How to have the best dang DIY punk rock mostly secular Seder around?
March 15, 2012 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Planning a DIY, slightly punk rock, progressive, feminist drunken young peoples' Passover Seder, looking for advice on haggadahs, leading for what will probably be a largely goyim crowd, and a million other weird little jewtastic details.

After missing out on Passover Seders for years, a friend and I have decided to create our own, as we see it as an important ceremony for ourselves culturally. We've decided to make zine Haggadahs, cutting and pasting from what we like, but I'm looking for a traditional text (with phonetic Hebrew) with a preferably gender neutral god for the more traditional parts like dayenu, four questions, etc. A plus if they have a quick blurb explaining each section, but I could just as easily write one myself. We're using some snippets fom feminist haggadahs but those tend to be a little too preachy and use menstration as a metaphors far too offen. We want this to be progressive and feminist, but not in a way that would detract from the ceremony. So yeah, first issue is haggadah.

Second would be any advice on leading a Seder. Should I wear white or something? From what I gather I would just be explaining shit we do and why, right? Is there anything else I should kep in mind and know?

Thirdly: is there anything anyone's done at a Seder that you've felt was particularly memorable or badass? Ways to have people who may not be of Jewish heritage connect to the ceremony better?

Thanks so much. We are full of ideas but slightly aimless on where to go with them.
posted by Betty_effn_White to Religion & Philosophy (32 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite there anything anyone's done at a Seder that you've felt was particularly memorable or badass?

I have no idea how you can apply this, but because my friends and I are all, apparently, bored eight-year-olds, the eating of horseradish somehow devolved into a horseradish eating contest last year. And this was fresh, home-made horseradish, not the store-bought stuff. There was crying and choking and demands for water. It was great.
posted by griphus at 1:10 PM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh my god I love that.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 1:13 PM on March 15, 2012

I'm a fan of using many different haggadot around the table because they all have their own spin. This one is particularly entertaining.
posted by atomicstone at 1:13 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

We also use a cut-and-paste haggadah, and the best part is that when we were xeroxing the thing together, we made the last page into a guest comment area. And now, several years after we started, I'm so glad we did that -- we have all these years of comments back there, and every time we pull them out to use I get to look at them, and when we pass them out everybody sort of flips to the back first to see who used this haggadah last time, etc. It's my favorite part.

As for being the leader, my take on it (and i'm always the leader at my house 'cause Mr. BlahLaLa isn't Jewish) is to just keep things free and easy. We don't sit at a formal table, either. We do it in the living room, and people are on sofas and comfy chairs and it's very informal. But you still get that cool vibe that we're all gathered around (jews and non-jews) to do this cool thing that's been gong on for thousands of years.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:15 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Jew or gentile, it doesn't matter. But make a metric ton of sweet, nutty charoset to make all people attending very happy. If they can't pronounce charoset, just call it edible matzah glue.
posted by seppyk at 1:18 PM on March 15, 2012

When it says to drink a glass of wine, drink a whole glass of wine. Perhaps this was already in the cards, but I never knew that this was what you were supposed to do thanks to my family's stuffy, relatively dry sedarage. It's supposed to be a holiday where you get good and sloshed.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:23 PM on March 15, 2012

When it says to drink a glass of wine, drink a whole glass of wine

And drink the good stuff; save the Manischewitz for Elijah. That guy never shows up when he says he will.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:34 PM on March 15, 2012 [10 favorites]

This new haggadah by Nathan Englander & Jonathan Safran Foer looks really good.

I find that the "explaining shit we do and why" parts can be a little dull - it can be more interesting to use these elements as jumping-off points for more interesting discussions (ie. tie discussions of slavery to contemporary issues of global human trafficking) - and this can connect non-Jews more readily than the super boring parts of the seder that nitpick what a bunch of rabbis meant when they referred to "day" vs. "night".

It can also be interesting to just talk communally about the ways rituals come together - if we were making ritual meals/ceremonies about significant events in our own histories, how we would choose the symbolic foods and elements, etc? Do we want to start doing this as individuals/groups?
posted by judith at 1:34 PM on March 15, 2012

From the perspective of a shiksa who's been to three Seders, one of which was totally spontaneous and held in a restaurant named "Hong Fat" down on Mott Street:

From what I gather I would just be explaining shit we do and why, right? Is there anything else I should kep in mind and know?

Make sure to make space for questions, because even though you maybe grew up with it, it's going to be as fascinating as all hell to the people who didn't. And be ready for anything to be fascinating - the thing that blew my mind, the first Seder I went to, was when a couple of the guests started talking about "the Maxwell House thing" and then had to explain "oh, yeah, a lot of Jewish families just suddenly got a Haggadah sent to us by Maxwell House Coffee for free when I was a kid the way you'd get a sample box of Tide or something," and I just sat there marveling that that was even a thing.

All of the Seders have made a lot of room for Talking, which I really dug. Two of the Seders have been at my friend's mom's house (every once in a while he invites me because otherwise it's him, his mom, and his mom's two friends, and "I get really sick of still doing the four questions at age 45"), and there always was some kind of really in-depth theological conversation we all ended up having during dinner which ended up being kind of awesome; but I dig conversations on things like "is mankind inherently evil" and things like that. (Although, the fact that one of these regular guests is also a regular NEW YORKER cartoonist probably made them more fun than they'd be otherwise.)

But the one in the Chinese restaurant ended up being more bare-bones and talking about comparing-notes-about-tradition itself, which was also awesome; it was four of us, two Jews and two not, and the two guys served as each other's Haggadah, trying to remind each other what happened at each point of the Seder and explain things to us non-Jews simultaneously, and that also turned into a lot of:

"So then after the story of the Egyptians getting drowned, then we..."
"No, dude, wait, you forgot about mourning the Egyptians!"
"Oh, yeah, that's right!"
"(turning to the non-Jews)See, the idea is that the Israelites were all happy because the Egyptians drowned, but God said 'that's not cool, I created them too.'"
"Right. So we spill many drops of wine?"
"Ten. Right. Ten drops of wine on their behalf."
"Kind of like pouring out a 40 on someone's grave."
"I guess."
"You know, my brother tried to do that one year."
"No way!"


You may want to check out The Open Source Haggadah to customize your own text, too. (My friend actually always does that every year -- both times I went, he'd always duck into a side room for an hour with the three different Haggadim his mother owned, reading through them all and marking things up with Post-Its, and deciding what section from which version he'd use each year. His mother said he does this every year.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:36 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh -- and half the fun of the Chinese Restaurant Seder was when we got there and spent about 20 minutes arguing about whether lo mein was kosher. I think we ultimately concluded that at the very least, pork lo mein wasn't.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:38 PM on March 15, 2012

I've heard good things about The Velveteen Rabbi's Haggadah for Pesach.
posted by zamboni at 1:41 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

At the best seder I ever went to, the leader assigned different people to act out the high points of the story.
posted by Wordwoman at 1:46 PM on March 15, 2012

This new haggadah by Nathan Englander & Jonathan Safran Foer looks really good.

I think I have to love anything that includes Lemony Snicket as a "major Jewish writer and thinker."

(And can't I just hear him in there, saying things like "and charoset, which here means "edible matzah glue.")
posted by dlugoczaj at 2:15 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just got the Foer/Englander/Snickett (ha!) Haggaddah and it's wonderful, I unreservedly recommend it as a traditional haggaddah, but it may be too traditional for your tastes.

The Santa Cruz Haggaddah that atomicstone recommended is a lot of fun, but so nontraditional it's a bit unusable.

I came in to suggest the Open Source Haggaddah as well.

As for "a traditional text (with phonetic Hebrew) with a preferably gender neutral god for the more traditional parts like dayenu, four questions, etc.", you may like the Feast of Freedom Haggaddah. It's Conservative Movement so there's a tiny bit of text manipulation, but mostly traditional. And has everything you mentioned that I quoted.

As the leader, you're not expected to do anything special - if anything, most traditional seders have no official leader - in many homes everyone says everything, or everyone takes turns reading around the table, in order. The best advice I can give is, it's supposed to be a participatory learning session, not something set in stone. In other words, there is no such thing as a bad, or stupid, or smartassed question. Interruptions along the lines of "wait - wtf?" should be encouraged, and then turned into a conversation to learn / figure out / guess the answers.

As for fun customs, have you ever heard of the Sephardic tradition of hitting one another on the head with leeks or scallions during Dayeinu?
posted by Mchelly at 2:43 PM on March 15, 2012

Also, this is my annual contribution to any seder I attend, though the clipping is now seriously yellowed:

Last spring, he attended a seder for Tibet in Washington, joined by the Dalai Lama, Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer and Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys. ''One thing we know about Tibetan-Jewish relations,'' said Mr. Kamenetz: ''The Dalai Lama likes matzoh." (NYT)
posted by Mchelly at 2:49 PM on March 15, 2012

two last suggestions, since you're looking to do a feminist seder (sorry I'm threadsitting here) -

Among the new traditions are filling a Miriam's Cup with water to go alongside the Elijah's Cup, to pay tribute to Miriam's role in the exodus (according to midrash she could summon a miraculous well that followed them through the desert so no one went thirsty), and putting an orange on the seder plate, either in honor of the (apocryphal) claim that some rabbi once said "a woman belongs on the bimah like an orange belongs on a seder plate," or in solidarity with gay rights.

This site is a really great resource.
posted by Mchelly at 3:00 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Mchelly feel free to contribute as much as you want, I'm at work right now but I'll pore overe the responses later
posted by Betty_effn_White at 3:08 PM on March 15, 2012

The Boston Workmen's Circle has a social justice/freedom/labor/peace-oriented haggadah online.
posted by nonane at 3:35 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just made Seder plates in glass fusing class. I think a DIY Seder plate of some sort would be a great start for building tradition.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 4:23 PM on March 15, 2012

The last couple years I've gone to a mostly-non-Jewish seder a friend of mine hosts and its fabulous. Her haggadah solution has been to get a an enormous pile of mismatched haggadot from various libraries and used bookstores, pass them around, and have different people read bits from different ones. If someone has a particularly interesting or contrasting reading we'll do a comparison. It's great, enlightening, and makes it really clear that there's a lot of room for discussion and differing interpretations.

Addition good things: good wine, non-alcoholic grape juice (go ahead and spend on this, the non-wine-drinkers will thank you) and good pre-seder appetizers with a clear warning ahead of time about how long you're planning to take before the real eating starts, so people can plan ahead and not be starving.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:14 PM on March 15, 2012

We went to a seder last year where guests were each assigned a plague to do a little presentation/performance about. We were assigned locusts and as luck would have it, we had some remote controlled robots that could chirp and I passed around a shot of the (sickly sweet mint chocolate) grasshopper drink for everyone to have while the robots chirped.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:22 PM on March 15, 2012

We do a fifteen-minute Seder at our house. The biggest time-saver is to skip over any part that mentions Rabbi Eliazar. He just goes on and on.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:46 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I found a cool haggadah via PunkTorah called Peeling a Pomegranate. It costs $5 for a PDF download here:

One.year, a good friend and I put together our own Seder by cutting and pasting from a ton of different sources. We tried to blend traditional with the modern, but most of all, we focused on making it relevant. For instance, when we talked about Elijah, we also talked about MLK as a "modern prophet." Because of the whole bondage and freedom motif that runs through the story, we sang Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" at the end.
posted by zooropa at 8:33 PM on March 15, 2012

I'm a shikse.

Last time I went to a (mostly-goy) seder, for part of the readings we used a haggadah that talked about illegal immigration into the US as an exodus. It was really neat, maybe it was Love and Justice in Times of War? My internet is too slow to get a good look at it.

I also love the idea of just having a pile of haggadahs to choose from. The first couple times I went to a seder, I was nervous about screwing something up, this is a nice way to nip that in the bud and keep things informal, besides being easier. Other than that and warning people to eat beforehand, seder is pretty awesome as is. Christians don't have holidays where religious observance involves a bunch of wine and tasty snacks, and it's a pleasant awakening.
posted by momus_window at 10:04 PM on March 15, 2012

Another reason why Miriam is honored at feminist seders is because Pesach wouldn't exist without her (she saved Moses' life).
posted by brujita at 10:13 PM on March 15, 2012

Non-Jew, yet long-term Seder Connoisseur, here. Countless Seders over two decades, at least 12 different families hosting. I'm from the North Shore of Long Island. It happens.

My FAVORITE was hosted by my friend's parents, who used to run what I liked to call, "PBS Seder's."

In essence, you had to come prepared to answer "gotcha!" questions peppered throughout the ritual that required the answerer (randomly chosen each time) to espouse about, either, current geo-political events or your personal life (focus decided by the host/asker) as related to the theme of Passover.

It was an insane and Jew-themed Game Show Night every year, plus the host was so intimidating, and the invite so precious, there was a fear every year that if your answers were ill-informed or less than insightful, you would not be invited back the following year.

I was also lucky enough to attend more casual Seder evenings at this family's home, but the night they invited "choice" family and friends was always THE night to be there.

Damn how I miss that.
posted by jbenben at 11:16 PM on March 15, 2012

Last year I participated in a lovely Seder. My favorite part in terms of making the Seder relevant today, was that we were each asked to come prepared to talk about what "freedom" means to us. The stories were incredibly moving and the Seder meant more to me than any other Seder in my life so far.

We also acted out the story with a funny modern script - that was entertaining and somewhat thought-provoking.
posted by semacd at 12:18 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've found everyone is less bored if you go around the table and everyone reads a paragraph in English, and the leader does a little commentary or explanation every so often and goes over the parts you want to read out loud in Hebrew. This only works if you're okay with not doing the whole thing in both languages, though, as I assume your goyishe guests don't read hebrew very well.
posted by mismatched at 5:12 AM on March 16, 2012

Another goy married to a Jew here. My spouse's family is Reconstructionist, and their tradition is a great source of all things progressive and feminist. One of my favorite new traditions of theirs is to read the poem "Dayenu" by Marge Piercy. I find it breathtaking every year.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:00 AM on March 16, 2012

seconding mismatched, my family does their seder this way (they range from the fairly religious jews to the cultural not practicing to atheist, with a bunch of non-jewish significant others thrown in the mix).

For some reason, my family's seder includes bags of plagues (ping pong balls for hail, plastic bugs, cows, sunglasses for darkness, etc.) to throw at each other and puppets. And make sure someone's grandma gets drunk enough to open the door and invite Elijah in.
posted by inertia at 9:07 AM on March 16, 2012

Some things that make a difference:

1. Make most of it in English (at least 95%) - this not only cuts down on time but then your non-Hebrew speakers stay engaged most of the time.

2. Have multiple readers or have everyone read at least a line (unless they do not want to) - again this keeps most people engaged. You can make one version with highlights so people know when to read or you can go from different books with post-its or marks in the books (if you do this keep a master list of the order because some Haggadahs have extra bits and some skip bits so it is hard for a newcomer to figure out when their part is).

3. Have other parts where people can contribute. One sedar I went to any individual could shouted out modern plagues after the 10 traditional plagues. Have your shy guest hide the afikomen. Have guests assigned to either set up or clean up or mid seder/meal duties. Ask people in advance if their is a favorite part they want to explain (in a minute or less) or encourage them to jump in. Most Jews and Seder frequent fliers want to represent their favorite part or interpretation.

4. DO NOT TAKE ON TOO MUCH! It is stressful for you and your guests. The least fun seders are the ones where the host is defying traditions and thinks it won't be good enough and yet no one gets to or knows how to help. Although taking on too much is a Jewish tradition, it ruins the mood.

5. The most amazing tradition defying wonderful moment I was ever a part of was to serve the matza ball soup with the first glass of wine!

6. Haggadahs I have used parts of in the past: Velveteen Rabbi, A Passover Haggadah, if you can find a Maxwell Haggadah that is great for nostalgia, I used this series for my wedding "Make your own (Passover)" and some of the resources are in the amazon look inside.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 3:26 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

One year we had a role playing game during the seder where everyone had to pick one character from the exodus story to be and talk a little about how they felt. The "main characters" (Moses, Pharaoh) ended up being the least interesting and the lamb about to be sacrificed, the unnamed Israelite slave pissed at Moses for rabble rousing and a servant of pharaoh's daughter were interesting and fun as could be.
posted by mjones at 8:20 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

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