Take a little time to be intentional and your seder will be memorable
March 13, 2020

The Art of Passover Gathering

Rebecca Missel
By Rebecca Missel


We’ve all been to that seder. The one where you’re flipping ahead in an ancient haggadah, counting the pages until it’s time to eat. Bad seders happen to good people. But whether your seder is happening in-person or virtually, you can avoid hosting one by following a few key steps, borrowed from best-selling author Priya Parker.

Step One - Decide Why You’re Really Gathering 

In The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker tells us to remember the Passover Principle: “why is this night different from all other nights?” Before you send invitations, select a menu or design your haggadah - decide why you’re coming together to celebrate in the first place.

Sure, the purpose of a seder might be “to celebrate Passover,” but if you go a bit deeper and find something specific, it can transform your seder from ordinary to memorable. Maybe it’s “to re-enact an essential Jewish story by connecting it to themes of struggle that remain relevant today.” Or, “to express our love for friends and family by preparing distinctive foods that contain powerful symbolism.” Or perhaps “to mark a shift in the seasons by recalling our agrarian past and linking to other faith’s springtime rites of passage.”

And decide what type of gathering makes the most sense for you and your well-being. To honor communal health and your own well-being, you may want to host a virtual seder where everyone follows your haggadah from their own home. Or you may want to have a smaller group from the same area meet in person. That way, no one has to travel by air. All the tips suggested here can work no matter how you’re gathering.

There’s no right or wrong answer - but whatever you choose will drive every other decision you make about the seder.

Step Two - Be a Host  

Being a host is powerful. As you plan your seder and design your haggadah, think about who’s coming to your seder, what you want folks to talk about, when you’ll eat. All these decisions will make your guests feel well cared for. You also have the power to create special one-time rules for your seder. Some of these come straight from the haggadah, like reclining in our seats. Maybe you want to add your own. Such as singing one of our Passover song parodies for 20 seconds while washing your hands. Or no screens during the seder...unless you’re meeting virtually!

Once everyone is gathered around your seder table(s) and welcomed by the host, it’s time for this random assortment of people to become a group. There’s lots of ways to break the ice and get conversations started, and here are some of our favorites:

  • Samesies!  Each person goes around the table or screen and shares a fact about themselves, such as, “my favorite Passover food is matzah.” Everyone else who feels the same way says, “samesies!” 

  • One Word. Pick a phrase or quote that relates to your seder’s purpose and have everyone say a word or phrase that comes to their mind in relation to it.  For example, “in every generation, we tell the Passover story as if we each came from Egypt.”

  • Take a Breath.  Often, we arrive at the seder table having rushed to cook, clean, travel, etc. Sometimes just taking an intentional breath together with everyone around us invites us to pause and transition into the space.

Step Three - Don’t be Afraid to Go Deep or Get Controversial 

Unless you’re intentionally doing a speedy seder, you can design the evening with moments that invite people to go beyond their usual stock answers and into what is vulnerable or challenging. Priya Parker created the 15 Toasts activity to inspire deeper connections.

Pick a theme related to your seder’s purpose, such as “springtime.” Throughout the evening, everyone tells a brief story centered on that theme, with the incentive that the last person to go has to sing their story! In The Art of Gathering, the storyteller makes a toast, but since we already drink four glasses of wine at a seder, it’s OK to end a story by tinkling a glass with your fork, drinking water or applauding.

Into every great meal, a little darkness may fall. After all, darkness was the penultimate plague. Rather than shy away from controversy or difficult topics, make space for them by giving them a bit of structure. For example, after eating the bitter herbs, set a five-minute timer for discussing whatever the elephant is around your seder table. When the timer goes off, mark the end of the discussion by eating charoset, for a little sweetness.

Step Four - Accept There is an End

Before you say, “Next year in Jerusalem,” think about how you want to end your seder with as much intention as you began. At some seders, everything is over when we eat the afikoman. Others stretch late into the night with enthusiastic singing sessions. Whatever you do, Priya Parker warns, don’t end the seder with logistics. Tell folks where to leave dirty dishes or to find their coats, but not as the last thing you say.

Express thanks and gratitude. You can do this through a traditional blessing after meals or by specifically thanking everyone for what they did to make the seder possible, including the invisible workers who harvest our food. Then, give folks an opportunity to reflect and make meaning of the seder. You can close as you began with everyone sharing a single word or highlight from the meal, then taking a collective breath.

However you choose to design your seder, Haggadot.com has you covered from start to finish. 

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Passover Guide

Hosting your first Passover Seder? Not sure what food to serve? Curious to
know more about the holiday? Explore our Passover 101 Guide for answers
to all of your questions.


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