Hosting a Seder for People New to Judaism or the Seder

Blurry image of a set table and the words Hosting a Seder for People New to Judaism or the Seder

So, you’re hosting a seder and you are expecting guests who might be new to Judaism or new to Passover? Well, my friend, you have picked the perfect holiday to do so.

Although daunting in its length, the seder was crafted with you in mind.

It is a potpourri of powerful rituals, wise rabbinic aphorisms, and opportunities to elevate the mundanities of eating into something holy.

Most likely created in the earliest parts of the common era, the very notion of the seder is based on the biblical notion of a parent instructing their child about the story of the exodus from Egypt. That idea, that we are here to retell, reimagine, and re-assess should guide you as you prepare your guests.

Choose a Haggadah

The first thing to do when hosting guests who are unfamiliar with the ritual is to choose a Haggadah that will be accessible and engaging.

With the wealth of Jewish content on the internet these days, you can utilize a site like https://haggadahsrus.com/product-category/passover/ to peruse some of their amazing Haggadot. My personal recommendation would be to use “A Different Night” by Noam Zion and David Dishon. It has modern translations, great questions, and fascinating stories alongside the traditional texts.

Utilize the Beginning

When hosting folks who aren’t so familiar with Judaism and Passover, utilize the beginning rituals of the seder (Kadesh, urhatz, karpas, yahatz) as opportunities for engagement.

Each is a ritual that can be paired with a prompt or an activity that will allow people to feel empowered and part of this larger ritual. Sit with your haggadah ahead of time and create a lesson plan of sorts and send things to people before the seder so that they can come prepared.

Pick and Choose

Once you get into maggid, the lengthy story of Passover, choose your spots wisely, unless you feel the obligation to read each and every word.

There’s nothing wrong with that of course but if you’re hosting those who aren’t familiar, it might not be the best way to go. There is so much amazing content in maggid that can be a jumping off point for rich discussion: the four children, the four questions, the ten plagues, and much more.

As with all of this, come up with a plan and let people know ahead of time so that they don’t feel surprised when they arrive.

Questions, Questions, Questions

The seder itself is replete with sections that are really just questions because that is what the whole night is about.

Why is this night different than all other nights? Because we honor our curiosity and desire to learn. Come up with questions for people to engage with and then as people ask their own questions, use it as an opportunity to open it up to the whole table.

People will feel that it’s a safe and warm place knowing that all are welcome with their ideas.

There is more after dinner too

Once you get past Shulchan Orekh, the meal of the seder, don’t forget that there are parts of the seder afterward.

There is an opportunity for prayer, more eating and drinking, and some pretty fascinating songs (one of which involves a goat, a butcher, a cat, and the angel of death!) Don’t be afraid to delve into these latter parts of the seder because they have so much to offer. Again, pick your spots wisely!

Finally, remember the Passover adage that every person is obligated to see themselves as if they left Egypt.

It does not matter what amount of knowledge or familiarity they have coming in. This responsibility falls on each person.

As much as it is a holiday about communal redemption, it is also about every individual’s journey toward freedom. This should guide your overall seder plan.

Starting at the beginning of the seder, remind your guests that no matter where they come from, on this night, they can find liberation from something.

Author

  • Adir Yolkut is a St. Louisian by heart, currently serving as the Associate Rabbi in Temple Israel Center in White Plains, NY. When not Rabbi-ing, Adir loves to travel with his wife Lauren, play with their dog Louie, talk sports, especially those of the St. Louis variety, teach CrossFit, and gab about the latest pop culture happenings.

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