Q & A: How can you make a small Seder special?
Lifestyle blogger Rebekah Lowin believes in hiddur mitzvah, the Talmudic idea that while doing a mitzvah is well and good, doing it beautifully is even better.
From hamentaschen cocktail toppers to DIY latke bars, the creations Lowin shares can help you live your most aesthetically pleasing Jewish life — or make you seriously insecure about your table-scaping skills.
As it became apparent that the spread of coronavirus would constrain Passover celebrations around the world, Lowin began serving up improvised tips and tricks for those who are celebrating solo or hosting small Seders for the first time, from a pared-down Hillel sandwich board to a host of small-batch dessert recipes.
But Lowin herself, who hasn’t left her apartment in over three weeks, also knows that this year’s Passover won’t be like any other — and that, she says, is absolutely OK.
The Forward’s Irene Katz Connelly chatted with Lowin about paper flowers, brisket replacements and, most importantly, how to make the best of a small Seder. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Irene Katz Connelly: What would you tell someone who’s daunted by the prospect of assembling the entire Passover meal, even if its just for themselves and a few others?
Rebekah Lowin: I would say, the first thing to stop worrying about is whether it’s going to be perfect. The Seders this year just aren’t going to look like they did before, so you shouldn’t bother comparing them. This is a whole new playing field, and we have to completely rewrite the rules. That should take some pressure off people.
I’m not a rabbi, but I do think it’s beautiful and even sacred to take action towards hosting your own Seder this year. Just doing that is the special thing — not making it look perfect. And if anyone is scolding you for doing things halfway or not having everything right, I don’t know what word they’re living in. We are just trying to survive right now.
You specialize in beautiful table settings that make sitting down to eat feel special. How can we make it feel special sit down to a eat at home if we haven’t left home in weeks?
There are so many things you can do just with stuff you have in your own home. On my website I posted a DIY Seder plate, which is literally a piece of paper decorated with watercolors. If you don’t have watercolors, you could do it with a pen or pencil. That is the Seder plate I will really be using this year. Try to get crafty — if the word crafty scares you, think of it instead as scrappy, of using what you have.
In terms of making your table look nice, think small: you don’t need fresh flowers, you can make paper flowers instead, or draw some flowers and cut them out and put them on your table. To me, things like that aren’t just kid-friendly crafts. They can actually be a really sophisticated, whimsical thing to do for your Seder.
On to the dinner. Is it better to make a bunch of small-batch dishes or invest in a few ambitious recipes?
Well, I’m hearing a lot of interesting stuff [from readers]. I posted a lot of small batch recipes, but then I heard people wanted larger recipes so they could freeze the leftovers. I’d say, if it’s a dish with weird ingredients, go small-batch. If it’s something like matzo ball soup, make a big batch and freeze some. People are planning the immediate night of the Seder, but they’re also thinking about what they can enjoy for the next month.
Passover staples may be in short supply this year. What advice do you have for people who can’t access certain ingredients?
On social media, I see people talking about compromise, or advising others to shop for what they can safely find. I would take that a step further and say: do not shop, if you have enough food in your home already. Try to go without everything you don’t already have. I know it feels sad to miss out on your favorite Passover foods, but think about the much larger sacrifices our ancestors have made. Passover is just not as important as saving lives.
You haven’t left your house in weeks, so I imagine you don’t have a hunk of brisket on hand. What will you serve instead? And who will share it with you?
Luckily my brother lives next door, and my parents will be on Zoom. As for food, I have some matzah and charoset that I made and froze, but other than that I have what’s in my freezer, which is mostly frozen meatballs. I’m going to make my home as spruced up and lovely as I possibly can, and I’ll present the food really nicely, but I’m just going to serve what I serve any other night. There won’t be much traditional stuff.
Irene Katz Connelly is an editorial fellow at the Forward. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org