a crust of bread on the Seder plate, as a sign of solidarity with Jewish lesbians (which was intended to convey the idea that there is as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate). Heschel felt that to put bread on the Seder plate would be to accept that Jewish lesbians and gay men violate Judaism like hametz [leavened food] violates Passover. So at her next Seder, she chose an orange as a symbol of inclusion of gays and lesbians and others who are marginalized within the Jewish community. She offered the orange as a symbol of the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life. In addition, each orange segment had a few seeds that had to be spit out – a gesture of spitting out, repudiating the homophobia of many Jews. While lecturing, Heschel often mentioned her custom as one of many feminist rituals that have been developed in the last 20 years. She writes, “Somehow, though, the typical patriarchal maneuver occurred. My idea of an orange and my intention of affirming lesbians and gay men was transformed. Now the story circulates that thirty years ago a man said to me that a woman belongs on the bimah [podium of a synagogue] as an orange on the Seder plate. A woman’s words are attributed to a man, and the affirmation of lesbians and gay men is erased. Isn’t that precisely what’s happened over the centuries to women’s ideas?” Today, let us place an orange on the Seder plate to reaffirm the openness of our Jewish community to lesbians and gay men and to others who have been marginalized.

Vegetarians Feel the Beat: Ever since the Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Huna, stated that “beets and rice” may be used for the two cooked foods on the Seder plate (Pesachim 114b), many vegetarians have substituted a red beet for the shankbone. In fact, while some wonder if Pesach and vegetarianism are compatible (after all, what is a Seder without gefilte fish, chicken soup, chopped liver, chicken and other meats) there is a common misconception that halacha (Jewish law) mandates that Jews eat meat to rejoice on Pesach and other Jewish festivals. According to the Talmud (Pesachim 109a), since the destruction of the Temple, Jews need not eat meat to celebrate festivals.

Surfing Seder: In the internet age, some families asked all the adults attending the Seder to search the web to bring with them one example of oppression, discrimination or social injustice in our world today. They also asked them to bring a few suggestions regarding how they can combat the problem they discussed. During the Seder, they intersperse presentations about modern day problems with the Haggadah’s story about the slavery of the Jews. Before the Seder ends, each person is asked to commit to some action to help alleviate one of these social problems.

Checking Out: Some families have a checkbook ready on the Seder table. Following the traditional recitation of the ten plagues, and a discussion of the modern plagues that are destroying our world, the children and adults choose one or two organizations which help alleviate these problems. They immediately write out a check before the urge to change the world diminishes. During the days that follow, they make plans to write letters to government officials to urge them to act to stop these injustices.

Dressing in Drag 3: The Jews of Morocco had the following custom: After reading the Haggadah, all of the adults put a stick with a bundle on their shoulders and they leave the house in haste, running and shouting: “In this way did our ancestors leave Egypt, with ‘their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks upon their shoulders’” (Exodus 12:34).

May these ancient customs and contemporary perspectives entice you to dig deeply into the Passover story to reclaim its essential purpose: to goad us all into action to rid the world of prejudice, oppression, and injustice.

Can We Eat Beans, Rice, Corn and Peas on Passover?

Jewish Tradition on Chametz and Kitniyot

By Rabbi Eric Berk (with Rabbi Paul Kipnes)
Passover 2007 * Nisan 5767

When was the last time you remembered something? Did you remember something that you had forgotten, or was it something you just hadn’t thought about in a while? How did you remember? Was it by seeing, thinking, smelling, tasting? What was the memory: hazy, blurry, sharp, clear? It isn’t just scientists and biologists who know that memory is often a complex and complicated process. Our ancient tradition and rabbis knew this as well, and put all their efforts into Passover. Therefore, something as seemingly simple as food becomes a trigger for memory, or a reminder of the past: our own past as well as our people’s distant past as slaves under Pharaoh.

Perhaps, what first comes to mind when thinking of Passover’s foods is Matzah. What is it, beyond “square,” or “round”? Boxes of Matzah – that plain, flat, and, well, plain unleavened bread – can most often been seen blocking the path of your shopping cart as your buy gefilte fish and other, tastier Pesach delicacies. Most literally, Matzah is unleavened bread. Symbolically, it is most often seen as a symbol of freedom, that first food eaten by a newly freed people. At the same time, Matzah is also the “bread of affliction,” the bread of poverty. So simultaneously Matzah serves as a warning, or reminder, as well: our Jewish tradition does not equate freedom with wealth.

What is Chametz and Why Can’t We Eat It?
Of course, we cannot have Matzah, unleavened bread, without it’s opposite: leaven, or chametz. You might find it surprising that the Torah is more stringent about chametz than any other forbidden food! Chametz refers to products made from wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt. According to the Talmud (B. Pesachim 35a), these are the only grains from which Matzah can be made, and therefore, strictly speaking, the only ones which are subject to the Torah’s prohibition of eating chametz, or leaven, on Passover.

If that helps describe chametz literally, how might be describe chametz symbolically? Have you ever watched dough rise in the oven, or have you ever just seen bread? Dough rises, and what results is “puffed-up,” bigger than before. Full of air – or perhaps full of itself. That is exactly what chametz has come to symbolize. Philo, a Greek-Jewish philosopher, described chametz as “pride,” because leavened bread is “puffed-up.” Removing chametz on Passover from our homes, our lives, our families, is a struggle between who we really are now and who we can be once we strip away all the trappings of self-importance.

If chametz is so negative, why do we eat it all year? While it is oftentimes very difficult to be a Jew, the Jewish Tradition does not demand of us that which is impossible. Of course, Jewish Tradition doesn’t prohibit the eating of Matzah after Passover either!

What are Kitniyot and What are the Rules about Eating Kitniyot?
Just as chametz grows and grows (in the oven), so too did the category of chametz expand. For Ashkenazim (Jews of Eastern European descent), the tradition on Passover has been to not eat foods considered “Kitniyot,” which includes many legumes, as well as beans, peas, rice, millet, corn, and seeds. There have been many reasons Ashkenazic communities refrained from eating Kitniyot. For example, there was a concern that because Kitniyot can be ground to make flour and then baked, one could mistakenly assume that their neighbor was eating chametz. Furthermore, there was concern that chametz grain might get mixed up with the kitniyot, if they were stored in close proximity. This kitniyot prohibition was not accepted by most Sephardim (Jews of Spanish or Arab descent) – but that is not to say Sephardic observance of Passover has been any less meaningful than that of their Ashkenazic neighbors. Why is it, then, that many Jews who might not have done so in the past, now eat kitniyot during Passover?

In the recent past, two groups of rabbis have met and, independent of one another, ruled that both Ashkenazim and Sephardim should be permitted to eat rice, corn, and kitniyot during Pesach. Who were these groups, and how did they determine such a ruling? The two groups were the Responsa Committee of the Reform Movement, and the Responsa Committee of the Israeli Conservative Movement. Each Responsum (or rabbinic decision) is available on the internet ( Reform and Israeli Conservative).

Why do Two Groups of Rabbis Now Permit Eating Kitniyot on Passover?
Briefly, these rabbinical committees determined that the prohibition of eating of rice, beans and kitniyot is in direct contradiction to the opinion of all the sages of the Mishnah and Talmud (except one), and also contradicts the theory as well as the practice of more than fifty post-Talmudic Sages. Opposition to the ban on eating kitniyot began around the time of it’s inception in 13th century France, with one Rabbi calling the practice “a mistaken custom,” and the second rabbi calling it “a foolish custom”. With regard to Halachah (Jewish law), the central question is this: whether it is permissible to do away with a mistaken or foolish custom. Many rabbinical authorities (including the Rambam, or Moses Maimonides) have ruled that it is permitted (and perhaps even obligatory!) to do away with this type of “foolish custom”. Furthermore, there are many good reasons to do away with this “foolish custom.” A foolish custom

  1. Detracts from the joy of the holiday by limiting the number of permitted foods.
  2. Causes exorbitant price rises, which result in “major financial loss,” and, as is well known, “The Torah takes pity on the people of Israel’s money”.
  3. Emphasizes the insignificant (legumes) and ignores the significant (the avoidance of chametz).
  4. Can cause people to ridicule Jewish ritual in general and the prohibition against eating chametz in particular. One might think that if this custom prohibiting eating kitniyot has no purpose yet is observed, then perhaps there is no reason to observe other mitzvot.
  5. Can even cause divisions between World Jewry’s ethnic groups.

May I Still Refrain from Eating Kitniyot if I Want To Do So?
On the other hand, there is only one reason to observe this custom: the desire to preserve an old custom. While this desire can be very strong, our rabbinic decisors agreed that this desire does not override all that was mentioned above. However, there will be Ashkenazim who will want to stick to the “custom of their ancestors,” and who will be drawn to that tradition, even though they know that it is permitted to eat kitniyot on Pesach. Remember, this too is permissible, especially in light of Reform Judaism’s openness to all aspects of Jewish tradition.

Rabbi David Golinkin concluded the Israeli Conservative Movement’s Responsum by stating that with a willingness to eat kitniyot on Pesach (Passover), “This will make their lives easier and will add joy and pleasure to their observance of Pesach.” It can become very easy to think that observing Pesach represents an unbearable burden: so much preparation, the need to give up chametz and instead eat Matzah – the list surely goes on. We must remember that Matzah is not only the “bread of affliction,” but the symbol of freedom as well!
Increasing the Joy and Pleasure during Passover
Rabbi Golinkin ends his legal decision with an understanding and insightful directive. He notes that adding joy and pleasure to our observance of Pesach was probably not on our Passover shopping lists – and if it was, did it even make the top 10? Now we have an opportunity to prepare for Pesach with an additional item on our “to do” lists: adding joy and pleasure to our observance of Pesach.

May this be a meaningful Pesach for you and your loved ones!

Yachatz: The Middle Matzah of Brokenness (a New Ritual)

Haggadah Insert for Use during this Financial Depression
By Rabbi Paul Kipnes,
Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas, CA
With help from Rabbinic Student Ilana Mills
Formatted copy here.

Pass out copies and read before other Yachatz readings. The leader takes out the middle Matzah, breaks it in two and holds up both pieces.

Reader 1: At every Passover seder, we break the middle matzah. In a few moments, we will put the larger piece aside for the Afikoman or dessert. Usually, we place the smaller piece back between the two whole Matzot, as we prepare to remember our ancestors’ lives as slaves in Egypt. Tonight, however, we delay the second part of the ritual so we can consider the brokenness in our world.

Everyone: Tonight, throughout our country and our world, and even perhaps around our Seder table, people are experiencing more brokenness than in recent memory. Younger and older; working, unemployed and retired; singles and couples, and families of all configurations – so many lives have been damaged by the economic depression and uncertainty about the future. Unlike the middle matzah broken on purpose, they find that a series of financial decisions – some made by them, some out of their control – have shattered their economic security.

Reader 2: Tonight, different than in previous years, we take this second piece of matzah and crumble it here (on a plate or on the tablecloth) to remind us of how amidst the current financial crisis, the world seems to be crumbling around so many people. Like the glass broken at a wedding which reminds us of the tireless work the couple must do to escape shattering their marriage, this crumbled matzah reminds us of all the work we must do to help others whose lives are shattering.

Everyone: As we stare at this crumbled middle matzah, let us pause to consider the pain of lives crumbling around us. So many feel so alone. So many experience despair. Like our Israelite ancestors felt before Moses and Miriam came to set them free, our people today despair over the difficulties in repairing the brokenness of their lives.

Reader 3: Our ancestors, slaves of Pharaoh, survived the oppression in Egypt. Helping each other, holding each other up, they walked through the Yam Suf (the Red Sea). With persistence and determination, they passed through those difficult times. And we all can too. If we help each other. If we remember to open our hearts, open our wallets, open our community. If we welcome in and support those in need, those who are no longer strangers to financial struggle. And so we say together:


Ha lach-ma an-ya di a-cha-lu a-va-ha-ta-na b’ar’a d’mitz-ra-yim. This is the bread of affliction our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat; Let all who are in need come share our Passover. This year here, next year in Israel. Today bound; tomorrow free.

Liven Up Your Seder 2009

Each year, I try to provide a series of new ideas to enhance the Seder experience. Here are some engaging options for 2009, with some old favorites at the end of the post.

The Middle Matzah of Brokenness: Haggadah Insert for During Economic Recession: Add this ritual before or in place of the Yachatz reading.

Jewish World Watch’s Matzah Set: My favorite! The 5-card set explores the symbolism of Matzah as it relates to issues of affliction, redemption and action. It serves as a resource for discussion at your Seder table and as an advocacy kit with current action items!

The Fifth Question: What Would You Ask? My Rabbinical friends offer one more question to ask at the seder, along with a short elaboration on why their question is timely and meaningful. Pick one or two to read at the seder and then invite participants to answer.

Top Ten 10 popular Passover Videos of years past: many animated, many musical, not all kid-appropriate. Plus two more, from Birthright and United Jewish Communities. Consider playing one or more during your seder to engage the YouTube generation. Since seder is supposed to be a multimedia experience (playing with food, telling stories, teaching each of the four types of children in ways he/she can hear), playing YouTube video is just the next appropriate addition!

Why is There a Football and a Corkscrew on our Seder Table? Add this new ritual to your seder, encouraging new ways to tell the story of the Exodus.

In Search of Freedom: A Passover Seder for Darfur: From American Jewish World Service. Integrate elements of this or make it your seder this year.

AIPAC’s Haggadah Supplement is designed to invite discussion around your seder table about the necessity for each of us to participate in the political process in order to make a difference for America and for Israel.

Contemplating Elijah: Read and consider at the appropriate Seder moment: Harvey Cox comments: “I have come to look forward to the opening of the door for an Elijah who is always a no-show, and I have come to believe that precisely by not appearing, that great prophet is showing us something we need to know. What does it mean that there is never anyone at the door? What if, for all practical purposes, no messiah can be counted on? Would that make any significant difference in the way we engage in the present human enterprise?” Through the poem Elijah’s Violin, poet David Lehman responds.

Contemplating Elijah 2: Poet Phil Schultz responds to: “The question is by not appearing at the door does Elijah deliver a greater gift of wisdom, or is the disappointment of his dependable absence a secret message only prophets can understand?” How do your seder participants respond?

Now, Some Old Favorites:

Can We Eat Beans, Rice, Corn and Peas on Passover?

Answers to the age-old question about eating kitniyot on Passover.

Passover: Ancient Rituals, New Perspectives
Spice up your Seder: Dressing in Drag, Getting Stoned, Pillow Talk, Feeling the Beat
Reflections from Sedona as We Prepare for Pesach OR Oy, Why Did We Have to Wander for Forty Years?
Rabbi Kipnes’ 8 Ways to Make Your Family Seder Engaging
Sing along with Cantor Doug Cotler’s Favorites
Almost everything you wanted to know about Passover: Preparing for Passover, Hunting for Hametz, How to make your Seder meaningful, How to capture the attention of the kids,The Story of Passover in 6 (short) Scenes, For the Adult Seder: Four Ideas from the Rabbi’s Tisch (table)

Creative Ideas for Your Passover Seder Table, 2004
Make your seder engaging and meaningful this year!