Ask Miriam | Passover Questions Asked and Answered

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I asked my Facebook friends for Passover questions, and wow did they deliver. In order to give as much Passover-related advice as possible between now and the first seder, I’m going to be briefly answering several questions today and for the next couple weeks. Enjoy, and keep the questions coming!

Dear Miriam,

My sibling prefers Passover to be just with our immediate family. My husband and I like to invite “random” folks from our synagogue who might not otherwise have a big Passover seder to go to. We host. How can we balance our family obligations with what we feel are our larger communal obligations to include new people?


Signed,

Conflicted host

Dear Host,

You balance it just the way you’re doing — by doing both. Your sibling’s family traditions and memories don’t need to be compromised by new people being there. “Random” synagogue members don’t need to be part of your family to appreciate the kind of seder environment that comes from having relatives all together. You all get the best of both worlds.

I wonder if you can involve your sibling in the conversation so that the whole thing doesn’t feel quite as out of the box. Ask if there’s an ideal number of guests that keeps the night from feeling overwhelming. Ask if s/he has any friends who might appreciate being included. Ask if there’s a particular family experience or tradition that could be highlighted in a meaningful way.

If it comes to it, next year you could consider doing one night just for family and the other night for anyone you wish to include. Even better if there’s a way to get your sibling to host the family night to be just the way s/he envisions without putting the extra work on you to host two nights.

Be well,

Miriam

Dear Miriam,

As a non-Jew, I’ve been lucky enough to be included in a friend’s family seder for several years. This year, I’m attending a different friend’s seder. I don’t know how much to expect will be the same from what I’m used to and what they might expect from me as a guest. What are some general guidelines for being appropriate and respectful?

Signed,

Honored guest

Dear Guest,

You’d certainly be within your rights as a guest to ask your friend to give you an overview of the seder you’ll be attending. There are some things that are likely to be true of all seders — the seder plate, singing Dayenu, some amount of storytelling — but the flavor of each seder is unique to the hosts.

Some are short and sweet and mostly focus on dinner. Some involve participatory, drawn-out arguments and longstanding family debates. Some are focused on singing and kids, some highlight political parallels to today’s world. You won’t know the full experience until you live through it, which is true no matter how many seders you’ve attended.

Expect to do a lot of listening, but also, asking questions is an essential seder experience as well. Because the rules for Passover food can be quite overwhelming, don’t plan to bring any food or drink as a host gift. Other than that, plan to be open and interested and go along on the journey.

Be well,

Miriam

Dear Miriam,

How do I prioritize physical versus social comfort at the seder? I can either crowd everyone around one table, which is not super comfortable, or I can do two tables, which feels less nice, socially.

Signed,

Crowded table

Dear Crowded,

One important aspect of the seder is that we are supposed to recline while eating and drinking. This unusual positioning is meant to demonstrate freedom, and also, depending on who you ask, to mimic a Greek symposium. Few of us, at least in city houses, have space for multiple guests and lots of cushions, but comfort really is an important aspect of seder planning.

If there’s any way to create a link between the two tables so that people don’t feel physically separated, I’d opt for that. You may need to rearrange furniture or think creatively about other aspects of hosting, but it’s worth exploring. If two tables are really more practical, think of a creative way to acknowledge that — maybe a responsive reading between the two, or a call-and-response song where the tables take turns.

If you do separate the tables, be sure that there is sufficient matzah on each one, as well as two seder plates, so that you’re not constantly passing back and forth and one table doesn’t feel left out. I’d probably err on the side of closeness and potential slight discomfort so that conversation is easier, and maybe you can move to the couch after dinner, an experience of reclining that everyone can appreciate.

Be well,

Miriam

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