This year, we all get to host seder
For years now, I have been attempting to rework the Passover Seder for my family. I’ve meditated on how to create excitement and renewal in our understanding of the story, how to include growing children in unique ways, and how to put on a seder without burdening others to help us prepare for the day. I’ve imagined how Passover could focus on tradition and change, on our experience of loss, and on our ability to create for ourselves and others.
I’ve also brainstormed ways to get the seder to be hosted at my house, rather than at my parents’, determined that a fresh setting could bring new life to the tradition. The battle is more symbolic than necessary, as my parents have always been incredibly gracious hosts, and our family has always been fine with the seder being held at their home. (Desiring change is a plague I battle daily, anyway).
Before Passover became a staple to my parents home, my childhood seders took place at my aunt’s house. Though always delicious, the evening was usually a long, solemn affair. I remember trying to memorize lines from the Manischewitz Haggadah so that my stutter wouldn’t stick me to one word, which was always inevitable.
My grandfather led the prayers in Hebrew and Yiddish, and though without much reflection, we all took it seriously. In those days there was no group discussion — we followed tradition, enjoyed our favorite foods and each others’ company.
When my husband and I had children, we introduced ideas that linked the Haggadah to the world today. When the kids were young, we built a makeshift tent in my parents foyer to play in with matzah and tambourines, annoying my mother to no end. As the children grew, we tried different Haggadot, broke apart the seder with discussions, and added new symbolic items to the seder plate.
As long as the length of the service and the decorations on the table remained unchanged, my mother was mainly onboard. Despite standing her ground in remaining the hostess and dressing the table identically year to year, she designated leading the service to her daughters, and gave us some room to play.
As the years have passed, the roles of the holiday have become fixed: my sisters and I gathering and leading the seders content, my mother the perfect hostess and main chef, and my father leading the ceremonial hand washing.
Despite the static location, our seder has continued to evolve. Alongside an ever-changing Passover play, we’ve attempted things like assigning my brother-in-law to spin beats as “seder DJ,” and even once attempted an iSeder, during which everyone read a Haggadah on an iPad. Now, given social distancing and our forced reliance to the screen, how ironic.
Earlier this year, my mom finally agreed to hand the baton and let me host the seder. This would mean that even the table decorations could change, but little did I expect for the entire platform of the seder to change as well.
While the symbolism of the COVID-19 pandemic is relatable in the stories traditionally relayed at seder — plague, darkness, isolation, drowning, uprooting, social compliance, and for some, freedom and appreciation — the physical distance between family members negates an essential tenet of the holiday. Passover, from our yearly ritual of bickering over who gets to host, to the many late nights spent with my sisters planning the seder, feels centered on in-person gathering.
Last year was my father’s final seder. Following a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, he invited his best friends to join our family, and our seder was one we will always remember. As my sisters and I began planning this year’s seder in his memory, we had been anticipating a shift.
I had begun planning how the seder would work in our home, imagining having my three daughters and their significant others here to help lead, using beautiful (recycled and recyclable) disposables instead of my mother’s fine china, and imagining our seder feeling active, and journeying from room to room. I planned how to acknowledge what I knew would be the felt absence of my father. But of course, this moment has led me to put aside and adapt those plans.
Scheduling a virtual seder with as many as want to join has led me to reconsider my expectations not just for this holiday, but for what I want to absorb and teach from the Passover tradition. Though this is the first year I’m having seder “in my home,” the tent expands far further than our walls.
Despite access to much of my family being limited to screen time for now, I can only laugh at the yearly struggle over who gets to host. This year, we all get to host. My mom will still get to use her favorite dinnerware, all of my children will all be able to be present, and though he’ll be deeply missed, I can hear my dad saying, “that’s marvelous.” That’s cool.
Deborah Kattler Kupetz lives in Los Angeles, where you can find her engaged in many community projects, active as a serial-entrepreneur, and always ready to do some good.