As I set tonight’s Seder table, I find myself both grateful for the family and friends who will surround me and wistful as I think of those who will not. This year, I have been thinking a lot about my father, may his memory be a blessing, Rabbi Norman Koch. His Hebrew name was Nissan, the Hebrew month that we are in right now, and Passover was his favorite holiday.
As if by fate, as memories of my father singing at the Seder were filling my heart and mind, a message popped up from a colleague who directs URJ Camp Harlam, with a photo of a letter to staff that my father had written in 1975, when he was the Jewish educator at camp. My father wrote:
“…our emphasis will not be factual learning; rather, through participation in activity, we desire the campers to enjoy themselves while dealing with Jewish questions, problems, and dynamics. Or, simply to have fun in a clearly Jewish context.”
This simple method, key successful experiential educational experiences like we work to create here at the 14th Street Y in all of our programs, is exactly what the Passover Seder is meant to be. As we sit around the table, eating symbolic foods, asking essential questions, and re-enact the story of the Exodus from Egypt, we are living these words of the Torah:
“In every generation, one is obligated to see oneself as if he or she personally went out from Mitzrayim (Ancient Egypt/’The Narrows’).”
In other words, the Seder can be an activity in which we can enjoy ourselves while dealing with critical Jewish questions, problems, and dynamics. Our Seders are a chance to gather with loved ones, to remember those who came before us, and to enjoy ourselves while we grapple with essential questions of liberty, responsibility, and redemption.
Here are a few new resources to help make your Seder more interactive, enjoyable, and meaningful:
- From our Friends at the Manny Cantor Center: A Passover Message from Executive Director Rabbi Joanna Samuels and Telling The Story: A Haggadah for Our Immigrant City
- From our Friends at Lab/Shul, A Seder Discussion Guide: Say Der Fold-out
- From our Friends at the Shalom Hartman Institute, many resources: Pesach’s Many Questions: An Exploration Beyond the Classic Four
- From our Friends at Pardes: An Interactive Seder Experience
Tomorrow night, we also begin Counting the Omer, the forty-nine days between Passover and Shavuot. This count marks the growing bounty of spring, and a celebration of moving from the freedom from slavery to receiving the Torah, the source of Jewish wisdom and culture. Here at the 14th Street Y, it also kicks off the 14th Street Y’s Season of Jewish Culture! Please join me and our downtown community in celebrating this time through a series of special events at the 14th Street Y and around Downtown Manhattan. Learn more here.