Passover (or Pesach, but we'll mostly stick with Passover) is the most popular Jewish event of the year (2001-2002 National Jewish Population Study). It’s also very family-oriented, and full of rituals, memories, and some of the most fundamental and essential values of Judaism – freedom, nationality, education…
But what about people who didn’t grow up with any of this? People who don’t have a family Seder to go to, or who don’t care enough to miss classes? People who don’t even know what a Passover Seder is, or don’t know what it could be? For them – you could be the difference.
Each of the the 4 children, as well as the 5th son who doesn’t even come to the table! - they all need someone to run a Seder with and for them. And who better than you! Find out what the need is in your campus/community - and do something about it!
Here are 3 difference scenarios which might be relevant to you - each one goes into some pros/cons, logistics, and details on food and people. Obviously your campus/community's needs and reality might be different, but hopefully this can be useful in thinking about it. And add your own circumstances to this list to help other in the future!
- If there are large crowds at Hillel/Chabad, organize smaller student-led Seders throughout the building/in different rooms.
- The intimate and peer-led structure actually allows the attendees to have meaningful Seders and participate fully. (From past experience, people stayed at the communal seders for ~1hour, and the same people stayed at small student-led Seders for ~4hours!) This also helps alleviate overcrowding in the main Seder.
- People: a lot are already coming (although not being sufficiently and meaningfully serviced) so you don’t need to worry as much about finding people - although telling/bringing friends is required, and some advertising is recommended. You also can accept random walk-ins, and don’t need to know an exact number.
- Food: is pretty easy to manage (if needed, you can collect donated meals for those not on meal plans)
- Run Seders on your own!
- If #1 isn’t an option, or if H/Ch can’t accommodate or isn’t interested in letting you help, or if there’s a need for people who aren’t interested in going to H/Ch
- You get to do things and set the scene however you like, which can lead to a really meaningful and beautiful Seder.
- People: You would need to get people to come yourself - advertising, inviting people who’d come to H2H meals, getting the word out, etc. You’d also need to know how many people are coming, in terms of food and planning.
- Food: could be a challenge; options include:
- H2H subsidizing/paying for catered meals
- Seders-to-Go from H/Ch (some have, or might be willing to start programs like that)
- Cooking the food yourself (which could constitute a lot of work and kashering)
- Inviting some friends/random people to your family/house
- You get to share a real family-style Seder with your peers (for better or for worse) and the homeliness of it can be appealing to some.
- People: It probably entails personally inviting 1 or 2 people that you know (whether well, or peripherally) - unless you want to start a whole referral and placement program..
- Some of this happens already for religious people who live out of town, but it’s also important to invite people on the fringes or outside the community, who also could use and might need a place to go for Seder.
- Food: Your mom/grandmother is probably in charge, and would be more than happy to have 1 or 2 more people (kol ditztrich yeitey v’yifsach)
 Basic Timeline
- Over/right after winter break: Start spreading the word, find out what currently exists/happens and what's missing, speak with local partners/agencies (i.e. Hillel/Chabad), and start convincing people to stay/host seders.
- 6 weeks before (Rosh Chodesh Adar): Send out an email to people who are preliminarily staying, and start getting commitments. Meet with the necessary people (dining hall staff, H/Ch) to finalize logistics.
- 4 weeks before (right after Purim): Have a meeting with everyone who’s staying (or thinking about it) to go over the plan and begin preparing (advertising, logistics, funding, content, etc.)
- Two weeks before: Have a meeting where you break into Seder groups, finalize logistics, keep promoting like crazy (fb event, email blasts, video, etc), schedule training/prep sessions, and delegate responsibilities.
- The week of: Keep inviting people, final meetings with the Seder-leader teams, buy whatever props/costumes/materials you need
- Erev Pesach - the day before: Print out your final pictures, hang up your final decorations, do a quick run through, and rest up
- Seder night: Rock on :)
- The week after: Follow Up! Email everyone who came, see how it was, and offer to do something else..
 Overall ideas
- Have fun! That includes props (plague kits, jumping frogs, etc), costumes, and funny stuff - everyone loves funny things :)
- Confidence is contagious! As is fun :) If you're feeling good about it, having fun, and want to be there, everyone else will probably too!
- Map out where the interactive parts are (the 4 sons, the plagues, the eatings) and if you have large stretches of “boring” stuff, that’s a good place to intersperse some fun/active/interactive stuff.
- Get people out of their seats - to act something out, to change seats, to point to pictures on the wall, to read/announce something, etc. But really just to get their blood flowing and the energy high :)
- Have contingency plans, know what is essential and what is expendable. What if no one responds to a question? What if the food is running late? What if the food comes early?
- Try and do whatever is authentically meaningful for you. Don’t try to be a rabbi, or your father, or anyone else (though you may want to draw from them)
- People might not buy into your same notions of obligation (so don't just say "we do this because it's a mitzvah", although that can be part of it...) - which means you have to think through everything
- Don't make or let them feel bad for not being "good Jews" - especially since they're the ones that showed up and gave up on something else. And also because there's no such thing as good Jews and bad Jews (a la the 4 sons) - they're equal partners in this experience.
- You don't need to know everything. You don't need to go so in-depth, with ingenious divrei Torah. Keep it simple, keep it deep, and keep it real.
- Be curious, not smart; be interested, not interesting.
 Education ideas
- More is less: definitely spend some more time going into depth on one part, and then skipping/speeding through some others. And by going into depth, that doesn't necessarily mean giving more difficult derashas/divrei Torah - it mean having a conversation where people share their perspectives and insights and derive meaning from it
- Push people - ask them why we're doing this? Why we're here? Why do you think it's important to tell the story of the exodus? What story does your family tell of redemption? Don't let people off easy just doing some rituals and listening to you speak...
- Ask specific questions, create conflict, "do people agree with this?"
- See this article in the NY Times about the stories we tell of our family's journeys, and how it helps children become resilient. Which is kinduv the point of the Passover story :)
- Don't ask vague questions (e.g. Why is Avraham important?) where you really want 1 answer (do you want them to read your mind?). Ask sincere questions, be sincerely curious and interested in what people have to say.
- And encourage/allow them to ask questions, ask real questions about Judaism, about what we're doing... Only by them asking questions can you get them to think about this stuff for real and grow as Jews. And asking questions is the whole point of the Haggadah!
- Don't assume things: you can't relate an idea in Judaism to another idea in Judaism if no one knows those ideas (e.g. don't ask why we don't say shehechiyanu on sefirat haomer - because don't assume people know about either of those topics). In other words, don't connect Torah with Torah, but rather Haggadah/Torah and Life.
- But also don't baby people - they're very smart college students/young adults, they just have different bodies of knowledge and experiences. So find ways to allow them to draw on that and contribute that to the seder.
- Anything in Hebrew needs to be explained/translated
- Try to sell the seder as a textual study discussion, just as much as a ritual - it's a different way of learning and elucidating new meaning than just telling historical and personal facts (usually only religious people are familiar with this). There's a reason the Haggadah/all of Judaism is text-based, it's a time-tested source from which to draw knowledge and new understandings.
- (somewhat opposing to the preceding point) Try and change it from reading ancient texts and doing boring rituals into a real conversation and reenactment. That comes from people sharing their personal experiences or perspectives, and letting people engage and play with the text, the objects, and the story.
- Use the text/Haggadah as your guide, but use it to elicit questions/ideas/concerns from the participants
- If people are off topic, extract the relevant kernel and throw it back.
- People think Judaism/holidays are only about the past - you have to talk about and demonstrate the modern relevance to your/their lives. Which is kinduv the goal of the Seder (lir'ot et atzmo...)
- Have food items (wine, water, karpas, marror, etc.) prepared/cut up/poured, and have multiple plates/bowls/bottles, so you don’t spent 10 minutes passing things around
- Make sure the haggadahs have transliterated blessings - otherwise, anything you say aloud in Hebrew you should say slowly or have people repeat after you
- Whenever you do something, you need to explain it - which included what (e.g. karpas- spring vegetable), how (dip it in salt water, say a blessing for vegetables, and then eat it), and why (spring, tears, royalty, etc). Sometimes the gut reaction is “This is so strange, let’s just go really fast” - but it’s always better to at least take a minute to explain what you’re doing and why.
- Instead of mandating people to do things, invite them to do things
 Group Dynamics
- Distribute leaders throughout the table/s, and also decentralize the leading/speaking roles.
- If people come in groups, be aware that it could be a little challenging for them to get into the experience..
- Make sure everyone is accounted/looked out for, especially people who are on their own
- Try and turn it into a group-bonding experience - so people come away with shared personal jokes, shared memories, friends, a community..
- Find allies - people who know some thing already, or who are really into it, or who can lead a blessing/song/section, or who are/can be influencers of those around them. They don't have to be the most religious/observant/knowledgeable, but the more people helping out, the better!
- Find times to break people up into smaller groups so that they could better get acquainted and encourage sharing (e.g. afikoman search, to discuss slavery)
- Instead of going around the table and forcing everyone to answer questions, find ways to allow people to participate when, where, and how they want to. It's more genuine, and it also lessens your role as teacher/authoritative, which might not be that good
- Try and bridge the gap between “us” and “them” - and encourage everyone to take active roles. The leader doesn’t need to do all the talking, but rather keep the conversation flowing and know when to move on and when to dig deeper
- Try to minimize distractions, close the doors if necessary/possible. And don’t bring food out until it’s time to eat - or everyone will get up to get some
 The Seder Itself
 Setting up
- Making sure the tables and chairs are arranged well: enough seats for everyone, arranged as a cohesive group (perhaps a square/circle), haggadahs at every seat - and obviously place settings, tablecloths, a seder plate, matzahs and wine
- Putting up posters on the walls, or things on the table - whether funny props, or cool pictures, or thought-provoking and relevant quotes
- Maybe put something unique at each seat (once we did printouts of their facebook profile picture photoshopped into Egypt) so they recognize how much you care and value that they’re each there
- Some people might come early, or if it’s in a public space they might be wandering around, not sure where to do... You NEED to go over to them and talk to them, make them feel comfortable, get to know them, and get them psyched for the Seder!
- The first 15 minutes are the most important for selling the Seder and setting the tone - that it’ll be fun, comfortable, open, engaging, relaxed, real, sharing...
- If people are meandering around making small talk that's fine, but once people start sitting down, you need to start!
- Frame the Seder by going through "Kadesh, Urchatz.."
- It's like a Table of Contents, it sets up some roadmarks for the journey you're about to go on and lets them know what's to come
- Sing it, because people might know it. Try singing it in English (too), so people understand and because it's funny trying to fit the words to the tune :)
- Frame the Seder conceptually as well- about a communal journey from slavery/constriction to freedom/self-expression.
- And the format - similar to the Greek symposium, which is a combination of seminar (intellectual discussion), celebration (reclining, wine, dipping vegetables), and theater (singing, acting things out)
 Ice Breakers
When everyone’s there (or if enough people are there but you’re waiting for nightfall or for more people to come) start with Ice Breakers. It serves a few purposes:
- getting everyone to talk/open up
- finding out who everyone is - try and remember at least their names
- finding some common ground/threads, and providing some fodder for future conversations
- helps break the ice/awkwardness, so it needs to be done early on.
It could be either a fun/funny one, or a serious/contemplative one - depends on you, on the crowd, and on the mood you want to set (but we'd recommend something personal/meaningful, if possible)
- Name, hometown, year, major, where you are in life
- Favorite Passover food or favorite thing on the Seder table
- If you could be anything on the seder table, what would you be and why?
- Favorite Passover memory - and if they don't have one, tonight will be theirs!
- Favorite afikomn hiding spot
- Why you are looking forward to this year
- What is your favorite youtube video.
- favorite ice-breaker and the next person had to answer that question
 A Little Deeper
- What we are slaves to.
- Where you would be if you weren't here now - aka why is this night actually different for each person. It makes the seder seem really important since people would have been in a variety of different places (including class) if they weren't at the seder.
- Something you discovered or have been thinking about freedom since last Passover.
- How you feel free tonight. The success of this depends on you starting with a powerful personal one, which makes people more comfortable to talk.
- Your personal journey from slavery to freedom (or something that that resembles the journey of the Jews from slavery to freedom)
 The 15 (14?) Steps
You'll have Haggadahs to go through the order and maybe some basic explanations, but here are some more suggestions and ideas -- how to do it, how to explain it, etc. -- for you to use:
- A toast to the holiday
- Introduce the concept of leaning (maybe throw in the reason about not choking by
- 3rd blessing of shehechiyanu - talk about the unique moment we're in, and recognizing the passage of time
- Purity, save us from the black plague?
- We're not really sure why we wash (transmission of impurity of wet vegetables?) - you can introduce ideas of a) so the children should ask b) following traditions c) adding frills to our rituals
- Talk about springtime, what spring symbolizes
- Salt water = tears
- Try to have extra food/appetizers here, so people won't be so hungry and impatient for dinner
- Halves --> haves and have nots
- Hiding food away in the desert, in the Holocaust
- Long-term planning/consequences, instead of short-term gratification
- Introduce some type of afikomen game/hunt (e.g. steal the salami?)
- Yes, we know - it’s long, it’s boring, it’s repetitive, etc. Let people know it’s going to take some time, they should let themselves get into it, work up their appetite, get comfortable, etc. And also let them see the light at the end of the tunnel (e.g. “food will be by 9:00 the latest - unless we all get so caught up in this”)
- See above about spacing boring parts out, being active/interactive, etc.
Here's a quick run through of some different pieces:
- Ha lachma anya
- Welcoming people who are a) physically hungry b) spiritually or communally hungry
- Literally and figuratively opening our doors
- Mah nishtana
- Find out who's the youngest, or have all the freshmen sing it
- Play a game where you go around having a conversation - only using questions; talk about the concept of questions as a learning method
- People might know the song, or it's not too hard to teach the tune
- Avadim hayinu, story of 5 rabbis
- We're all in on this - whether the most religious/knowledgeable or the least, because we're part of the narrative
- Talk about the idea of transition - from dark to light, from slavery to redemption... (that's one of the obligations of the Seder)
- 4 sons
- compare to the 4 branches of your school :)
- Have pictures on the wall of random things (Legos, tabasco sauce, 2Pac, Che Guevera, iPhone, Wikipedia, Meningitis) and people have to go over to the picture they think represents each of the 4 sons
- Having different educational philosophies and models for different people
- Each person containing all 4 sons (sometimes we need to be rebellious, or quiet and humble, or ingenious, etc.)
- The Jewish people is only complete with all 4 sons (and the 5th son who's not there...). This is a good place to have a discussion about "bad Jews" and non-religious Jews' self-consciousness about not being good Jews - which is often dismissed with a laugh. Judaism doesn't say there's no value in doing more/better, but it still values each Jew - no matter who.
- V'hee sheamdah
- Antisemitism around the world - though maybe stay away from politics..
- People probably don't know the song, so probably don't do it.
- the drashot of the pesukim
- Instead of going through each word, maybe do a few as an example. Or talk about the idea of depth in education.
- This will save you same time :)
- See above about not being afraid to use the text
- 10 plagues
- Unless people are math nerds, skip the 50, 200, 250 makkot
- taking a drop out of the cup for the Egyptian suffering is an important message - empathy, care for human life
- Singing this is fun
- Hitting each other with leeks is also really fun!
- Pesach, Matzah, Marror
- Talking about ritual representations of memory
- In every generation, 2nd cup
- Talk about modern examples or analogs of slavery, and feeling yourself as part of the story
- Hallel - part 1 (and some notes about singing in general)
- Songs don’t always go so well - because it’s only fun if you know/are familiar with them, and a lot of people won’t know the traditional Seder tunes.
- But it is a good opportunity for fun group participation- try teaching a few easy, fun lines (e.g. day dayeny, day dayenu...) , or arranging the songs to tunes that everyone knows (like a paragraph of Hallel to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah) (it could also be funny/creative trying to fit the words to the tune)
- Sing songs in their English translation
- Throwing in songs like “Go Down Moses” or “There Can Be Miracles”
- Explain what's going to happen - washing, no talking, motzi + matza
 Motzi Matza
- You can present it as a contest - who can eat the most marror without laughing/crying!
- What's bitter in your life? And how do you consume it - not let it consume you..
- Like a shwarma!
- If you're in a Hillel, you can talk about Hillel - who invented this sandwich!
 Shulchan Orech
- Eat, chill, relax, talk - it's a good chance to follow-up from anything that came up before
- Finding and finishing the afikomen
- Opening the door:
- for Elijah the Prophet, a legend who represents the forerunner of redemptions
- similar to beginning (kol dichfin...), welcome others to sing songs and praises with us
- Shfoch Chamotcha - complicated history of Jews with their non-Jewish surroundings. Alternative sources have "Pour your love.."
- Many people don't know bentching so don't sing the whole thing outloud (too long) or say the whole thing to yourself (everyone feels lost)
- Try introducing it briefly, singing the 1st paragraph out loud (some people know it from camp, etc.) and then announce that we're reading the rest silently.
- Though by now, some people may have left and the ones who are still there are the hard-core ones, or the ones who want to experience/learn/experiment more..
see Hallel - part 1 (above)
- Chad Gadya - assigning roles and having people act it out is fun :) And sing it in English
- Who Knows One - same as Chad Gadya
 After the meal
- First of all, there's always the 2nd Seder - if they had a good time and want to do it again, or want to go more in depth, or if they missed part of it the first time. Definitely offer that to everyone before they leave the first night
- There's also this amazing phenomenon where Jews who aren't so religious/observant will come out of the woodwork to keep kosher for Passover. A lot of these people (including people who were at your Seder) will be showing up at your Hillel/Chabad/kosher dining hall, for perhaps the first time, or the first time in a while. It's so important to go over to them, sit with them, befriend them, and remember them. (I have a friend who became religious after college, and he told me the only time I would've been able to "get to him" in college was Passover, when he'd go to the kosher dining hall and sit by himself - but no one ever sat with him...) So you should do this, and tell other people to do it too. Seriously, stand up in davening, send out an email to the community, or just talk to friends to make sure people approach it the right way (and not "Uch, now I have to wait on longer lines for food") and that something actually happens!
- What about upperclassmen who don't have meal plans and for whom that might be a barrier to them coming to H/Ch/kdh? On a small level, you can offer guest meals to friends/people you know. On a larger level, you can offer (and advertise all around campus) free meals to upperclassmen, by getting freshmen with tons of meals to donate them. The cool thing is that often, to donate a meal, the donor has to be there with the recipient - so now it's not just about fulfilling observances (which is also good), but also creating a bond between someone who always keep kosher and someone who sometimes does... You might have to arrange something with the dining staff, and H2H is willing to put in money for this, so it shouldn't be too hard to arrange.
- You should also email everyone, individually and/or as a group, who came to your Seder to thank them and tell them what it meant to you. Offer to have a reunion, or get together for coffee one time, or spend some time studying more about any of the issues that came up, etc.
 Sources and Resources
- Past Heart to Heart Seder stories
- Tips from 2009 - feedback from the 15 student leaders who ran Seders at Penn
- Tips from 2010 - feedback from the 25 student leaders who ran Seders at Penn
- Or Halev Supplement
- Mi Yodeya Passover Questions
- 171 Seder songs!
- Downloadable Haggadahs/Passover Resources
- Study Guide with Rabbi Simon Jacobson
- Some more ideas
- Sessions with Rabbis Mike Uram, Mishael Zion, and Levi Haskelevitch