Making the Seder Come to Life for Everyone: A Conversation with Adrienne Gold Davis
The Passover Seder is Judaism’s most ambitious meal. We gather our friends and family around the table to delve into the historical, ever-relevant, and intense topics of slavery and freedom while eating a variety of symbolic foods. It can be a time full of joy and awakening. But when our family members and friends are so different from one another, how can we make the seder meaningful for everyone?
In our conversation, JWRP Trip Leader Adrienne Gold Davis shares her advice for making the Seder accessible to each person at our table and explains why we, as women, can find extra meaning in the Passover story.
What is your favorite Passover Seder memory?
Early in our Jewish journey, my family joined with our Rabbi and Rebbetzin for a traditional Seder My children were young and we had forgotten to bring a stroller in the car, which we had parked outside their home for the holidays. The night was a glorious one. There were lots of kids and singing and delicious food and joy! I felt so uplifted and moved, and before I knew it, it was 3 AM and my younger son had passed out on the sofa!
We couldn’t rouse him, and we also couldn’t leave him behind. Luckily, my Rabbi saved the day! He brought his rolling desk chair outside, and we lifted Jackson onto the chair and secured him to it with a couple of belts! We then proceeded to roll Jackson home asleep in a desk chair for the 40-minute walk ahead. There was something so magical about traversing the still busy Toronto streets in the middle of the deep dark night.
Why is it important to tell the story of our exodus from Egypt?
The story of our exodus is not only an historical account of our redemption from Egypt. It is also a paradigm of personal liberation that plays itself out every day of our lives. We are all enslaved by something — whether technology, bad relationships, or another addiction. The spiritual energy of this season helps us harness the strength to free ourselves from constraints that are often reinforced by our negative attitudes and a sense that we are used to them. As Rabbi Hanoch of Alexander once said, ”The real exile of Israel in Egypt was that they learned to endure it.”
This past year, we have seen women stand up against entrenched biases and systemic problems — especially in Hollywood — and choose to no longer endure that which is morally flawed. While we must fight these battles everyday, we also learn that if we are not constantly “leaving Egypt,” we have already returned. It comes as no surprise to me that women are leading this movement, because as Judaism says, “It is in the merit of righteous women that we were redeemed from Egypt and it will be in our merit that the final redemption will come.” Let’s harness the Passover energy at the seder and continue to move forward. After all, #ItStartsWithWomen!
How can we make the story of Passover feel relevant to our children?
Rabbi Tzvi Freedman says that in each one of us there is an inner Egypt, a place of constriction or feeling stuck. Then, there is an inner voice of Moses that wants us to liberate ourselves, shoot higher, and aspire to greatness. There is also an inner voice of Pharaoh that screams at us to stay put and tells us that we cannot possibly change or move forward. So, how do we each find freedom in our promised land? Here’s how: by shutting down the voice of Pharaoh and listening to Moses!
After explaining the story of the exodus to your kids, share this metaphor with them and ask them to fill in the blanks themselves. Remember that their seemingly small enslavements, like biting their nails, are huge and very real to them. Treat them seriously and ask them what the voice of Moses says and how the inner voice of Pharaoh responds to Moses. You can even create a sticker chart around their “enslavement behaviors” and invite your children to chart their progress themselves. It helps when every time Moses “wins,” they get a candy!
How can we make the Seder accessible to children and adults alike?
Last year, I sent emails to my guests, requesting that they prepare two things before the Seder:
a. Choose your favorite quote about freedom or liberation from any source whatsoever, write it down, and be ready to share it with others.
b. As explained in my answer above, identify your inner Egypt, your voice of Moses, your voice of Pharaoh, and what freedom in your promised land would look like to you. There is something wonderful about creating a collective experience that feels accessible to a variety of people and allows them to feel heard around a safe and common subject.
And, in case no one “did the work,” I printed a variety of quotes and memes about the subject and left one at everyone’s place card. At any point in the evening, they could share the quotes and weigh in on them. This activity is not only accessible to all but also provides an easy way for anyone at any age to internalize the main themes of Passover.