In Brooklyn, there are all kinds: small family Seders, and huge Seders involving dozens of friends. Seders with a lot of kids running around, and Seders where the youngest is pushing 60. You might find yourself at a traditional Seder, or a Passover meal where there's not a Haggadah in sight. There are post-feminist Seders, GLBT-themed Seders, literary Seders, Buddh-Jew Seders with meditational chantings, seders with skits, games and movies, child-centric Seders, Seders run only in Hebrew or only in English, or only in Russian, you name it.
In any event, it's a wonderful holiday — and here are a few tips to help you get oriented and enjoy the evening.
1. Don't Be Late!While it's fun to be fashionably late to a party, it's a fatal flaw to be late to a Seder. They are precision-run events, with soup burbling on the stove, things in the oven that shouldn't get overcooked or dry out, and a lot of hungry people milling around .....waiting for you. Plan on traffic, plan on parking problems, plan on losing your keys the minute you want to walk out your door. Plan ahead. Just don't be late.
2. Do Dress Up & Get in the Swing of It: It's a Celebration of Freedom!Be happy! This holiday may seem strange to you, but it's a celebration of that fundamental human aspiration, freedom.
As for dress code, it's appropriate to dress in your spring finest, not evening gear, but "work-fancy." Men might wear a sports jacket or even a tie, depending. For women, an outfit that falls between a party dress and a really nice work outfit is appropriate.
Tip: A lot of red wine will be served, and Seder tables are often crowded with lots of kids running around... so you might want to avoid wearing the most expensive white shirt you own.
3. Don't Expect a Normal Dinner Party: Seders Have an Agenda, & An OrderThe word "Seder" means, in Hebrew, "order," and indeed there's an order to the unfolding of the evening's events.
There's a good chance that everyone will have a book, the Haggaddah and while most American Jews fly through this dense, ancient text, there are certain bits and pieces that most will read or recite.
There will be someone "leading" the Seder, who perhaps will ask people will go around the table taking turns reading various parts. In other words, don't expect that you will sit down, make conversation, and have the usual dinner party.
Tip: Want to prep? If you've never been before, you can prep by going to a Brooklyn bookstore and actually looking at a Haggaddah (or look online).
4. Do Bring Something - And Ask Your Host What to BringSome Seders are fully catered (thanks, grandma!) and others resemble enormous pot luck dinners to which everyone brings a dish. In DIY Brooklyn, pot luck Seders are popular.
Ask, and you might get an assignment like, "Please bring a hot vegetable dish for 22." Or, you might told that it's all under control, please bring nothing at all. Still, it's polite to bring something to the Seder, as it's a ton of work and not inexpensive to prepare (the meal has a lot of different courses and ritual dishes).
Here here are some things you might offer to bring:
- side dishes
- intersting kosher for Passover baked goods from a bakery in Brooklyn< Sepahrdi & Kosher Bakery List
- wine (find out if only red, if only kosher)
- salad, green or fruit
- something great from one of Brooklyn's greenmarkets
- a song, if you're a musician or a singer (bring your clarinet and play some Klezmer)
If you happen, say, to live in Brooklyn, you might offer to bring the handmade "schmura" matzah which was artisanal before that word was ever coined, because you can find it in stores in Borough Park and Williamsburg at a fraction of the price it's sold in, say, Zabar's.
A Tip about Flowers: The host or hostess will be quite busy —overwhelmed is the norm in the pre-Seder rush — so you might consider bringing a potted plant rather than a huge spray of roses which require yet more work to trim and find a vase for. Or, have the flowers delivered early in the morning of the Seder.
A Tip About Thank You Calls & Notes: Thank you's are always appreciated — especially if you want to get invited back. If you are thanking your best friend or cousin and can afford it, spring for a massage gift certificate!
5. Don't Bring Bread, Cake or Beer to a Seder — Or Pork, For That MatterEven non-traditional Seders and non-kosher Seders have one thing in common: they don't involve the serving of bread, cake or even our popular local brew, Brooklyn Brewery beer. Why? Because traditionally, Jews don't eat bread or anything fermented on Passover, at least not officially — and not at Seders.
As for pork sausages, shrimp, lobster and related products, even a non-kosher Jewish host might feel funny about serving these flagrantly non-kosher food. Whatever. Ask first.
What's this all about? The holiday of Passover celebrates the Exodus from Egypt of the Israelites, who were in such a hurry to get out of Pharaoh's clutches that they took a shortcut on time and just whipped together some flour, salt and water, baked it for 18 minutes, and called it a day. Actually, they (or we) called it a matzah. But in any event, at most Seders the host won't serve bread or anything leavened, meaning with yeast, flour, or fermentation (hence the beer).
Not sure? Ask before you bring.
6. Do Expect to Read Aloud, and Possibly to Participate in a Focused DiscussionMany Seders, even if led by one person who is "in charge" of keeping things moving, involve read-arounds. That is, the guests literally go around the table and each person reads a small section of the Haggaddah. (So, bring your reading glasses!)
In Brooklyn, the read-around is a very strong tradition.
Tip:Get creative! This is Brooklyn! The most memorable and fun Seders involve discussion. Your host may ask you, beforehand, to prepare a thought, idea, poem or even a song to present at the Seder. For instance, they might ask, "Please be prepared to talk about the relevance of the statement, "We were once slaves unto Pharaoh in Egypt" and how that is relevant to today. Think twice before you bring up Middle East politics, though, depending on what Brooklyn neighborhood your Seder is in!
7. Don't Get Plastered on the 4 Cups of Wine Served at a Passover SederThe traditional Seder meal involves the serving of four cups of wine.
Most Seder hosts offer grape juice as an alternative for ceremonial purposes — and for the kids to drink. And there's always water.
The wine, by the way, may or may not be marvelous. The traditional Seder wine, the classic Manischevitz, is very sweet, sort of an alcoholic version of grape juice. Some hosts will serve only red wine.
- Some Seder hosts will serve only kosher wine. Some will serve any wine, red, white or rose, and kosher or not. If you want to bring wine to be consumed at the Seder, ask your host.
- Also, if you have a teenager, decide beforehand what their drinking limit should be.
8. Do Expect to Try Unsusual FoodsAt most Seders you will find yourself confronted with some foods you may not be intimate terms with (yet). The Seder runs through a series of different courses, some symbolic, before you actually get to the main meal, which traditionally starts with soup and moves onto the entree. Among the special Passover dishes you may find:
- charoses, a mix of nuts, apples and sometimes dried fruit, with wine and cinnamon
- hard boiled eggs in salty water
- gefilte fish
- tsimmis, a carrot and sweet potato dish matzah ball soup
- kugel -- a potato souffle
- bunches of raw parsley
Finally, you may be dying for some nice rich butter to smear on that dry matzah. In many Seders, there will not be any butter or margarine on the table. If you like it, buy a box of matzah for breakfast the next day, and butter away!
9. Don't Put Your Cellphone on the TableWe've all become so accustomed to having our cellphones with us at all times, at the ready. Even if you are addicted, try to turn off your mobile, and certainly don't take calls, or do email, or surf the Web while sitting at the Seder table. Why? Because the Seder is sort of a service, it's rude. The same goes for your children and teens.
If you must, then excuse yourself and go into another room; bathrooms are of course the perfect place. Turn off the ringer, breathe deeply and try to stay, as they say in yoga class, in the moment.
10. Do Prep Your Kids: Passover is a Very Kid-Centric HolidayChildren are the heart and soul of the Passover Seder.
Indeed, much of the evening has been designed expressly to pique their interest in learning the story of the Exodus. If your kids have never been before, tell them what to expect.Here are some tips:
- Look at the table. What's on it that is not usually on a dinner table?
- Why does everyone have a book?
- What is this all about?
Afkiomen "Treasure Hunt": At the end of most traditional Seders there's a sort of treasure hunt in which children are given the chance to go find a hidden piece of matzah. Usually the gift is a small sum of money or shiny coins. That's something to look forward to!
A Moment in the Seder Just for the Kids :Also, at least one child —presumably one who has been prepped — will be asked to read the "Four Questions" section of the Haggadah. Jewish children may have learned to sing this traditional verse. Other children may be asked by a beaming host to please read the English translation, which can be a little archaic. In other words, your child may be invited to participate.
And at large Seders, sometimes there's a separate "children's table."