Dasee Berkowitz

How will we celebrate Passover this year? A guide for seder leaders

Each year the youngest present at the seder table asks, “How is this night different from all other nights?” And this seder night, April 2024, ניסן תשפ׳׳ד, following October 7th, the Israel-Hamas war, the Iranian threat, and a steep rise of antisemitism the world over, so many of us are wondering, “How will this seder night be different from all other seder nights?”

While on other seder nights, we convened seders and retold the ancient story of our people’s liberation from Egyptian bondage; on this seder night, we are keenly aware that we are actors in Jewish history as it is unfolding. As such, we may be feeling an extra level of responsibility to make this Passover meaningful.

While on other seder nights, we welcome each generation in our family m’kol dor v’dor (from generation to generation), on this seder night, we are keenly aware of how strong political differences sometimes map onto generational divides. On this holiday of redemption, we may feel nervous about differences of opinions and perspectives that feel unredeemable. 

While on other seder nights, we feel empowered to design a seder experience that is relevant, engaging, and real, on this seder night we might feel the pull towards an evening that is unifying and avoid conversations that divide us.

While on other seder nights, the joy of Passover night is full; the promise of spring and the sense of renewal uplifts us, on this seder night we come to the table with mixed feelings. Some of us have an empty chair at our table for those who have been kidnapped and are being held hostage in Gaza. Others feel the painful absence of soldiers killed in combat. Still, others of us feel the ache for those who have been killed and are suffering on both sides of the conflict. Heartbreak and longing accompany us this seder night. 

For all of us who are hosting seder tonight, you are in a unique position. You are inviting your guests to be active participants in an ancient ritual that holds potential for healing, healthy discussion and hope.

The seder table is the stage upon which the ancient rite of retelling the story of our liberation takes place. Friends, family, and invited guests are the actors. And the Haggadah is our script.  As you prepare the stage for seder night, I invite you to consider these five conceptual frameworks to guide your preparation. 

This seder night, how can we set the stage for something different?

Framework 1: 

Setting Intentions: Enable freedom within boundaries

As the convener you get to set the tone for the evening. This takes place from the moment you extend the invitation. By articulating your intentions at the outset you put your family and other guests at ease. The journey toward freedom invites full participation when there is structure. Just as children can feel free to express themselves when the boundaries are clear and dependable, your guests will feel comfortable sharing openly when boundaries are set and intentions are articulated.

Toward the beginning of the seder — as you invite everyone around the table and review the ‘order’ of the Passover ritual, share a few intentions (or in Hebrew, kavvanot) that will encourage participation, questions and mutual respect. Three is a good number of intentions to set (and easy to remember.) To get the maximum amount of buy-in, you can set 2 intentions and ask folks to share a third. Consider choosing an intention from this list, or choose one that is more suitable to your setting. 

1/ Speak in the first person about your experiences and opinions.

2/ Share from a place of authenticity — what brings you joy and what causes you pain.

3/ Agree to be awkward and know that your contributions will be received with care.

4/ Give everyone at the table the benefit of the doubt.

5/  Approach each other with curiosity.

Framework 2: 

Tales of Resilience: Make space for elders and their stories

On all other nights, we front-end seder experiences that will engage the kids. We highlight them during the 4 questions or the 10 plagues. This seder night our journey toward freedom is paved by a resilient spirit. Lessons in resilience are most readily learned from our elders. We need their voices and their stories of how they have come out of “Egypt” over and over again. Draw out the lessons they learned from enduring adversity and ways they held onto their Jewish identities nonetheless. Ask the children to be the bridge to the elders this year. Have the younger generation ask the elders present the following questions, or generate your own: 

  • Was there ever a time when you didn’t want to share with other people that you are Jewish? What was the context? What happened?
  • Who did you learn to be a proud Jew from?
  • What is important to you about being Jewish?
  • How old were you during a memorable Israeli milestone moment, such as the founding of the state, the six day war or the signing of the Oslo accords?
  • How has Israel changed over the years? 
  • What is it about the Israeli spirit that inspires you?
  • What is the most joyous part about being Jewish for you?
  • Who is a Jewish role model for you and why?
  • What political/historical challenges have you/our family faced?  How did you/we overcome or deal with them?
  • What’s a lesson you’ve learned about resilience or strength that you wish you knew when you were the age of the youngest person at the table?

Share a time when you were last in Israel. If you could share a ‘snapshot’ of a meaningful comment on your trip, what would be in the picture? (share details.)

Who is a model of Jewish pride for you?

Framework 4: 

Practice asking better questions. 

Passover is the festival of questions. Slaves and those in bondage can’t ask questions. Questions are the medium by which we know we are a free people. Freedom carries with it great responsibility. So many of us are not careful with how we speak, and what we ask. We may ask combative questions that can put others on the defensive (e.g. “What were you thinking?”). As journalist and radio personality Krista Tippett once wrote, “Questions elicit answers in their likeness…It’s hard to transcend a combative question. But it’s hard to resist a generous question. We all have it in us to formulate questions that invite honesty, dignity, and revelation. There is something redemptive and life-giving about asking a better question.” Learning how to ask generous questions is a skill we can invite our seder-goers to practice. Encourage people to ask open-ended questions like, “Who do you look up to? What inspires you about them?” or “What brought you to that way of thinking?” or “What is a different way of understanding this?” Learning to ask better questions can help build a bridge to folks around the table who feel hard to reach. 

Framework 5: 

Elevate gratitude.

One of the hallmarks of resilient people, and the Jewish people as a Resilient People, is a habit of gratitude. Gratitude can hold space for loss even as we celebrate life. To paraphrase resilience researcher, Dr. Lucy Hone, “Don’t Lose What You Have to What You Have Lost.”

Take a moment at the beginning of the Seder to have your fellow seder-goers look around the room to appreciate everyone who is there. At the end of the seder, ask everyone present to share a word of personal gratitude they have for the evening. (You can fit this in right before Hallel.) Gratitude for what is present in our lives is that much more important in times like these, when we know there is so much that is not yet redeemed.

Family relationships are long journeys of discovery and can hold discomfort. 

As you go through seder night, invite people to ask questions about the texts in this supplement, and to bring their own perspectives. If arguments start to brew, welcome it. As the convener, if you find that a few people are dominating, invite other people to join the discussion by saying, “I wonder if there are other perspectives…” Remember your role on seder night is not to achieve world peace. It is to create an environment in which you can collectively experience a ritual together that will quickly turn into a family memory. As the convener, ensure that everyone around the table feels like they are valued and belong. Our families and friends are the contexts in which we work out so many of our ideas and ideals. Each person gathered there is meant to be there. We need everyone – young, old, opinionated, passive. As the convener, be patient, loving and inclusive.

This piece is taken from “The Solidarity Seder Supplement 2024” by Mishael Zion and Noam Zion. You can find the full supplement here:

About the Author
Dasee Berkowitz is an executive facilitator, coach and educator who helps professionals create the work cultures they want, through better interpersonal communication. She is also author of, "Becoming a Soulful Parent: A path to the wisdom within." She lives in Jerusalem with her husband and three children.
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