What can the lonely do passover?
April 18, 2016 9:55 AM   Subscribe

The few friends I have are either Christian or Athiest. I'm not religious as I grew up in a completely secular home. I don't know a shred of hebrew and have barely gone to synogogue in my life. But I'd like to become a little more involved in Judiasm so I recently joined a congregation. The thing is I still...

Don't know anyone and I don't know how to celebrate seder coming up. I thought I would join a meetup group who was doing seder, but there doesn't seem to be one in NY this year. I don't know what the tradition is or what I'm supposed to do on seder - except eat stuff. How can I do the holiday properly this year?
posted by rancher to Religion & Philosophy (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Where in NY are you?
posted by griphus at 9:58 AM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ask your congregation leader.

My former spouse converted to Judaism after our divorce, and on occasion I have our pre-teen daughter around Passover. One year, I picked the closest synagogue to my house and called it up to ask this question on my daughter's behalf. I am told that there was practically a fistfight over who got to invite her to their seder.
posted by Etrigan at 10:02 AM on April 18, 2016 [13 favorites]

You're a member of a shul? Then it's easy: talk to the rabbi. Somebody will be happy to invite you.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:05 AM on April 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

One thing I do is host my own Seder. Christians LOVE coming to Seder because they're taught that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder. Plus, it's a fun Holiday. On the upside, you can do whatever you want because you're the only one who has even a clue as to what's supposed to happen.

I absolutely LOVE the Santa Cruz Haggadah because it is so Hippy-Dippy and even my Pagan friends related to the ritual of it.

That said, Passover is THE holiday where everyone is told to open their homes to those who don't have a seder to go to. So speak to someone in your temple and I'm sure you'll have SO MANY invitations!

People like to come to my seders because I use Deviled Eggs, and instead of gefilte fish, I make a fresh salmon.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:06 AM on April 18, 2016

If you mean New York as in NYC, here is a list of community seders:


Some of them are free or reasonably priced. (Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, for example.) It's really getting down to the wire, though...I would do control-F "18th" to find the ones whose deadline is today (tomorrow, etc.) and get on the phone now.

(I wish I could say that no one would turn you away on the seder night, but in a large city it really varies by the venue. So call. Keep in mind that some places may not accept payment on the night itself; you'll have to pay beforehand.)

If you mean another part of NY, I would say to google "community seder yourtown." Seriously, not snark.
posted by 8603 at 10:07 AM on April 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have a similar background. My Athiest and Christian friends really enjoy coming to the Seder I host every year. They love getting drunk on wine and singing Dayenu.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 10:10 AM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ask your rabbi, and/or the leader of your synagogue's women's group. One of them will hook you up with an invitation.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:13 AM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, P.S., don't worry if the affiliation on the UJA's list says Orthodox or whatever. You will be made welcome, there will be lots of English, etc. A community seder attracts a lot of people that do not have a ton of Jewish education; you're not alone.

Without entering into dispute with the other commenters, it seems like you are in fact in NYC by your posting history, and no, you cannot rely on your rabbi, synagogue office, or kind strangers to find you a place at this point. Inquire, sure, but assume it won't work out. Apartments are small, community large, all that sort of thing. But you'll definitely be able to dig up a place from the linked list. Good luck!
posted by 8603 at 10:14 AM on April 18, 2016

8603 speaks truth; at this point most people have their home seder arrangements very much made... There might be people who could scramble to stretch but yeah, my advice upthread would have been better three weeks ago. A community seder is a good way to go for right now.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:47 AM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree that if you've just joined a congregation, maybe they can help out, and that's probably where I'd start. However, if you want to try to roll your own...

I host a seder myself, because I don't really want to go to the community seder hosted by the synagogue where I live (and it's expensive!). It helps, I guess, that I have some kids I'm trying to give some sense of Judaism. I was raised conservative, and am fairly (a) unobservant and (b) agnostic. I don't think I've ever run a seder with jews other than my daughters.

Here's what I do. Apologies if it's too detailed; I don't know what your level of seder experience is, but you'd said you'd never actually been in charge of one.

(1) I find some friends that I like and that are interested in either my company or comparative religions or ideally both. I don't actually have local Jewish friends (or at least if I do, I don't know if they're Jewish and they've never invited us to a seder).

(2) I have copies of a maxwell house haggadah that I once got a copy of for free at the grocery store, that I took apart and xeroxed. Yay, I now have haggadahs.

Here's a free online one designed for printing, which includes English and transliteration.

Yay, now you have a hagaddah too!

(3) I figure out something to feed my guests for the actual meal. It doesn't matter what it is, although it's easier if it's something that can be prepared before-hand and hang out (maybe in the oven) while you're doing the hagaddah-part of the seder.

If your guests ask what they can bring, the answer is always wine. I personally don't care about either rice and grains and stuff, or about kosher-for-passover wine. YMMV. I do try to not actually have actual leavened stuff at the seder. (One memorable seder we had at a hotel (for family travel reasons) we had a bowl of shrimp scampi for the festive meal. But I tend to avoid actual treyf. Again, it's up to you how you feel about what you want to serve.)

(4) You need to acquire matzah for the seder. Since you're in NYC, you should be able to get this at your local supermarket.

(5) You need to have some charoset. Maybe in NYC you can buy this, but I can't. There are lots of recipes online for charoset. The classic ashkenazic apples-n-nuts is as follows: put some peeled cored chunked apples in a food processor (say, 2) along with some walnuts (say, 1/2 cup). Pulse in the food processor. Put in maybe 3 T matzo meal and the same again of sweet passover wine (Manischewitz concord grape is traditional), along with a goodly amount of ground cinnamon (maybe a couple teaspoons?). Pulse until it is kind of brown and unappetizing looking---it's supposed to look like mortar.

But any mixture of fruit and nuts that's sticky and mortar-like is good. There's a fantastic Yemini one I make every year that's dates and figs and sesame seeds and passover wine and matzo meal and chile.

(6) For the seder plate, you need parsley, horseradish (jarred is fine), a roasted egg, a roasted lamb shank bone, a bit of charoset, and matzah. Find a plate, put a bit of everything except the matzah on the plate, put 3 matzahs on a different plate covered with a tea towel. Your grocery store should be able to help you out with the shank bone. If not, find some other lamb bone and call it good. Roast it by putting it into the oven with the egg and cooking it for a while. No one's going to eat it really.

(7) Before the seder:
--you need to figure out how much of the Hagaddah you actually are interested in reading. My family gets tired, so we never do any of the stuff after the festive meal (the grace after meal stuff) when I'm leading the seder, although when I'm at my parents we do a bunch of that stuff,
--Fundamentally, you need to
(a) tell the story of the exodus from Egypt
(b) Say some prayers, including the 4 questions and the shehekianu on the first night
(c ) recite the plagues, because it's fun

So (especially with kids): from the hagaddah I linked above, I would do all of the first three pages; I like the 4 types of children (p. 4), so I do that; the first paragraph of p. 5 (where it says Maggid, Exodus Story); then skip to the blessing the middle of p. 6 (Blessed be He who keeps His promise to Israel...) to the end of the page (actually, you could do all of p. 4 - 6 for flavor); then cut everything (i've lost the page count) until the 10 plagues, unless talmudic interpretation of stuff really rocks your boat (it bores my family). Do plague stuff all the way to D’TZ”KH A-Da”SH B’AH”V. Then, unless you know/like Dayenu, skip to the section on "Obligations of the holiday". Then do everything it says until the Festive Meal *** (more later on). Then eat and drink and be merry.

(7) The big night. You've made the food, now it's time to actually celebrate the Seder.

(7a) preparing the table:
On the table you need:
--dishes that people are going to eat dinner on. Paper is fine if you can't deal with the cleanup.
--a bowl of salt water and a glass with water and some parsley in it, for dipping into the salt water,
--the seder plate with the charoset, parsley, shank bone, egg, horseradish. Some people include some lettuce. Some people include an orange (because someone once said a woman rabbi is as likely as an orange on a seder plate).
--a plate with 3 matzahs covered with a tea towel.
--the rest of the box of matzah
--a bowl of charoset
--a dish of horseradish
--wine and wine glasses
--extra plates if you don't want people to mucky-up their main dinner plate with the plague drips and the hillel sandwiches.
--a pillow for you, the seder leader (so that this night, you can recline)

(7b) running the seder:
So, you're hosting a seder, and no one (except possibly you) knows any hebrew. No problem! Just read everything in English! (Or read some of the transliteration, if you know it. But if you don't, no worries.)

***I always have the different paragraphs read by different people at the table. So, "Deb, please read the paragraph on p. 2 starting with "Blessed be He..." etc. Drink wine when it says, wash hands (with or without the blessing) when it says, lift up the matzah when it says, etc. But if you are sharing the reading and the doing, then everyone is included, and it's kinda fun. (Plus, you can play the fun game of whenever the language is "he"-centric, you try to make it be inclusive on the fly, by either substituting "she" or routing around the sexist language entirely, as in "Blessed be the one who...")

But you do want to plan in advance where you're going to make the cuts, and if you are going to use the free hagaddah I linked above, I'd page-number it. (Or, have everyone bring iPads and distribute it by email before-hand. That was my plan for this year, except that I don't think I can get matzah here in Mexico at this point. Although I'm tempted to run a seder using tortillas in place of matzah---they're unleavened, right?)

(8) This is to have fun and participate in the tradition. But you don't get ranked on how good of a job you do; you do as good of a job as you can given who's coming and what your stamina level is.

(9) Oh, sometime you have to hide the middle half of the matzah that you broke and then people need to search for it as the afikomen to end the meal. Traditionally this is the kids' job, and they hold it for ransom for prizes. I like giving bottles of bubbles as the prize and do it as kids vs adults. I don't know what they do if there are no kids, I've never been to such a seder except maybe in graduate school.

If you're interested in actually trying this, feel free to MeMail me and pick my brains. You've got almost a week, so if you have friends who can come celebrate a seder with you, you can totally do this.

I'm sure I've forgotten something.
posted by leahwrenn at 11:02 AM on April 18, 2016 [16 favorites]

Ooh, chabad.org has a nice one-page summary of the seder, too!
posted by leahwrenn at 11:09 AM on April 18, 2016

Argh, I forgot. You should make sure to set an extra (small!) cup of wine on the table for Elijah, and at some point (I think after the meal, typically, but it's in the hagaddah) open the front door and invite him in.
posted by leahwrenn at 11:15 AM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

How about local colleges or university communities?
posted by calgirl at 12:33 PM on April 18, 2016

Definitely ask the rabbi of your congregation. Also, as someone coming from an Orthodox background, I will say that in that world, there are probably lots of folks who would jump at the chance to have you in their home for a Seder. The downside (IMO) to this is that there will always be the agenda, even if it's well-hidden, of you becoming much more observant, ideally Orthodox. Be careful with that if you are easily swayed. Also--orthodox Seders will quite possibly last late into the night (2am would not surprise me.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:52 PM on April 18, 2016

If you're near a university, many have student groups that do community seders which can be particularly friendly to those venturing back into faith.
posted by Candleman at 1:17 PM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ohel Ayala seems pretty much made for you.
posted by Salamandrous at 1:19 PM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yes, the site says that Ohel Ayalah will take 10+ walk-ins at the Manhattan seder on the first night, and various other sedarim are still open for reservations.
posted by 8603 at 3:46 PM on April 18, 2016

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