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Ten ways to make Seder 2024 relevant

In every generation, we live the liberation from Egypt anew, but for contemporary Jews this year will be different from all other years.
Deborah Stone
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Matzah, horseradish, kiddush cup, tombstone, blood, gun

Published: 17 April 2024

Last updated: 26 April 2024

1. Remember the hostages

“This year we are slaves, next year may we be free,” has never been so poignant, at least not in the lifetime of most of us. Jews around the world will link this year’s celebration of liberation to the captivity of those kidnapped by Hamas.  

Some ideas include: Provide each participant at the seder with a piece of yellow ribbon to tie around their wrist or their kiddush cup as a symbol of waiting for the hostages to come home. Add an empty chair to symbolise the absent, whether killed or kidnapped on October 7. Or give each participant the details of a single hostage to read and perhaps share during the Seder.

2. Rethink the four children

The division of children into wise, wicked, simple and the one who does not know how to ask has had many reworkings over the years. For this year, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, who blogs as the Velveteen Rabbi, has written a powerful version that breaks down the divisions within the Jewish people and visualises unity.

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3. Add to the Ten Plagues

In addition to spilling a drop of wine for each of the traditional Ten Plagues, spill a drop for the modern evils that afflict us. You could ask each participant at the Seder to nominate one, or use this list of the modern Ten Plagues from the New Israel Fund Seder supplement: Crime, Disease, Abuse, Neglect, Poverty, Destruction of the environment, Discrimination, Indifference to the suffering of others, Hunger and War.

4. Sing Dayenu with awareness

The accessibility of the chorus – and perhaps the fact that it means we are approaching dinner – makes Dayenu one of the most popular moments of the Seder. But the meaning of “Enough for us” is problematic this year.  

“As long as people are trapped in Gaza, that’s not enough. As long as our soldiers are still risking their lives, it’s not enough. We can’t say ‘Dayenu.’ It can’t be, you know, ‘Praise God for this situation.’ So we have to find new texts,” American-Israeli poet Marty Herskovitz, one of the creators of Seder Interrupted told JTA.

One approach is to take the Dayenu moment to consider what we are grateful for, in the midst of the trauma. You could go around the table offering suggestions for the mercies and comforts of this period.

Another response is to read or write a Lo Dayenu (not enough) response to the traditional song, like this one produced but the Society for Humanistic Judaism.

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5. Acknowledge the hunger as you eat your fill

Over-eating is universal at seder but it is more problematic when we know the Israel-Hamas war has left many people facing imminent famine. On a practical level, you could donate a portion of the money you would spend on food for Pesach – or a percentage of the money you do spend – to a charity that feeds the hungry. On a symbolic level, Rabbi Elie Kaunfer suggests using two matzos instead of three to acknowledge the brokenness this year. Others will add an empty cup to the cup of wine for Elijah that traditionally adorns the Seder table, and the cup of water symbolising Miriam used by many contemporary Jews.

6. Search for peace

While the kids are looking for the afikomen, adults could engage in a much more difficult treasure hunt. What would it take to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What does a solution look like to you?

Or if that seems too hard right now, take some inspiration from the peacebuilders who continue to work even in this difficult climate and share a story of hope: Project Rozana, which is providing healthcare on both sides of the conflict; the Sulha movement, which continues interfaith dialogue in Jerusalem; a victim of October 7 like Elana Kaminka, who is grieving her son but refuses to give up on seeing the other side.  

7. Challenge ‘Pour out your wrath’

Perhaps the most controversial part of the Seder is the call for God to avenge our enemies, which happens when we open the door “for Elijah” or to show the world we have nothing to hide in the face of blood libels. It is particularly problematic this year in the face of the horrors of October 7.

Many people skip this angry paragraph but another option is to use it to stimulate a discussion on the nature of revenge and its relevance to the current crisis. This source sheet offers traditional Jewish sources which warn against the danger of celebrating the deaths of our enemies.

8. Include a song for peace

Sing your favourite peace song – or several. From Hebrew classics like Od Yavo Shalom to international classics from John Lennon or Bob Dylan, there is no shortage of options. This playlist contains 20 Israeli peace songs for inspiration. If your observance allows recordings, you could play it while guests are arriving, during dinner or clean-up.

9. Use a 2024 Seder supplement

Many Jewish organisations have produced resources for this difficult year with readings, ideas and reflections.

Seder Interrupted, produced by the US-based Academy for Jewish Religion offers poems, reflections, and study materials by contemporary rabbis that grapple with every stage of the Seder.

The New Israel Fund Australia Seder Supplement has a shorter and more accessible list of suggestions produced by local teachers and activists.

The iCenter Educational Companion for Passover 2024 is structured to stimulate discussion with questions to consider for each stage of the Seder, as well as readings and images.

The Shalom Hartman Institute Haggadah Supplement for 5784 includes reflections from leading contemporary Jewish writers David Grossman, Noam Zion, and Iris Eliya Cohen as well as extensive material from rabbis and teachers.

Bringing the Hostages to your Seder produced by the #BringThem Home movement offers readings to include the hostages at various stages in the Seder.

10. Commit to respectful debate

The polarisation over the Israel-Hamas War risks dinner-time conversation deteriorating into acrimony as families come together with strong beliefs about whether Israel should end the war or whether it must continue.

Rabbi Amy Eilberg suggests we understand conversation as a spiritual practice not just an opportunity to blow off steam and advises hosts to set the parameters in advance, encouraging kindness, curiosity and self-control.

“Make it clear that you hope for robust and honest conversation — not awkward and fearful avoidance — about Israel and Palestine (along with the more general issues of freedom and liberation that lie at the heart of the seder).

“Convey that you want to talk about what is real for people and, at the same time, attend to the humanity of each person at the table. Share your conviction that it is more than possible to communicate across differences in caring and productive ways and that such communication can actually build relationships as well as contribute to everyone’s learning.”

She also has useful advice for the frustrated. "If you cannot stay in productive conversation, excuse yourself for a quick trip to the bathroom or kitchen."

About the author

Deborah Stone is Editor-in-Chief of TJI. She has more than 30 years experience as a journalist and editor, including as a reporter and feature writer on The Age and The Sunday Age, as Editor of the Australian Jewish News and as Editor of ArtsHub.


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