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Four Modern Questions for Passover

This year, Passover and Easter will be celebrated in the same week. At sundown on March 27th, Jews all over the world begin the eight-day celebration of Passover with a seder, during which the Passover story is recounted. As part of the seder, four questions are asked by the youngest participant who can recite them. These questions clarify the difference the Passover seder has from other meals the family may share.

For members of interfaith families celebrating Passover for the first time, though, many other questions will also be asked. These may include:

Does my husband have to be Jewish to lead the seder? The answer is no. And your wife can also lead it.

What is the seder plate and where can I find it? Most haggadahs, books that tell the story of Passover, will explain the significance of the seder plate. The plate itself may be purchased at stores that carry Judaica, including synagogue gift shops or online sites.

I know you can’t serve bread, but are there special foods that must be prepared? Most haggadahs or any Passover cookbook will include this information.

It’s the first time my parents, who aren’t Jewish, have been invited to a seder. Should they offer to bring something, and if so, what? Many supermarkets sell special Kosher for Passover items at this time, and it would be appropriate to bring a dessert or wine that is marked Kosher for Passover, or a bouquet of flowers.

Today, there are more interfaith seders being held than ever before–not only because of the high rate of intermarriage, but because it is a moving experience. Since September 11th the words “freedom” and “America” have taken on a new meaning for us all. The telling of the Jews’ flight from slavery to freedom, the food, and the special Passover dishes provide an interesting adventure, and at the same time, a happy and fun occasion.

If this is the year you’ve decided to celebrate Passover with a seder in your home, just know:

1. You needn’t be Jewish to lead a seder, but it is helpful to familiarize yourself with a haggadah, so that you will know what normally happens.
2. If you don’t have a haggadah, check your public library, your local synagogue’s library, or a bookstore near you. With a wide variety of haggadahs to choose from, you’ll have an opportunity to select the one you’ll be most comfortable with.
3. Most important, be sure and include your children in planning your seder. They can help you shop, make place cards, napkin holders, or help arrange the seder plate.

If you are attending someone else’s seder, allow your children to help select a gift they can bring to the host, hostess, or to their children.

You won’t have “Passover Panic!” if you follow these tips.
For the Seder Leader
The most important part of a seder is telling the story of the Exodus, and making sure the children understand.

* Read through the haggadah you plan to use so that you can familiarize yourself with the story.
* Give each person a chance to read.
* Choose prayers and songs that appeal to you.
* Children’s participation is very important at the seder. Assign the children their parts in advance so they will feel comfortable reading them.
* Using pretty paper or plastic plates and small glasses for the ceremonial portion of the seder is fine. There will be fewer dishes to wash and the wine may not get spilled on the tablecloth.
* Since Passover is the holiday of religious freedom, invite your guests to participate. One suggestion is to ask each person to share a short thought on “What being free means to me.”
* Try to invite a newcomer to your community, a widow or widower, or a college student to share your seder with you.

For “First-Time” Seder Participants

  • Bring a small token of thanks for the host family, such as flowers for the table or specially marked Kosher for Passover wine or dessert.
  • If your host family has small children, consider bringing a Passover storybook or game.
    The seder is a religious occasion. Arrive on time.
  • Don’t ask to bring a friend along at the last minute. If there is someone special you would like to bring, ask your host family well in advance.
  • It’s all right to ask what the dress code will be.
  • Should you have any special dietary needs, inform your host when you are invited.

Zell Schulman

Zell Schulman is the author of several cookbooks, including Passover Seders Made Simple (Hungry Minds, 2001, $16.95).