By Josh Weiner – this is the second article of a series. The first one, with reflections and encouragements, can be found here.
How different is this night from all other nights. But in a way, how very Jewish! Jews are paradoxical people, holding onto a strict tradition, and always finding ways to adapt to a changing reality. For over two thousand years, Jews have made Pesach fit to the situations they faced – whether under persecution, in exile, or in comfort and in flourishing communities. Pesach this year will be difficult and unfamiliar, and call for lots of creativity – and yet it will join the chain of thousands of years of Pesach seders calling for creativity. What we do this year will also echo into the future, and enter the story of our people. Our innovations could be the next generations’ traditions. It might be hard to think like this, looking at our situation today from the perspective of thousands of years, and it’s also ok to just be where we are, doing the best we can with what we have. That’s what Jews do!
- Sefaria Haggadah – full traditional Ashkenazi text
- Haggadot.com – put together your own Haggadah
- Talmud.de – Die ganze Haggadah auf Deutsch
- The Minimalist’s Guide to Passover and Seder – collection of tips for preparing a kosher for Pesach kitchen and meal
- A Different Night – a collection of ideas for Seder 2020
- Seder2020.org – Find a virtual seder to attend, or invite others to yours
- Seder for One – a menu suggestion for micro-Seders
Before the Seder
- Prepare for the night with friends and family over the phone or internet. Share at least the sense of the entire community being in this situation together – alone!
- Talk and compare your seder plans with others’, if you want. Steal ideas!
- Write down some questions that you want to ponder over the seder.
- Prepare a great meal of things you want, from the food available to you. You can find some easy Pesach-friendly recipes here, towards the end of the page, or a simple menu here. But also don’t let the cooking be a stressful part of the evening.
- If you don’t have a haggadah, download one or create a personalised one (see resource section)
- Berlin: If you need specific Pesach ingredients such as Matzah, you can contact Berlin Tisch, or buy online from Kosher4U or Always Together.
- You can do the seder in nicer clothes than usual, or in pyjamas. Both are signs of liberty.
At the Seder
This is the first of the four cups of wine drunk on Pesach. Four cups alone?! Why not. Tonight is different. This is one of the signs of being a free person, and reminds us that this meal is a significant and sacred one. Lean back luxuriously on the couch or in the most comfortable place in the home while drinking the wine.
Washing hands has never had so much significance as this year! But take some time to enjoy a ritual hand-washing that has no rational hygienic purpose. Feel the water running over your hands. This marks the beginning of the Seder experience.
There are different traditions of which vegetable is used for Karpas, but you can reclaim the ancient Roman origin of this tradition: a yummy vegetable to snack on while you do all the talking before the main course!
- What meaning do you give to this ritual, of breaking the middle matzah? Maybe, look at the broken and whole matzahs, and think what is broken and whole in the world around us.
- The traditional text here says something surprising: “This year we are slaves, next year we will be free.” What did this sentence mean last year? What does it mean to you now? What will next year’s Pesach look like?
- The text throws a welcome to the world: “Let all who are hungry, come here and eat!” Maybe we should skip this tonight. Maybe we should leave it as a wish for the future.
- This is the core of the storytelling part of the Seder. This is where you can be most yourself.
- You can say the words from the Haggadah in any language you please, or savour the strange familiarity of the Hebrew texts.
- If you can bear how strange it feels: speak to yourself out loud!
- Take the question-and-answer tradition seriously. Perhaps prepare some questions in advance you would like to take the time to dedicate some thoughts to.
- Read parts of the Exodus story and find at least one phrase that seems relevant to where you are this year.
- A big bulk of the traditional Maggid section is a complex word-by-word interpretation of four sentences from the book of Deuteronomy. Look at the original text, and ask some questions about it. Make up some answers too.
- Say the words ‘Pesach’, ‘Matzah’, and ‘Maror’, point to them on the table (Pesach is symbolised either by a roasted bone on the plate, or just by the meal itself), and explore what they should symbolise this year.
- Find some books or poems on your bookshelf that you used to like but haven’t looked at for years. Read a passage out loud, ceremonially.
- Finish this section with another good glass of wine!
Wash your hands again! Enjoy the silliness and seriousness of being alone and going through these rituals.
Finally, eating this matzah! There are different symbolic meanings for the matzah, the lechem oni: a bread of poverty, a bread of simpleness, a bread of difficulties, a bread of giving answers. What is it for you?
It’s not obvious that at the celebration of freedom, we bring the bitterness of the Pesach story onto our table, experiencing it with our bodies. But we do: by eating Maror before the meal, we insist on reliving also the bitter aspects of a life of slavery and opression. Why? And the charoset, the sweet apple-and-wine dish, is a symbol either of the cement made by the slaves in Egypt or the plague of blood. Strangely, these two symbolic foods, one sweet and one bitter, are eaten at the same time.
Even more paradoxical, we wrap up the maror and matzah and eat them together. Why?
Treat yourself to a great meal, as much as you can afford.
Tzafun means ‘hidden’. In big Seders with lots of children, half the matzah (the ‘afikoman’) is hidden at the beginning of the meal, and the children who find it bring it at this point to be eaten. This probably won’t happen this year alone. But this is a time to reflect – on a full stomach – on the idea of hiddenness and uncertainty in our world. An unseen virus that has shaken confidence in the future. There’s also another side to hiddenness – that anything could happen! One overlooked aspect of freedom is that we’re open to all sorts of surprises. Dare yourself to engage in an optimistic fantasy.
Sing Birkat Hamazon out loud, and finish with a third glass of wine.
This is a set of psalms that expresses thankfulness (although if you look at the text closely, especially in the middle, you’ll find a much darker and more complex attitude to the fragility of life.) Take some moments to think about what you’re thankful for, who you could and should thank, in these strange times. And end with a fourth cup of wine – the taste of strange liberty!
At the end, there’s all the classic Pesach songs. Sing any of them you like. Or sing or hum other songs you think speak to where we’re at today.
Wishing everyone health, strength and moments of joy and calmness.