Putting together a Passover seder is perhaps challenging enough, but add to that the bustle of modern life, working families, children being shuttled from day schools to evening activities, and planning out a thoughtful and meaningful seder may fall through the cracks.
Add to the mix an interfaith relationship, and making Passover inclusive and meaningful for everyone — children, adults, Jews and non-Jews — can be a hurdle, but one, that once surpassed, may prove powerful, and fun for all those around the table.
In “How to Run a Great Interfaith Seder,” on interfaithfamily.com, Rabbi Michael Zimmerman offers suggestions for making the Passover seder “both relevant for contemporary Jews — including those who have drifted away from Jewish life — and inviting to family and friends of different faith backgrounds.”
As tradition calls for, “everyone is welcome at the seder table, regardless of religion,” Zimmerman says.
He offers a few suggestions for a welcoming interfaith Passover seder, including: selecting a Haggadah that reflects your values without compromising authenticity; deciding on a theme; figuring out in advance who will read what; keeping it short; picking the ‘right’ person to ask the Four Questions; inviting discussion; anticipating difficult text; and engaging the children.
For Michael and Kate Goldstein of Towson, members of the JCC’s My Tribe, the most important and meaningful part of any holiday is getting together with family and friends. Michael considers himself spiritual and culturally Jewish, but not religious, and Kate, who grew up in a fairly secular household, celebrate Passover with a seder that includes their three children ages six and under.
“It’s a celebration of spending time with family and learning about some of the traditional foods,” Michael said. “That’s where the most importance is — the process of being with your family and celebrating life together.”
Michael said it’s also important to him to have the children learn about their culture and religion, but in a non-dogmatic way.
“I want to expose them and then they can make decisions themselves,” he said, about what his children’s future Jewish lives and family Passovers might look like. “It’s all a journey and I try to remain open-minded.”
For Jackie and Mike Gambone of Crofton, also members of My Tribe, many of Zimmerman’s ideas come into play when planning their Passover seder for their two daughters, parents, in-laws, friends and neighbors. Jackie said she usually has about 10 people around the seder table.
“My husband was raised Catholic and I was raised primarily Jewish, but with Christian holidays and traditions,” Jackie said. “My dad is Jewish. My mom was raised Christian Scientist and converted to Judaism.”
Jackie was bat mitzvahed and confirmed.
“The main religion that I grew up with was Judaism, but we would sometimes go to church, and we celebrated Easter and Christmas,” she said. “We have two little girls — Savannah is three and Giuliana is six next month. We wanted to make sure that we were teaching them the traditions of Judaism, the holidays of Judaism and the traditions and the holidays of Christian/Catholicism as well.”
The Gambones celebrate Christmas and Easter as well as Rosh Hashanah, Purim, Chanukah and Passover.
“We do a seder on Passover and we make it inclusive because my husband’s family is not Jewish,” Jackie said.
The Gambones’ seder is not only interfaith-friendly, but kid-friendly as well.
“We have finger puppets with all of the 10 plagues that we let the kids do. That’s super-fun,” Jackie said. “We hide the matzah and we talk about the afikomen. We talk about why is this night different from all the other nights.”
Rabbi Jessie Dressin, spiritual leader of My Tribe, made up special, colorful Passover seder placemats and this year, Jackie’s daughters grew the parsley for the seder plate at a My Tribe event. Her mother will use sign-language to sign the four questions for the kids.
“The placemats are our Haggadah,” Jackie said. “And we have a book — a special little Haggadah book, it’s a kid-friendly one. And we have a book from PJ library about Sesame Street and the Seder.”
“We leave a seat open and the door open,” she added. “We try to do the seder as legit as possible, but in the shortest amount of time because our kids are all 10 and under.”
Jackie’s favorite part of hosting a Passover seder is cooking family recipes, which she doesn’t do very often.
“It’s fun for me to carry on my grandmother’s tradition, my aunt’s tradition, and try to make new foods,” she said. “Seder was something we did with our family and it’s one of only two holidays I host here. I host Passover and Rosh Hashanah. All the other holidays are at my sister-in-law’s and they’re the non-Jewish holidays.”
“Last year we had two neighbors who had never been to a seder, so we have them come as well,” she added. “Really, anyone is welcome. It’s just a lot of fun.”