Passover Seder for Newbies
Passover is on its way, and Jewish tables around the world will be piled high with matzah, bitter herbs, and wine for the Passover seder, the ceremonial feast that celebrates the freeing of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Many Jewish homes invite strangers or acquaintances to the table for the seder—and in recent years, that tradition has often expanded to include people of different faiths. If you’ve had the honor of being invited to your first Passover seder, here are a few do’s and don’ts.
- Don’t, for the love of G-d, appear on the doorstep with a loaf of bread from your favorite boulangerie. Ordinarily, it’s a nice thing to do. At Passover, not so much: during the holiday, only bread without leavening (matzah, which San Francisco-based Reform Rabbi Ruth Adar describes as a kind of “huge saltless saltine”) can be eaten.
- But, to be a good guest, do bring something. Dietary restrictions surround this holiday, so wine or candy labeled “kosher for Passover,” fresh flowers or toys for the kids are great ideas.
- Don’t arrive ravenous. This is a ceremonial feast, so each step, sip, reading and bite are freighted with symbolic meaning. It’s hard to relive and discuss the significance of the flight from Egypt if your stomach is rumbling.
- Do come ready to drink. According to custom, four glasses of wine are consumed by each guest during Passover. Depending on your host, these glasses might be small or large, but there are still four of them. If you don’t drink alcohol, grape juice will likely be available. Ask beforehand.
- Do stick around. Even short seders (technically sederim) are not grab-and-go affairs, and a long one can last far into the night. (It’s said that one of the most beloved Passover customs, the hiding of the afikomen for the children to find, originated to help keep them awake through the entire seder.) So, be prepared.
- Don’t be afraid to ask. Passover, with its many questions and answers, is an educational event, and that extends to you, the guest. It’s OK to ask what you should wear, what you can bring, and, during the seder, what the significance of each food and action is. Politely, of course.
Lavonne Leong writes about arts, science, business, family, and yes, shopping, from her little yellow house in Honolulu, where she lives with her husband and daughters. She is not at all Jewish, but she’s been a guest at enough seders to know why that night is different from all other nights.