Plan One - The Shapiro family tried out the following idea a few years ago. It was terrific! Here's what I did.
Recalling that Seders are about history and traditions, I called the families who were going to be at our Seder one week ahead of time. This is what I said, "Passover is about stories and memories, and I was wondering if every family doesn't have certain mementos that pass through time. So, could you please bring to our Seder a family memento of yours? It doesn't have to be fancy - just something that tells a story."
Halfway through our Seder when we got to the time for telling the story of our ancestors, we paused to share the mementos people had brought and the results were amazing. Great personal stories. Lots of laughter and beautiful sharing of family histories.
Try this. Your friends and relatives will surprise you with what they value and the story they tell you.
Plan Two - Before, during, and after the Seder, have the people present sign the inside cover of the leader's Haggadah. If you do this annually over a number of years, you will develop a wonderful record of your family and friends. (The Shapiro family has been doing this for more than 15 years!!!! The inside of my Haggadah presents a beautiful history of all those who have been at our seders.)
Plan Three - Tell Your Own Story at the Seder
What if….you add your own family’s story to
Yes, tell the historic story of our ancestors in Egypt. That is the official and crucial Haggadah story. But at some point during the Seder, what if you add your own family’s story?“
My grandparents came from Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th
century. On my mother’s side, both were from Romania. On my father’s
side, one came from Lithuania; the other came from Russia proper. All four
came to Montreal and experienced the “New World” in very different
You get the idea! You can keep it very simple or add some colorful stories from generations past.
You can ask your guests to tell their own story. (Hint: Call or e-mail them about a week before so they can prepare.)
Over the years, this “retelling” can become a family treasure taught to the children, your friends, in-laws. It can be embellished too.
As children grow and become adults, the paths of the story diverge. Each branch of the family will have its own version. But they will always be joined at the roots and trunk.
This idea comes from Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin who also quotes Elie Wiesel: “Memories are not just what we own, but who we are.”
Plan Four - Shifra and Puah Award
In the 1960s, Al Axelrad, Hillel rabbi at Brandeis University, established an annual Shifra and Puah Award, honoring individuals who exemplify non-violent resistance to tyranny. He named the award after the midwifes in Chapter One of the Book of Exodus. They resisted and outsmarted Pharaoh, saving the Hebrew infants from drowning.
To what individual in history would you present this award?
To what individual today would you present this award?
Plan Five - What if Egypt Hosted the Winter Olympics?
(An innovation from 2010 that you might be able to adapt for any year if you think about what’s “current” at that time.)
As we get close to the Seder meal, the Haggadah refers to a rabbi named Gamliel who says we need to remember three symbols if we want to appreciate Passover. Gamliel highlights the shankbone (pesach), matza,and maror.
So here’s where the fun comes in any year. I (meaning Rabbi Shapiro) created this innovation at our Seder in 2010 right after the Winter Olympics. You could improvise any year in another new way.
In 2010, I invited people around the Seder table to imagine history with a slight wrinkle. I asked them to imagine (with a smile) that, way back in the days of slavery, Egypt hosted the Winter Olympics. If that had happened, how might be the symbols on the Seder plate have been different? What might have been on the Seder plate to recall the experience in Egypt? How could the new Winter Olympics symbols capture our holiday of freedom?
Full disclosure from Rabbi – This was obviously a crazy idea, but it caught my fancy. Thinking about speed skating, the luge, snowboards and whatever, adults and kids had some pretty creative and fun commentary.
Hint – E-mail those attending your Seder ahead of time. Ask them to imagine the new Seder plate before they come. It will give them time to come up with some terrific, novel ideas. Enjoy.