4 Ways to Create Your Most Welcoming Passover Seder Ever
With Passover approaching, you may be planning to host a seder. Whether this is your first or fiftieth time, hosting a seder is a wonderful way to connect to Jewish tradition with family and friends, and perhaps even new people in your life.
Because Judaism compels us to welcome guests into our “open tent,” it’s important to ensure that your seder is warm, inviting, and audaciously hospitable.
1. Welcome newcomers.
Some of your guests may be Jewish, some may be in the process of becoming Jewish, and some may come from different backgrounds altogether. This may also be their very first seder, and they may be nervous about not being able to keep up. This is an opportunity to turn up the dial on your hospitality by fully welcoming them – exactly as they are.
Tell guests ahead of time that they are not expected to know Hebrew or even basic Passover facts; simply their presence is wanted and appreciated. Be sure to introduce your guests to one another, and before you begin the seder, go around the table and encourage others to share their names and something unique about themselves. Beforehand, feel free to even send your guests this article about what to expect at a seder to give them an idea of what’s in store!
2. Experiment with your food.
Passover is the perfect time to innovate and experiment in many different ways, including and especially with food. If you have a time-honored meal tradition, such as a roast brisket or an eggplant casserole, by all means, continue to serve it!
However, you may also wish to preemptively reach out to your guests to ask about their favorite dishes. Perhaps you have guests that come from different cultural backgrounds. If so, ask if they’d be comfortable with you either making a dish they enjoy or bringing it themselves; you can even provide them with this list of what’s acceptable to eat on Passover.
Carol Greenberg, a retired Hebrew School teacher and current English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor, says:
“Every year I run a pre-Passover seder program at my synagogue, which features Jewish speakers and cuisines from different countries like Ethiopia, Greece, Israel, and Iran. I import many of the new dishes to my home seder. It’s always fun to see my guests try new foods like Israeli charoset with date paste, quinoa with roasted veggies, pomegranate chicken, and a Sephardic matzah and meat pie.”
Additionally, be sure to ask your guests ahead of time about any food allergies or dietary restrictions they may have. For instance, there are plenty of options available for delicious nut-free charoset so that your guests with nut allergies can still enjoy this tasty, traditional dish.
3. Embrace active inclusion.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important Jewish values, and the Passover seder presents a prime opportunity to put them into action. When going around the seder plate, take a moment to teach everyone about what each item symbolizes and to ask others for their perspectives as well. No matter what level of observance, everybody has something unique and beneficial to share, and we all have the chance to learn something new as well.
In regard to the seder plate’s symbolism, in the past few decades, some people have begun incorporating modern additions onto their Seder plate. One example is the practice of putting an orange on the Seder plate as a feminist message. As we grow in our practice of audacious hospitality, this is a perfect time to ask: What twists can I add to my own seder plate? What honors this centuries-old tradition while respecting the lives and experiences of all who suffer from oppression today?
When going around the room reading the Haggadah, ask your first-time guests if they’re comfortable reading a section. This seemingly small act of inclusion can go a long way toward making your guests feel included, and it also gives them the chance to learn about the beautiful and sacred history of the Jewish people.
4. Practice sensitivity.
In regard to history, whenever mentioning the Israelites being slaves in Egypt, it’s important not to compare the suffering of the Jewish people to other historically – or currently – enslaved people. For instance, comparing the Israelites’ enslavement story to the trans-Atlantic African slave trade is offensive not only because they were two vastly different injustices, but also because the descendants of kidnapped and enslaved Africans still suffer from the mental, emotional, and socioeconomic trauma associated with that painful part of human history.
Additionally, comparing the enslavement of Africans in America to Jewish enslavement can indirectly imply that Jews and black people are two completely separate, unrelated entities – which is, of course, untrue. It’s important to recount this part of the Exodus story and to use it as a driving force to combat injustice everywhere, but it’s just as important that we do so in a way that doesn’t appropriate others’ trauma.
Ultimately, Passover is both a chance to study and have fun; to teach others and to learn something new yourself; to engage with loved ones while reliving the past and envisioning the future. This Passover, go the extra mile to make sure all of your guests feel welcomed, no matter their background, knowledge, or experience.
Chris Harrison is the writer and editor for Audacious Hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism and a fellow in the 2018 JewV’Nation Fellowship’s Jews of Color Leadership Cohort.