A not exhaustive but decently comprehensive list for seder hosting
By: Rabbi Jeff Stombaugh
The beginning of the seder should not be the first time you’re picking up the Haggadah. Get to know the book, and make some decisions about what you want to do and not do for your seder. You are designing and curating the experience for your table… don’t be that host who relinquishes the opportunity to create an awesome experience by being unprepared!
You’re the Emcee
Leading a seder is like emceeing a party. You don’t need to be the most knowledgeable Jew in the room, but you should know what’s happening next, and if someone asks a question and you don’t know the answer, pose the question back to the group. Someone will have an idea… and if they don’t, lead the way in brainstorming potential options!
Also… don’t feel bad about cutting conversations short to keep things moving. You can pick up anything later at dinner but you do want to get to dinner…
Slavery Sucks, Freedom is Awesome: Address Both
The seder is designed for us to experience the pain of slavery and the joys of freedom. No matter how your seder is themed: for newcomers, for social justice, kids, strangers, a non-traditional crowd, or straight up old school, don’t forget to spend time talking about both sides of this coin!
Know Your Audience
Who is going to be at your seder? Kids? Seasoned pros? First-timers? A mix? Be ready to explain the basics for whomever is at your seder and design to the ‘youngest’ at the table (whether age-wise or emotionally speaking). Bonus pro-tip: name tags and/or place cards can go a long way to inviting conversation and interaction regardless of how well everyone knows each other at the table.
Eat Before Dinner
At the beginning of your seder you will say the prayer “Boreh p’ree, ha’adamah.” The blessing for karpas, traditionally the parsley. This enables you to eat anything that is a fruit from the earth: potatoes, strawberries, carrots, peppers, legumes. Stock your table for pre-dinner snacking.
Drink Before Dinner
Yes, there are traditionally 4 cups of wine (two before dinner and two after dinner). This does not mean that you can’t have more wine, juices, or even kosher for Passover cocktails before dinner. Drink up!
You Have Permission
The Haggadah is not the essence of the seder – it is a tool. Seder means order – and there is an order you’re supposed to follow. But as the emcee you have permission to push through things and linger on others. Heck, if you want to have the third glass of wine before dinner, you will not be arrested by the seder police. They don’t exist. Elijah, however, is real.
Hallel… What? Just be grateful.
In my anecdotal experience, when it’s time for Hallel (or the singing part) after the meal there are a lot of question marks. Who knows these songs? Can I fake it through this Hebrew? How much do I have to do? Here’s the tip: share gratitudes and sing if you can (at least if you have a table with someone who can lead!). At the core of the Hallel section is a deep gratitude and celebration of life. You’ve just had the Passover dinner, share some gratitude!
Hebrew is Just Another Language
So is English, pig-latin, French, Arabic, Aramaic, and yai’didi’dai. Don’t be afraid to use English, and try to use Hebrew where you can. One of the key parts to having a meaningful seder is everyone at the table understanding the meaning of the language around the table.
End with a song and a thank you
Not too much more to say than that! After four (or five) glasses of wine sing a tune and wrap up as the emcee with a “thanks for being here!” They could have been anywhere else, but they decided to make community with you tonight. And if you say it nicely enough, they may even help you with the dishes!
Proprietary Pro-Tip: The Mishkan Seder Sidekick!
Mishkan’s Seder Sidekick is designed to help your seder go deeper and be more inspired. Not designed to make your seder longer. It is also durable and wine-spill-proof for repeated use. Read a page or two this year, and a different one next year!
This is perfect, Rabbi Jeff! Thank you!