When I was a kid I was lucky to have all four grandparents alive and living nearby. Since that was the case, on the first night of Pesach my family went to dad’s parents’ house, and on the next night we went to my mom’s parents’ house for seder. Both my Reform grandfather and my Orthodox grandfather proudly led their seder with the classic American text of the “Maxwell House Haggadah.” (Here is an interesting history of the book). We would all take turns reading the English readings making sure not to skip anything. Our seders were joyous because of our loving extended family, but I would not call them overly engaging. We had a script, and we read it.
When I was in university I had the opportunity through Hillel to be a part of a cohort of American and Canadian students that traveled to Ukraine to help lead seders with Ukrainian Jewish students in small communities that were rediscovering their Judaism. In preparation, we studied all about the haggadah. I was taken aback to learn that our ancient Rabbis developed what became the seder to be more improvisational. Yes, we are supposed to eat certain foods, explain them, ask questions, and tell a story that ends in freedom, but all of this wasn’t really codified until much later. I imagined that our ancient ancestors’ seders were full of storytelling, questions (not just four) from kids and adults, and singing. An ancestor in Roman Judea, or in Czarist Russia, or in the Ottoman Empire probably linked their stories to their contemporary situation. During the Pesach seder we live in the past, present, and future at the same time.
Today, there are so many different kinds haggadot and seder supplements that can be used as tools to help one’s experience at the seder come alive. There is great value and comfort in doing the same thing and connecting to family memories of doing a seder like your grandparents, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here are some other Pesach resources:
- Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Passover Resource page
- Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society 2017 Seder Suppliment
- Foundation for the Righteous “Holocaust Hero Haggadah”
- American Jewish World Service “Global Justice Haggadah”
- Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger “The Fifth Question”