Symposium on Second Seder

By The iWorship Listserv Community

As the agent provocateur on the iWorship listserv, Larry Kaufman posed a question to his colleagues on Passover Sunday: “How many of you, in this one-day-yom tov Reform movement, participated in a second seder?” He did not ask his usual follow-up question (“If you did, what was your reason, as a Reform Jew, for doing so?), but many of the list-mates supplied reasons anyway, along with a variety of interesting perspectives on seder observance. Though we can’t draw any reliable statistical inferences from the information collected, we’re interpreting the data to suggest three main reasons for the prevalence of second sedorim, and, yes, they are prevalent:

  • People attend a family seder one night and a congregational or community seder the other night. (More about this later.)
  • People celebrate one night with family and one night with friends, or some other segmentation of social circles. (Perhaps surprisingly, no one reported on one night with wife’s family, one night with husband’s family.)
  • People grew up with two sedorim and don’t want to let go of their personal tradition.

Clearly no one in our online community is concerned with the Reform one-night ideology. However, Marge Auerbach reported that the founding rabbi of her 15-year-old congregation refused to participate when the empty nester laity organized a second seder, because “I’m a Reform Jew, and we do one seder.” (The current rabbi happily attends.) Marge’s cantorial training stands her in good stead as the seder leader, and she loves “making it different from the first night and fun for our members, their children and grandchildren.”

Making it different is a key motif in second seder – not just why is this night different from all other nights, but how is it different from last night. A pre-Passover blog post talked about menu differences between first seder and second seder. Larry Porter and Fred Isaac used a different Haggadah each night, in Larry’s case accommodating his own preference at one seder, and that of family members at the other, in Fred’s case using the family heirloom Haggadah they’ve been using since the 50s on the first night, and a children’s Haggadah on the second night. Others vary the music from night to night, or, like Miles Barel, the discussion questions.

Another discovery was that we as a community are not hung up on which night of Passover it is when we celebrate. Dave Henig’s family typically has only one seder, but this year, because of logistics, held it on the second night. Both Mike Waxman and Frank Castronova attend second seder if someone invites them but make their own seder only the first night. One usual second-seder hostess had to work this year on Saturday, so made her second seder on the third night. Jenn Bernat always celebrates the first two nights in her home community, and travels the following weekend to have seder with her husband’s family. Kathy Storfer’s congregation, like Jenn’s, reserves the first night for families, and the second night has a community gathering, but this year is adding a dessert study session as a third seder.

Ari Levine grew up as an RK (rabbi’s kid), where the congregational seder was the first night and the family seder the second.  When Ari was in college, he led a revolt against attending the congregational seder, which each of his siblings followed as soon as s/he turned 18. The result was that first night became “Sibling Seder,” often including Jewish and non-Jewish friends, with second night still the large, family seder. When proximity permits, Sibling Seder still goes on, and Ari still treasures the different themes and audiences of both.

It seems that the pattern of congregational sedorim on the first night used to be much more common than it is today. But Steve Silbert’s congregation decided that switching the congregational seder this year from its traditional second-night spot to first night made sense as a way to deal with the overlap of first night with Shabbat.

Sue MacDonald reports on a friend who hosts sedorim both first and second nights and declines to attend elsewhere because she must have the seder done her way. Sue feels sad that her friend has closed herself from the opportunity to experience, enjoy, and learn from other approaches and traditions.

The minority report on second seder comes from Elaine Lavine, who says she’s just too exhausted for a second seder, even one she doesn’t have to prepare. Moreover, the first one leaves her with enough meaning (and enough leftovers) to carry her through the second night. Kathy Storfer concurs, pointing out that doing two nights in a row would certainly not engender feelings of gratitude for liberty and freedom!

Thanks to the other participants in the online discussion in addition to those quoted in the above post – Rich Furman, Patricia Hans, Fred Ross-Perry, and Marilynn Yentis.

The iWorship Listserv is made up of Ritual/Worship Committee members, rabbis, cantors, and other Reform Jews interested in the prayer life of congregations. The iWorship Listserv is available to all members of Union for Reform Judaism and World Union for Progressive Judaism congregations.

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5 Responses to “Symposium on Second Seder”

  1. avatar
    John Schwartzberg Reply April 10, 2012 at 11:49 am

    I can never remember not having a second Seder. To this day, first Seder is a family event. It was always hosted by my parents, and for the last 18 years or so, by my wife and I. We often host second Seder as well, but have accepted invitations to others’ and, for a few years, attended the synagogue’s community Seder. Until Larry brought it up, I never thought of it as a Yom Tov Sheini issue – even with my “mutt” Jewish pedigree (influences and experiences across the broad spectrum of Judaism from Orthodoxy to Reform), I just never considered not celebrating two Seders.

    We use the same Haggadah each year, but add things from other sources. For example, one year, I handed out descriptions of the ten plagues from an English translation of the Chumash. Everyone chose their favorite plague, and read (many with “commentary”) aloud those passages. The next year, we were running late, so everyone read them aloud – all at the same time. I often select a theme for the discussion elements that accompany the reading of the Haggadah. Some years, things go according to plan. Other years – like this year – the Seder itself derives its energy from the participants, and things go in a different direction. The discussion this year derived from a question posed by a guest, which was a tremendous question: “If Pharoah was prepared to give in after each plague, and the Torah tells us that G-d hardened his heart to change his mind, why did G-d do that, and who were the remaining nine plagues *really* intended for?” In addition, my son, who is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, kept the discussion going at every turn, peppering the Seder with about a dozen thoughtful questions(including one: “Would you tell the same story every year if there were no children present at the Seder, and everyone had been there before?”) I try to find a new element to introduce every few years to keep things fresh. A few years ago, we introduced the Afgani custom of swinging a green onion at your neighbor during the chorus of Dayenu – it certainly lightens the mood and creates a moment for thought when we explain the origin of the custom. Our Seder friends now call ahead to make sure the onion bit will be included…

    I loved our Seder this year – with everyone engaged and all the questions, my dear bride was going apoplectic with concern that the chicken was withering away to resemble the desert! The chicken came out fantastic, the new rhubarb charoset was a bit of a disappointment, but the kahal had a grand time and enjoyed the lively discussion. While we don’t feel compelled to uphold the tradition of some to eat at midnight, I like to let the energy determine the timing of the Shulchan Orech – which creates all sorts of confusion in the kitchen!

    I must admit that I was completely energized by the experience – when a good Seder really clicks, it is energizing and rejuvenating, no matter how high the stack of dishes and glasses waiting in the kitchen afterwards. Hope your Seder experiences this year were equally meaningful….

  2. avatar

    I think the observation is correct that in the Reform Movement, the primary reason for second day sedorim is the need for both a family/home seder and a congregational/community seder. The congregational seder became common during the period when Classical Reform was still the dominant minhag, and second day Yom Tov observance was unheard of. That custom really has nothing to do with the broader practice of second days of Festivals. Synagogue seders usually take on a very different character from family affairs, and I personally would feel that something was missing if I did not do both in a given year. I assume many others share this feeling.

    So, I guess my feeling is that multiple seders are fine because there are good reasons for having different kinds of seders in the same year, while in general there is no excuse for officially-sanctioned second day Yamim Tovim given the historical reasons for the practice.

  3. avatar

    I suspect that, at its origin, the Reform congregational seder was not intended to fill the need for both a home and a congregational seder, but to affirm the importance of attending a seder by making it easy to do so.

    I agree that there are many reasons for attending one or more “extra” seders, but those reasons are social, nostalgic, possibly intellectual — but not religious, at least not in any kind of halachic sense, one day observance being the Reform halacha.

  4. avatar

    I am glad that Reform is becoming more open minded about second seder. Like the story of the Rabbi who refused to attend the second seder, I have memories of hardline Reform Rabbis from the 1970’s who seemed to preach the idea that to Reform, anything goes except for traditional Jewish practice. I remember one Rabbi who had no problem attending church services and the church wedding of friends, but refused to set foot in an Orthdox synagogue and told his congregants to do likewise, not even to attend the wedding/bar mitzvah etc of an Orthodox relative. I’m glad to see that Reform is finding a middle ground that even though the second seder isn’t required, it is still an option on the table. Ironically, enough, the Conservative movement is starting to shy away from their past position that the second seder is required, and are starting to view it as optional.

    • avatar

      David, I think the over-riding principle is that Reform now defines itself by what we do rather than by what we do not do. And the change in the Conservative movement is that they now adjust their positions to reflect what we did ten years ago, whereas formerly it was what we did twenty years ago.

      I do think your rabbi who wouldn’t countenance entering an Orthodox synagogue was more than a little extreme. But I am reminded of the very prominent Reform rabbi who wouldn’t wear a yarmulke — we didn’t know from kipot in those days — but when circumstances required that his head be covered (as when he co-officiated at a wedding with a Conservative rabbi) would wear his big black Homburg.

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