Monday, March 16, 2009

Play-Full Passover Customs for the Seder

With Passover right around the corner, we’re all asking: “how can we make this year’s Seder different from all Seder nights in the past?” The answer is simple if you incorporate a few Sephardi customs plus one from Hungary, and tie them all together.

If you’re familiar with my book Passover Around the World you know that Turkish Jews literally have a first act to their Seder. As the Seder leader breaks the middle matzah in half and covers one part for the afikomen, a designated guest leaves the table, slips into a costume, returning as an Israelite – much like the illustration above from my book.

They then put on a little play that goes like this:

A knock is heard at the front door.

Seder Leader: Who could that be?
The Seder leader gets up and opens the door wide so everyone can see the guest.
Seder Leader: Where are you coming from?
Guest: The land of Egypt
Seder Leader: What!! You’re no longer a slave?
Guest: No. Now I am free.
Seder Leader: And where are you going?
Guest: To Jerusalem

At that point everyone sitting around the table applauds and the guest is invited in.

I’ve discovered two more customs that sound like a lot of fun and easily complement the Turkish script. The first one comes from Yemen, where in many households it was the Seder leader who pretended to be one of the Israelites. Using a wood cane, he would walk around the table, telling everyone about his life as a slave and the miracles he witnessed. Let’s say we stick with the Turkish script and give it a Yemenite twist. After everyone applauds and the guest steps in, the guest circles the table, recalling life as a slave. When s/he finally sits down, a custom practiced by some Egyptian Jews can then be incorporated – tying a piece of Matzah into a small sack made out of a napkin, placing it on one’s shoulder (the same way a slave would carry an object), then passing it around the table from shoulder to shoulder. My suggestion here is to continue the play. Have everyone say something as the matzah “sack” is placed on his/her shoulder. Finally, let’s get the Ashkenazim into the act with a custom practiced by some Hungarian Jews. They decorate their Seder tables with gold and silver jewelry as a way of remembering the precious metals the Egyptians gave the Israelites, hoping that the plagues would stop. My suggestion: when you reach the 10 plagues, stop either before or after the 10th plague and have some of the Seder participants pretend they are Egyptians offering their jewels to the Israelites, begging them to end the plagues.

If I’ve gotten your creative juices flowing, write up the entire script and try it out in the classroom, at your home Seder, or both. Want to share it with me? Send your script to and I’ll post it.

Interested in more customs? Please visit my website to find out about my book Passover Around the World.

Finally, a quick reminder: Don’t forget to take advantage of this exclusive offer for TAMI LEHMAN-WILZIG KIDS BOOKS readers! Kar-Ben Publishing is offering 10% off your next order. Go to their online store and use coupon code TAMI when checking out. Offer expires August 10, 2009. One use per customer. Offer not valid with any other discounts.

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