Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, Texts & Activities

Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, Texts & Activities

by David Arnow

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An innovative, interactive guide to help encourage fresh perspectives and lively dialogue at your Passover Seder. A complete resource for creating meaningful encounters with Jewish values, traditions, and texts that lead well beyond the Seder itself.See more details below


An innovative, interactive guide to help encourage fresh perspectives and lively dialogue at your Passover Seder. A complete resource for creating meaningful encounters with Jewish values, traditions, and texts that lead well beyond the Seder itself.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"David Arnow has written the afikomen of Seder books: An ingenious synthesis of history, legend, law, and spirituality (un)leavened with practically helpful, politically important, and psychologically sophisticated suggestions on how to transform your meal into a true celebration of asking and learning. This book belongs next to every seder plate."
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, Emanu-El Scholar at Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco; author, The Way Into Jewish Mystical Tradition

"This richly informative and inspiring book is a treasure for all those seeking to create a Seder that is alive with questions that matter."
Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, coeditor, The Women's Passover Companion

“What is most enjoyable is the connection between the ancient and the contemporary, the timely and timeless quality of our eternal texts which David Arnow has masterfully managed to bring to our attention. Will serve as a marvelous companion piece to the Passover Haggadah and can be referred to year after year.”
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chancellor, Ohr Torah Stone Institutions of Israel

“A deeply enriched and enriching Seder awaits those who use [this] comprehensive sourcebook. [Its] chapter on women of the Exodus is alone worth the cover price.”
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author, Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America

“The book everyone who has to lead or attend a Seder has been waiting for. Simply put: This book will ensure that Seders will be intellectually challenging, emotionally engaging, and spiritually uplifting for years to come. If we only have David Arnow's new book to guide us to creating lively Passover Seders, Dayyenu—it would be enough!”
Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership; coeditor, The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL’s Guide to Everyday & Holiday Rituals & Blessings

“A gift to Jewish parents and teachers who want to explore the many layers of history and interpretation in our celebration of freedom.”
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, editor, The Open Door, the Reform Haggadah

“A treasure trove of lore and scholarship, insight and activities that will fascinate and enlighten readers and enrich their Seders for decades. An extraordinary array of strategies for reaching the diverse groups who gather to share the Seder experience.”
Rabbi David A. Teutsch, past president, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

“A welcome support for Seder leaders everywhere. As Jewish life continues to evolve, the Seder remains a pivotal moment to transmit values, stories, and the culture of our people. This book is full of ideas, texts, and information on how to enrich the experience for all gathered at the table!.” —Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael, rabbinic director, Jewish Women’s Spirituality Institute, JCCs of Greater Philadelphia

Paper Clips - David Arnow

An innovative, interactive guide that can help encourage fresh perspectives and lively dialogue offers thematic discussion topics, text study ideas, activities and readings that come alive in the traditional group setting of the Passover seder. Original.

Forward - Jay Michaelson

Passover is coming again, and with it, the irony of liberation. What irony? That while Passover is the Jewish holiday of freedom, so many of us feel enslaved to it. The cleaning, the prohibitions, the absurd details of kosher dish soap and unkosher salt, and worst of all, the endless drone of the Haggadah, which in so many households is, as Macbeth memorably intoned, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

We've all been there: the Passover Seder that seems as long as the slavery in Egypt, complete with indecipherable Hebrew and Aramaic texts and bizarre exegesis (50 plagues! 200 plagues!), all recited in a hopeless, mindless drone. To me, the "We Don't Know Why We’re Reading This, but We’re Going To Read It All Anyway" Seder ritual seems deliberately designed to turn even the most inquisitive “wise child” into a contrary wicked one, a stupefied simple one and then, finally, an absent and therefore silent one. Really, there’s hardly a better way to drive away your friends and children from Judaism than to mouth the meaningless syllables of a rabbinic text.

The irony is that the Seder, modeled on the Greek symposium, was never meant to be about rote recitation. The text of the Haggadah is not a magical formula; it’s a model for conversation, a jumping-off point, an inspiration. This is how the rabbis did it, the Haggadah says; now it’s your turn. The long exegesis on the Exodus narrative is not the point; the point is for each of us to tell the story anew, embellishing as fantastically and freely as did our rabbinic forbears.

There are plenty of contemporary examples of how this could work in practice, even for families with small children. In the mainstream, interactive Haggadot—like Noam Zion and David Dishon’s A Different Night: The Family Participation Haggadah (Shalom Hartman Institute, 1997) and Zion’s (with Mishael Zion) more recent A Night To Remember: The Haggadah of Contemporary Voices (Zion Holiday Publications, 2007)—capture perfectly the multi-vocality and pedagogical potential of the Seder ritual. Likewise, the encyclopedic My People’s Passover Haggadah (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2007), edited by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman and David Arnow). This Haggadah brings together the traditional text and commentaries from a wide variety of viewpoints. To lead a Seder from such Haggadot takes work. (Arnow’s sourcebook Creating Lively Passover Seders [Jewish Lights Publishing, 2004] can help there.) But the reward is worth the investment—and the work can be divided among Seder attendees, with each taking responsibility for different parts of the evening….

Present your children (and peers) with a dead, written-in-stone-and-read-in-monotone Judaism, and they will indeed follow the descent of the “four sons,” a one-way journey from alienation to ignorance to cultural extinction.

But dare to take the risk—not by dressing up the Seder in “cool” clothing, but by re-examining your fundamental assumptions of why we’re yoking ourselves to this text in the first place, by putting in the time and effort and, in so doing, demonstrating your own interest in the Jewish project—and there’s a chance that some of them will rise to the occasion. You do not need a doctorate or a working knowledge of Aramaic to make the Seder special, just the courage to ask more than the same four questions, and make this night a little different from the rest.

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Product Description

A guide to help you invigorate your Seder, create lively discussions, and make personal connections with the Exodus story today.

For many people, the act of simply reading the Haggadah no longer fulfills the Passover Seder's purpose: to help you feel as if you personally had gone out of Egypt. Too often, the ritual meal has become predictable, boring, and uninspiring.

Creating Lively Passover Seders is an innovative, interactive guide to help encourage fresh perspectives and lively dialogue. This intriguing Haggadah companion offers thematic discussion topics, text study ideas, activities, and readings that come alive in the traditional group setting of the Passover Seder. Each activity and discussion idea aims to:

• Deepen your understanding of the Haggadah

• Provide new opportunities for engaging the themes of the Passover festival, including interactive readings and bibliodrama

• Develop familiarity with the Exodus story, as well as the life and times of the people who shaped the development of the Haggadah

Reliving the Exodus is not about remembering an event long ago, but about participating in a conversation that provides hope and strength for the struggle to make tomorrow a brighter day. With this complete resource, you can create more meaningful encounters with Jewish values, traditions and texts that lead well beyond the Seder itself.

Publishers Weekly
"The Mishnah implies that no two Seders should be the same," claims Arnow, who has created a new Haggadah pamphlet each year to distribute among friends and family. In this innovative book, he urges readers to make the ritual their own, using Passover as an opportunity to better understand and internalize Judaism, freedom and faith. Each chapter begins with a short selection from the Haggadah, followed by Arnow's interpretations, ideas for discussion of relevant topics (e.g. miracles, slavery, exile) and suggestions for hands-on activities. Some adults may find these activities cheesy, but Passover has always been a holiday in which children are actively involved, and they will love "marching" from Egypt to the Red Sea, or stepping outdoors mid-meal to gaze at the full moon. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
The Passover Seder is reputed to be the Jewish tradition most observed today and has also become a recognizable form of interfaith activity in recent years. Although first commanded to the ancient Israelites by God as they prepared to escape from slavery in Egypt, this ritual has been carried on in every country and under the most astoundingly hostile circumstances throughout the centuries. Today, however, many Jews seem to find not enough meaning in the minutiae of preparations for the holiday and the prescribed reading of the ancient Haggadah, the Order of the Seder, at their festive dinner. This new book will be of great value to them and to anyone searching for meaning in the old customs because it presents a myriad of creative ideas to jog the mind and engage the spirit. There are sections on freedom and slavery today, God's role in history, women of the Exodus, and reliving the Exodus, to name a few. But they are far from dry text, including activities, dramatic presentations, games, and discussions. The author introduces himself as a clinical psychologist rather than a rabbi, and indeed his mission is not to instruct but to raise questions and provide suggestions for extracting meaning from the text. He has done a good job as there's enough material here for years' worth of "Creating Lively Passover Seders." But, this is a paperback book with very few illustrations—more would have been welcomed. 2004, Jewish Lights, Ages Adult.
—Judy Chernak
Library Journal
"Why another book on making a Passover seder?" ask Rabbi Alan Kay and wife Jo Kay in the introduction to their how-to guide and sourcebook, noting that more than 3500 Haggadahs are currently in print worldwide. They aim to provide suggestions for making a seder "with significance for your family legacy and the world around you," offering a practical, step-by-step guide to Passover preparation (selecting a Haggadah, planning the menu, shopping, readying the house, and setting the seder table) and to the seder itself. Inset boxes add helpful tips, explanations of traditions, and relevant contemporary stories. Even recipes are included. Arnow, a clinical psychologist and former president of the New Israel Fund, focuses more on the historical and religious background of each passage from the Haggadah and on helping seder leaders and participants find personal, contemporary meaning in the traditional words. He discusses the "long road from slavery to freedom," the four questions, the four children, reconnecting Passover and nature, the Exodus as a personal spiritual journey, women of the Exodus, the ten plagues, Israel and the Haggadah, and the miracles of Egypt and our day. Also included are chapters on Hillel, Elijah, and biblical archaeology, as well as a wealth of suggested group readings and artistic activities to help make the Passover seder livelier and more meaningful. Why another book on making a Passover seder? Why not? How many books of Christmas crafts, cooking, decorating, and traditions does your library have? People are always looking for fresh, new ways to celebrate established holidays, and these two new sourcebooks are highly recommended for any public library.-Marcia Welsh, Dartmouth Coll., Hanover, NH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Association of Jewish Libraries - Beth Dwoskin

This book looks at the Seder from 25 different angles, drawing from the Haggadah, the Torah and the Mishnah. The author goes into great detail about the history of the Seder, detailing many of the changes that have taken place throughout history. Included are sections on the four questions, the four children, the sages, Pesach as a spring holiday, slavery, Pesach and Israel, the plagues, redemption, Elijah and the music of the Seder. There is a section from Mishnah Pesachim, a bibliography and an index. The preface notes that this new edition contains a new chapter on music, as well as chapters on the Seder plate and on Moses. The author has obviously studied Pesach in depth, but despite the title, this book is more of a study of the Seder as a historic tradition than an actual guide to conducting a Seder. There are suggestions for using the book that involve printing copies of readings, contacting guests ahead of time and organizing discussions in different rooms before the Seder even begins. This approach will probably be impractical for most readers. Most of the sections do provide questions that may trigger discussion among the right mix of guests. The book has an accompanying website,, that offers more activities, articles about Pesach and a downloadable Haggadah text for users to cut and paste in the process of creating their own Haggadahs. This book is recommended for synagogue libraries, but a better choice for those that don't own it yet is The Family Participation Haggadah: A Different Night, by Noam Zion and David Dishon.

The Jewish Book Council - Maron L Waxman

"Whoever elaborates on the story of the Exodus deserves praise." David Arnow, psychologist and coeditor of My People's Haggadah, deserves much praise for compiling a treasury of Passover material to enrich any seder. The first edition, published in 2004, grew out of supplements Arnow composed for his family's seders. This expanded edition, with new chapters, continues Arnow’s exploration of every aspect of the seder. The chapter on Dayenu lifts it from a rousing song to a summary of the Exodus, built around the number fifteen and its significance in Jewish tradition. Similarly, Arnow brings both medieval scholars and Shmuel Agnon and Yehuda Amichai to comment on Chad Gadya. A chapter on the seder plate opens up the question of where to place what, and Arnow finds Moses in the Haggadah despite the fact that he is not named. The chapters from the first edition are equally expansive, notably the controversial "pour out your wrath" and the figure of Elijah; the archeologic evidence for the Exodus and how it could have entered Jewish tradition and midrashim that bring women into the story.

This is a book to be consulted, not read from cover to cover. Taking his directions from the Mishnah’s brief chapter on the sparse ritual requirements of the seder and its stress on instructing children, Arnow encourages discussion as a means to better understand the festival. He suggests elaborating on one topic a year and outlines formats that encourage discussion, such as distributing passages to participants ahead of time and gathering before the seder for an activity or a conversation about a passage.

However readers choose to use the material, there is enough here for a lifetime of thought-filled seders. As I read the book, I found myself marking passages that I might insert into a seder or that were personally valuable and informative. The great range of material, from the rabbis through medieval scholars to contemporary commentators, not only provides these opportunities but also underlines the remolding of the Exodus story to fit the time and place of its retelling. If you do not have the first edition, you will be rewarded with this expanded version; if you own the earlier edition, you know the possibilities that Arnow’s research provides. Appendixes, index, notes, select bibliography.

The Jewish Chronicle - JTA

SCARSDALE, N.Y.—You can find the secret to creating lively Passover seders in a surprising place—an 1,800-year-old law code called the Mishnah.

For starters, the Mishnah did not envision reciting a Haggadah at the seder. Instead, it designed a careful balance between aspects of the evening that should be fixed and others that left room for spontaneity.

Fixed elements included drinking four cups of wine, eating matzah, explaining the meaning of the Passover sacrifice, eating matzah and bitter herbs and reciting the six psalms of Hallel. These would bind us together as a people wherever and whenever we live.

But when it came to telling the Passover story, the Mishnah encouraged creativity. This would prevent seders from becoming lifeless clones of one another. Brilliant!

For example, the Mishnah envisioned a night that should be so different from other nights that children would naturally ask, "Why?" Only if a child were unable or failed to ask spontaneous questions should a parent offer the prompt, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" Then a parent might point out things like “on all other nights we eat leavened bread or unleavened bread, on this night only unleavened bread.”

Just as the child's questions were not prescribed, neither were the answers. As to a response, the Mishnah says, “According to the understanding of the son his father teaches him. He begins with disgrace and ends with glory; and he expounds from My father was a wandering Aramean … (Deuteronomy 26:5) until he finishes the whole section.”

Using a succinct version of the Passover story in Deuteronomy 26:5–8 as a frame, the story was to be told through the process of expounding, drasha—literally “drawing out meaning”—or making midrash.

There was no expectation to create the same midrash every year. The story was to be geared to the level of the child's understanding, which would develop from one year to the next. The story becomes meaningful to those gathered around the table through an interactive, creative process. The Mishnah thus implies that the seder should change from year to year and that no two seders should be exactly the same.

In lieu of “slavishly” reading a prescribed text, the Mishnah encouraged us to take liberties, using its example as a core and a guide. Alas, over the centuries, the balance between the fixed and spontaneous elements of the seder disappeared. Rather than asking their own questions, children read or memorized a mandated set of questions. And in place of an answer aimed at the level of the child’s understanding, the Haggadah incorporated a written midrash on "My father was a wandering Aramean."

The goal of an ideal seder became reading the Haggadah from beginning to end, skipping not a word. The result? Instead of seders feeling like a celebration of freedom, they began to feel more like a chore.

Generation after generation we recited these words from the Haggadah: “Whoever elaborates on the story of the Exodus from Egypt deserves praise.” But rather than prying open a little room for creativity, they remained just words on the page.

In the liberty with which we elaborate on the Exodus, we taste and celebrate freedom. We experience ourselves as free, independent creators, the very antithesis of our ancestors mired in the mind-numbing pits of slavery. In so doing we renew the divine sparks within us that mark us each as images of God, the paradigmatic free creator.

In the spirit of the Mishnah, here are two simple suggestions that will help breathe life into your seder.

A few weeks before Passover, ask each of your guests to respond to the following question: “What do you think would be a particularly important question to discuss at the seder this year?”

If you do this by e-mail, paste the responses into a document without identifying who asked which question. Make a copy for each of your guests. Take turns reading the questions aloud. This is an easy, non-threatening way to let the group know what’s on everyone’s mind. Choose a few questions for discussion throughout the seder. You’ll probably find that questions cluster around particular issues, which can guide you in choosing which questions to discuss.

The second suggestion involves deciding where and when to hold this discussion. Instead of doing it at the seder table, if possible gather in a different room beforehand. You’ll find that shifting the location to the living room, for example, sets the tone for an entirely different conversation. Countless readers of Creating Lively Passover Seders have confirmed that holding some of your Passover discussions before you sit down at the table is the simplest, most powerful way to create a more engaging evening.

If either of these suggestions helps you to experiment with your Seder this year, Dayyenu! It would suffice!

David Arnow is the author of Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, Texts & Activities (2nd Edition, Jewish Lights, 2011) and coeditor of My People’s Passover Haggadah: Traditional Texts, Modern Commentaries.

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Jewish Lights Publishing
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6.94(w) x 8.96(h) x 1.07(d)

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