The last time I attended a Passover seder that was not an interfaith seder was the year we missed seeing my parents at Passover, so we had our seder in July.
The recent publication of Our Hagaddah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families by journalists/authors Cokie and Steve Roberts provides an opportunity to engage an interfaith group at the Passover seder in a meaningful way.
Cokie, a Catholic, first assembled their haggadah and stapled it together in 1970. Complete with songs and recipes, Our Haggadah offers people of all faiths a clear understanding of the Passover story. Says Cokie, ours is not a mishmash seder, it's a Jewish seder.
Steve, who is Jewish, explains, haggadah means "the telling." In the case of Passover, the telling is of the liberation of the Jewish people from Egypt. He further notes that the message of Passover, celebration of human freedom, is universal.
Another interfaith celebrant, Susan Katz Miller, writes a blog, "On Being Both: Interfaith Parents, Interfaith Children: Notes From a Hybrid Universe. She also blogs on Huffington Post and is working on a book about raising interfaith children with two religions.
Recently I spoke to Susan about interfaith seders.
How do you make the seder welcoming for people of all faiths?
- Our family is clear about keeping the two religions separate, yet Passover means having a seder that is welcoming and comprehensible to non-Jewish family members and friends.
- We insert the actual story of the Exodus, because the haggadah talks about telling the story of going out of Egypt and freeing the slaves, but doesn't actually tell the story.
- Sometimes the kids put on a play about the Exodus.
- During the seder, we cut out a lot of rabbinic commentary, which many families do even if they are not interfaith. Though we include the plagues, they can be disturbing for children.
Susan's Seder Plate
- My Episcopalian mother is a potter and an artist and made me a beautiful and traditional seder plate.
- The charoset is less familiar than matzoh balls, so there is a thrill of introducing something new and pleasurable to people who don't know about it.
- However, mixing charoset and horse radish is more of an acquired taste.
Food, Conversation and Song
- I don't serve gefilte fish, says Susan. Most of my friends don't like it. On the other hand, matzoh balls are popular with people of all faiths.
- Like Susan and Cokie and Steve, Joan Nathan, author of the new cookbook Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France, has an interfaith seder.
- Joan told me that, in addition to saying the prayers at her seder, they talk about important issues we all wrestle with. In the new cookbook, she provides both Alsatian and Tunisian Passover menus and recipes.
- At my friend Daniel's interfaith seder, he is sometimes the only full Jew at the table. He too encourages discussion of themes that resonate today, such as standing up to oppression and opening the door to those who are needy.
"There is something physically uplifting about singing," says Daniel. He hands out sheets with songs that relate to the theme of the Passover, such as:
- "I Will Follow Him"
- "Leaving on a Jet Plane"
- "Sixteen Tons"
Flourless Chocolate Cake From Our Haggadah, Compliments of Joan Nathan
This cake is delicious any time of year.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Melt one stick of butter and 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate in top of a double boiler or microwave. Let cool.
- Beat 5 large egg yolks with ¾ cup sugar until pale yellow.
- Mix the above together, adding a cup of ground almonds.
- Beat the 5 egg whites until stiff but not dry and fold into chocolate mixture.
- Place pan of water in bottom of oven.
- Line bottom and side of greased 9-inch springform pan with aluminum foil and pour in filling.
- Bake 45 to 50 minutes then remove from oven and allow to sit for a few minutes.
- Unmold, carefully peel off foil and then place upside down on cake plate.
- Confectioner's sugar (which is not kosher for Passover) optional.
Serves 8 to 10
I'd love to hear about your interfaith seders and other interfaith experiences in the comments below.
For authentic chicken soup & a pre-entertaining checklist: