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How to Make a Wild, Wonderful & BIG Seder

How to Make a Wild, Wonderful & BIG Seder

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Why on earth would you want to do that?

For most Jews today, the two main events of the Jewish calendar are Yom Kippur and Passover. Of those two, you might be surprised to hear that Passover wins hands-down.

The 2013 Pew survey found that 70% of Jews took part in a Seder in the past year, while 53% say they fasted for all or part of Yom Kippur.

So, if you're out to pull Jews in, don’t pass over Passover. Get the word out to your friends, extended family, acquaintances, Jewish-guy-you-met-at-the-bank, etc., that you’re making a wild and wonderful Seder, and they’re invited.

Maybe you’ll say, “But people around here already get together for the Seder with their families. I wouldn’t want to tear families apart, right?”

But then, you probably realize that most of those Seders will be over and done before the stars begin to twinkle. That’s unfortunate, because the Torah says to tell the story and eat the matzah at night. And here you are pitching an experience that will be uplifting and nurturing for their Jewish souls! So, invite the whole gang, and let everyone in on the optimum Seder experience. Because you are going to provide something they don’t even know is possible.

Many of those families would be delighted to join together with others for a special experience, at least for the second night. If you’re a seasoned leader, and it’s not going to interrupt the flow, you might even suggest that they join you after their own Seder. If you do this right, they won’t regret it—no matter what time they show up. Because you are going to provide something they don’t even know is possible. Because I’m going to show you how, here, right now.

What are your objectives?

You’re not going to make a nice Seder. You’re going to make an unforgettable Seder. One that will change lives. By the time your head comes crashing down on the table in the wee hours of the morning, your people will be saying:

  • “Wow! That was the first real Seder I ever experienced!”
  • “I never realized Passover could be so much fun for everyone, and meaningful, too!”
  • “Hey, maybe we can do something like this together every Friday night!”

Your guests will also have:

  • Stayed to the end (even with the little kids).
  • Eaten the required amount of matzah and maror, drunk four cups of wine, and enjoyed a Yom Tov meal.
  • Contributed to the telling of the Exodus story.
  • Learned how to make their own Seder and do it right.

How to fulfill those objectives

The first thing to know is that what you advertise is what you get. If you told people you’re making a Seder for those who don’t have anywhere to go, your Seder probably won’t go anywhere either. If you announce you are making the wildest and most wonderful Seder ever experienced in this sector of the planet, you’ll have them walking in all excited and eager to help make it that way.

Go beyond announcing—enlist! It’s likely you’ve got friends who are talented actors, public speakers and extroverts. Call them up and tell them you need their help. Specifically, you need:

  • Four (grownup) children
  • A giant frog (order costume early from buycostumes.com)
  • Elijah the prophet (white sheet, beard and cane does it for a costume)
  • Kids who know the Mah Nishtanah really well and will sing it loud without inhibitions.

. . . plus people to read some of the Haggadah in English for everyone. These people will want you to invite their friends and family to be there for their performance.

(You might also want to mention to people that it will take a while before you get to the meal. It’s not easy to make an exciting Seder for a pack of hungry wolves.)

Planning

The most important part of planning is that you and your family must sleep the night before. I’m serious. To do this right, you’ll need energy, lots of it. And if you want to have an impact on other families, you want your own family integrally involved.

If you plan things right, nothing will be left for the day before other than emergencies. Then you can greet your guests with a calm, cheerful demeanor, and stay in control the whole night.

There are already plenty of Passover to-do lists on our site and elsewhere. Here’s a list of things to prepare that are often left out:

  • Go over the plans with family and all involved.

  • Make sure you and your family get a good night’s rest the night before. Especially the kids. But you too. You’ll need lots of energy to do this right.

  • Review the Haggadah and mark important parts and instructions. (I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and I still have to rehearse the whole thing in my mind again each year.)

  • Prepare short and sweet soundbites to throw in here and there. Now make them shorter. Sweeter.

  • If you’re having a lot of people, you might want to make matzah packages in Ziploc bags of just the right amount each. That way, people won’t have to wait to start crunching after the blessings are made, plus you’ve ensured they know just how much to eat. How much is that? The very minimum is a quarter of a handmade shmurah matzah, or half of a machine matzah. Better to have twice that amount. While everyone is washing, your helpers will be rapidly distributing them. Or giving them out at the washing stations.

  • Packages of measured maror (one ounce of romaine lettuce, horseradish or both).

  • Washing stations. Washing is a major bottleneck in the Seder—and we do it twice. You want as many washing stations as possible. Instead of everyone lining up at the kitchen sink, you can have a few big, clean rubber trash cans ready. Even better if you can appoint one person per washing station to wash everyone’s hands, and give them their matzah bag once they’ve dried their hands.

  • Mystery plague boxes. We’ll explain soon. This entails an intensive visit to a good dollar store or party store.

The actual Seder

It’s late. They’re tired and hungry. You don’t want to skip anything, but you want everyone to stay engaged. That includes kids, teens, young adults, middle-aged adults, elderly, know-it-alls and the completely clueless, all of whom you’ve got packed into one room.

If you want to keep everyone involved and attentive, you’ll have to do what every good storyteller does: Create suspense, sustain it, and don’t resolve it until much later. Here are two great strategies to do that:

Suspense builder 1: Elijah the prophet

Right at the beginning of the Seder, announce that you’re anticipating a special guest. Provide periodic updates on his travel status. First he’s held up at customs (ethnic profiling issues), then he experiences cloud navigation difficulties, and finally his agent promises imminent appearance. Eventually, leak out that the guest is Elijah the prophet. You’ve already arranged for one of the great actors of your community to slip out right after birkat ha-mazon (the blessings after the meal), wrap a white sheet around himself and show up when you get to the part where you open the door.

What does he do when he enters? He hands out boarding passes for the flight to Israel. Or he can act as the steward, welcoming you to Elijah Airlines and directing your attention to the exit rows, safety features, etc.

On the second night, add surprise to the suspense: Make it seem that Elijah will be entering from the front door. Direct everyone’s attention in that direction. But then, banging is heard, and some strange person—not Elijah—comes in through the back door, or even a window. Maybe he’s looking for the Glee Club Bingo Event. Or maybe it’s just one of the guests who got locked out by accident. At which point Elijah can appear at the door, while no one was noticing.

Another alternative: Just open the door and look out there. Get all the kids to call out, “Elijah, where are you?”

And let’s all pray that this year the real Elijah turns up.

Suspense builder 2: Mystery boxes

Each table needs a black, mysterious-looking box, labeled: DANGER. DO NOT OPEN. Make announcements about not touching or moving those hazardous boxes. Then, at intervals throughout the Seder, elect representatives at each table to open the boxes and hold up the contents for everyone what’s inside—and explain what it has to do with the story of the Exodus.

Here’s what’s inside those boxes:

  • Straw
    Pharaoh made us get our own straw to make his bricks. (The dollar store sells great plastic stringy stuff, if you can’t get a hold of the real thing.)

  • A brick.
    Use a toy brick. Another memento from Egypt.

  • Toy snake.
    Demonstrate Moshe’s stick-to-snake trick.

  • Plastic jewelry
    A chest of all the jewels we took out of Egypt, as compensation for all the work we did there: necklaces, crowns and bangles. All the kids love these (including the boys, strange as it may seem), and some adults might wear them, too.

  • Reddened toothbrush
    Dip an old toothbrush in red paint or borscht for the plague of blood.

  • Frogs.
    Every dollar store worth its cents has plenty of these. Little plastic frogs, stuffed frogs and puppet frogs are always a hit for the kids. Demonstrate how the plague started with the first big frog that came out of the Nile. If you got that frog costume, you can act out the whole story.

  • Herman the Flea
    Herman the Flea can be a lot of fun, and not just for the kids. He’s a little insect you keep in a matchbox, who does cool acrobatic tricks. Announce that later on, during the meal, he’ll be performing. For the show, Herman is so tiny that no one sees him, so he can jump from one of your hands to the next, and do all sorts of flips and wall-to-wall jumps before he lands back in your hand. Get everyone applauding for Herman. For one of his tricks, you can ask some kids to hold on to his shoes, hat and shirt. At the end, Herman gets lost and you find him in someone’s hair. (Choose a guest with good self-esteem for that part.)

  • Small plastic animals
    Lions, tigers and bears for the plague of wild beasts; cows and sheep for the plague of pestilence that struck the livestock; and a giant grasshopper for the plague of locusts. Each plague in its own box.

  • Jar of liquid soap
    This is ointment for the plague of boils.

  • Hail
    Foam balls—find them in the craft section of the dollar store.

  • Sunglasses
    Great for the plague of darkness. You’ll have kids and grownups all trying on the silly sunglasses the whole night.

  • Flower headbands
    (If you don’t find these at the dollar store, you or your kids can make them out of plastic headbands and felt.) This is a great thing to do if you have a lot of kids at the Seder. They each wear a flower headband, somebody waters them, and they grow out of the ground like flowers. You explain that the Jews hid their children in the field, and when the Egyptians plowed the earth, the kids sprouted out of the ground like grass.

If you’re making a public Seder on the second night as well, make sure to keep some of the boxes shut until then. Decide what you’ll use for each night. These boxes will help keep things moving and exciting.

Telling the story

You want to read through the whole Haggadah, and keep everyone engaged while you’re at it. Here are a few keys to getting everyone into the Seder:

  • Get them involved and active right away. The first thing that happens is that everyone fills a cup of wine for their friend. Use this opportunity to make a few jokes and create a fun atmosphere.

  • They laughed a little, they drank some wine—now you can talk. But remember: Soundbites only. No speeches. Tell everyone there are 5 things we have to do tonight:

    1. Tell the story. This is going to be a multidimensional, interactive experience, fun for everyone, including the kids.
    2. Eat a kid goat. Oh wait, can’t do that—we’ll take a raincheck for when our Temple’s built.
    3. The big mitzvah of the night: Eat a lot of matzah.
    4. Drink four cups of wine—don’t miss the last one at the end of the Seder.
    5. Eat some bitter herbs . . . or at least some romaine lettuce.

  • Remind everyone that the most vital thing to have at a Seder is the Jew. The matzah you’re eating tonight didn’t leave Egypt, the maror didn’t leave Egypt . . . but the Jew left Egypt. The presence of the Jew is what makes every other aspect of the Seder come alive.

    Things like these can be said as the Seder goes on, as long as they’re short and sweet.

  • When you get to the end of the story part of the Haggadah (after singing Dayeinu), get everyone to say the three essential things that need to be mentioned. You can say:

    Rabban Gamliel used to say that anyone who didn’t mention the following three things on Passover, didn’t really do the Seder right.

    So, everyone say together: Pesach! Matzah! . . . and Maror!”

    Actually, he didn’t just mean to mention them. He meant to explain what they’re there for. So, let’s do that. Since we’re Jewish, we always start with a question: So, everyone together now . . .

    . . . and then go on with everyone explaining out loud those three essential elements of the Seder.

  • Sing songs together. For English songs, you’ll need to print out song sheets in advance. For Hebrew songs, tell everyone there are two basic lyrics for Jewish songs—they’re either about you or your mother: “I I I” and “ma ma ma.” That way no one will feel left out when everyone else is singing in a different language.

  • Yachatz is the first big event at the Seder, and can be real exciting for kids. Here’s something fun to do with them, an ancient custom of many Middle Eastern Jews: After breaking the afikomen into five pieces, wrap them in napkins, then in a scarf. Then wrap the scarf over the shoulders of the children, so that the matzah is under their arms. Tell them that they are the children of Israel, carrying the matzah out of Egypt. They stand on chairs, and you tell everyone you’re going to ask some questions and the kids are going to answer. Then ask questions like these (you rehearsed this with them before, of course):

    You: Where are you coming from?

    Kids: From Egypt!

    You: Where are you going to?

    Kids: To the Land of Israel!

    You: Who are you going with?

    Kids: Moses!

    Keep lots of prizes handy, like necklaces and frogs. Give them to the kids who sing and who ask the Mah Nishtana.

  • Don’t just recite the Haggadah; make it come alive. With the right translation, you can say the Haggadah without anyone even realizing it. Some of the Haggadah can be read all together, some can be read in groups at each table. Just tell them all to stop and wait when they get to whatever page you’re going to do together.

    You can dramatize a lot of the Haggadah, too. Put your props and actors to good use. Act out the story of Rabbi Eliezer, using a white beard for a prop. Act out the four sons. Open those black boxes every now and then—you can open a few when you get up to the ten plagues. And keep giving updates on the ETA and travel status of your special guests.

Most importantly, you need energy, you need to rehearse, and you need to be fully engaged. If you’ve got all this down pat, you’ll have a great Seder, and no one will want to leave. They’ll all stay afterwards for an all-night farbrengen, and fall asleep at the table.

If you’re really good, they’ll never come back again. Because they’ll be making their own humongous Seder for all their friends and family.

Now watch this:


Over the past 40 years, Tzvi Freeman has run a public Seder almost every year, at various Chabad Houses and Pesach resorts.
Rabbi Freeman is a senior editor at Chabad.org, and author of several books, including two volumes (third one on its way) of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. For bio, info and more articles by this author, click here.
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leon roiter barranquilla April 14, 2017

.Tzvi:thank you for your repply. I did not think you received my messages.I agree with you: converts are jews. But they come to the seder with their family. It is very difficult to explain those kids, who obviously see their relatives as extrange, that the most important thing in the seder is the jew. They will feel left out. They are not jews but they have relatives who left mitzraim with Moses and Najshon ben Abinadav. The same situation we face in Hanuka and other jewish festivities. They(the convert relatives) do not feel welcome because they are not jews. Neither their parents..We are working with our two confused chabad rabbis to find a confortable space for those kids. We do not turn our backs to the converts, neither to the drug addicts. Your help in those issues will be greately appreciated The children of the converts will change their dreidel anytime for the beautiful presents their loving and college graduated, catholic grand parents have for their confused grand childre Reply

leon roiter barranquilla April 13, 2017

Tzvi: In our seder we have some non jews and lots of converts. Are the jews still the most important element of the seder? Reply

Tzvi Freeman April 14, 2017
in response to leon roiter:

Converts are Jews. Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel March 22, 2017

Last year I sent a true story about how Eliahu visited (or almost did) our Seder. It was titled "The Cup of Elijah". This is the time of the year to print it, please do so or ask me for another copy if it got lost. Reply

Gershon March 21, 2017

I have not seen it brought anywhere in Torah, Talmud etc. that Elijah drinks from the cup we set out for him. Yes, he visits, but so does he visit every circumcision. We need to tell our kids from the outset that he is invisible and we will not see him. The sipping-from-the-cup myth is just a distraction. Yes, it is called Cup of Elijah but not because he sips from it. Reply

Tzvi Freeman April 18, 2014

We have to say the same as we have said for the past 2,000 years: It's all up to us. This year, we're going to do even more mitzvahs, learn even more Torah, and love each other even more—and then G-d will have to send Moshiach. Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel April 17, 2014

Varico: Please explain what you mean by item 2. Where is the poster and what does it say? Reply

candyK Valrico April 13, 2014

1-Bubble wrap sheets cut into squares make a substitute for boils.

2-and repeating previous poster--what to tell disappointed kids when there is no Elijah? Reply

Bet-Ami Pleasantville, NY April 10, 2014

Making little packages of each symbolic food causes huge environmental waste. I mean, what happens to all throse baggies? To the Landfill!! Here's how we do it: Large platters holding a stack of matzah are covered with beautiful embroidered or hand-painted cloths in front of every 4-5 guests and they each take from that pile...in my family everyone takes plenty, way more than the halachic minimum. On top of each guest's dinner plate is a small dessert plate (about 7" diameter) holding spoonfuls of charoses, sprigs of greens, slivers of maror.. Also on that plate is a small blue glass bowl with already prepped salt water, a hard-boiled egg ...in other words, each guest has their own Seder plate of symbols (creating a poem!) in front of them during the entire ceremony...AND we put a few boiled baby potatoes in the salt water, too! Very earthy. When it's time for soup, the small dessert plates are removed and the clean dinner plate is revealed. Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva April 9, 2014

My daughter cried during the Seder, when Elihu was not waiting outside when we opened the fromt door! All the previous days she had helped her mother clean the house and prepare for his arrival.

So kindly, a) Either tell use what we must door next time to be sure of his arrival or b) Give us some advice for what to tell children (and ourselves) when he fails to put in an appearence.


PS there was one Seder about 50 years before, when Elihu actually did arrive at exactly the expected time. He came in the form of a stable-boy delivering horse maneure, but we failed to recognise him as being the Prophet and did not invite him in! So thats why we are still waiting. Reply

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