Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ever Been to a Truly Meaningful Seder?

Parenting Through a Jewish Lens Alumni Advisory Group Chair Jessica Boatright reflects on making Passover Seders significant and shares a special family tradition. 

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that we recently had a great event to help alumni and friends of Parenting Through a Jewish Lens prepare for Passover. The afternoon included two short (and inspiring!) classes for parents – one on making the seder meaningful for our kids, led by Rabbi Julie Zupan, and the other on making the seder meaningful for adults, led by Rabbi Natan Margalit.

I have been reflecting on the session with Natan, and what it meant to me as a parent and individual. Natan began our session with a question that really struck me – he asked the group if they had ever been to a seder that was truly meaningful to them, as adults. Less than half the room raised their hands. His assertion, which received a lot of knowing looks, was that as parents we spend a lot of time thinking about how to make holidays and traditions meaningful and fun for our kids, and not very much time thinking about how to make them meaningful for ourselves. Moreover, as we learned as PTJL participants, helping our kids find meaning and connection is dependent not just on how we teach but on how we are – on how our kids perceive our own connection to Judaism. Natan’s Passover class was about nurturing this connection.

Luckily for me, I was able to raise my hand to Natan’s question, as I have been to not just one, but to many seders that have been meaningful to me as an adult. One reason for this is a tradition that we started with my mother’s family of having two very different seders – a traditional seder on the first night of Passover, and a more modern interpretation of a seder on the second night. Each year someone would find a new Hagaddah to use on the second night, usually aligned with a political theme (feminism, the labor movement, etc) or an expression of the seder (the puppet-based “We Tell It To Our Children” is a family favorite). Doing these two seders allowed us to deepen our connection to the holiday – reminding us that the story is both ancient and contemporary, that the seder is to be experienced both collectively and individually, and that Passover reminds us not just of our connections to the Jewish people but of our connections to humanity as well.

As the busy mother of two young children, however, it is easy to fall into the trap of forgetting the grown-ups, and myself, in the seders. While I might decorate the table with plastic figurines of the plagues for the kids to play with, I am hard-pressed to make time to find a new Hagaddah every year. But Natan’s class and my memories have me thinking – perhaps we don’t need a whole new seder to get us thinking. Instead, we can look for moments, maybe even just one, that we can add to help us find new meaning. It doesn’t even need to take much time. Put an orange (or a tomato) on your seder plate for the first time. When you raise each cup of wine, take a moment to tie it to a modern social justice issue. There are plenty of resources online, in print, and elsewhere to get you started in picking something. Below are a few ideas from Natan and me:

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