New Rituals for your seder
By Greg Weitzman
Every spring the celebration of Pesach enters the homes of Jews around the world. The observance of the Pesach seder, originally commanded in Exodus 12:14, for many Jews is a highlight of their year as families and friends come together around the table to commemorate the Exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. For many reasons, the dramatic themes in the observance of Pesach resonate with Jews around the world, making it one of the most widely observed holidays in the Jewish calendar. According to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS), 67% of Jews routinely hold or attend a Pesach seder, while only 46% belong to a synagogue.
What is it about the Passover seder that makes so many Jews want to observe its rituals? In my house, the seder offers our family the opportunity to come together and sit around one table. Some may be forced to come, others look forward to it, but all enjoy their time when we are there. Passover is a holiday that simply brings families together.
Around the world, observance of Pesach is as diverse and unique as the Jewish communities—every one observes the Pesach seder differently. The Reform movement has welcomed Miriam’s cup into its seder to represent the role that she played in the Exodus. Hasidic Jews in Poland reenact the crossing of the Red Sea in their livings rooms by spilling cups of water on the floor and reciting the names of towns they would be passing in a symbolic crossing. In the territory of Gibraltar on the coast of Spain, Jews mix little pieces of brick into their charoset as a symbol of the bricks that the Jews created before the Exodus. Communities of Ethiopian Jews have been known to break all of their old dishes to symbolize a complete break from the past and a new beginning. A little closer to home, my family looks forward to the new song parodies that my father, who has recently discovered Google, will ask us to sing.
It seems like the ritual observance of Pesach can be as creative and unique as the mind can imagine. Each family that comes together this year for a seder puts their own twist on the observance of the holiday. While I doubt that this year my mother will place fragments of brick into her charoset, I look forward to the taste of her homemade gefilte fish. Pesach is observed each spring and each spring Jews realize that while many new things have happened in their lives, inevitably not much has really changed.
Shanah Haba’ah b’Yerushalayim.
Greg Weitzman is a second-year rabbinic student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York campus.
Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah.