Finding Wholeness

The Freedom to Invent: Redefining My Seder

The month of Nissan brings in thoughts of spring, Pesach (Passover), and for those who are traditionally-minded, a seder. Perhaps the ritual of the seder takes place at the grandparents’ house, with a stern paterfamilias reciting the passages in Hebrew while the rest of the family groups by age: adults catching up on life, children catching up on mischief.

Or perhaps the seder is led at home, with the father using heirloom seder plate, singing the tunes that he learned as a little boy. Perhaps the seder is held in a hotel, led by a rabbi who guides the guests through the paragraphs about the escape from Egypt while the children wiggle in their seats. All of these scenarios evoke the sense of tradition and continuity, the bestowing of past onto the present to be transferred into the future.

Both my husband and I came from the former Soviet Union. We grew up with zero Jewish traditions and ritual, our Jewish identity kept as discreet as possible. We both came to observance later on, independently from our families of origin. Neither one of us has been to a seder led by a relative, just those of well-meaning rabbis and friends. Neither one of us had entrenched customs and traditions that made a seder our own.

For the first few years of our marriage, a rabbi graciously opened his home to welcome us to his family’s seder. Yet soon I was pregnant and due right at the seder time. I found myself wondering: what is more stressful, having someone else lead the seder but risk being away from home during labor, or staying put and attempting to lead our own seder? What sort of incredible insights will we miss? What if we forget something?

Unlike many other Jewish rituals that I was eager to reclaim as my own, the seder felt heavy, pregnant with family traditions and secret knowledge that was eluding us.

We stayed home and muddled through. I knew better than to fret about food or any potential leaven in the house. I knew that at the end of the day, the seder was the culmination of the night, not the brisket. Yet it was easier to stress about the brisket and the cleanliness of the kitchen than about the gaping hole where family traditions were supposed to be.

Then I had a baby born on Pesach, and another one, two years later, just a few days before Pesach. These babies were followed by more babies… the final child was due on Pesach but mercifully waited until the last Passover dishes were tucked away, switched over to our regular set. I was swarmed with children. These children were growing up in my house, drinking up my traditions, watching me do my Pesach.

Slowly, over many years, our own traditions emerged. I serve latkes on Passover eve, during that twilight zone when leaven is no longer permitted, yet there is no matzah. We always do an elaborate Ma Nishtana, the “Four Questions”, from the youngest to the oldest who is willing to sing. We have a large pick of Haggadot and the kids rotate, picking out their favorite.

My husband sets up a bowl filled with nuts, dried fruit, marshmallows and chocolate chips to reward any good questions that are asked. One night the adults hide the afikomen, while the other night it is up to the kids. Afikomen hiding needs to come with some ground rules, including avoiding the spot behind the bathroom trash can. We learned from experience that a shankbone left in the kitchen will disappear right off the seder plate, courtesy of a cat.

During Corona, we have moved our seder to the living room couch, with proper reclining. Every year, some kid or other will be thrilled to stay up until the very end, while someone else will be thrilled to tuck themselves into bed. The plague of hail will inevitably mean ice cubes, some slid down the back. I will ask too many questions, while another participant will ask: When do we finally eat? Since everyone is already stuffed with grape juice and matzah, the seder meal will consist of only chicken soup, as long as there are floating matzo balls and dessert.

Looking back on all the years that I felt I was missing out on someone else’s traditional seder, I see that we did not do so bad ourselves. I wish that I could turn back the clock and tell my younger fretful self: it will be ok. You will patch that rift in the tapestry of tradition with your own unique thread. The fabric of the Jewish people will be restored with new and vibrant colors.

At The Well uplifts many approaches to Jewish practice. Our community draws on ancient Jewish wisdom, sometimes adapting longstanding practices to more deeply support the well-being of women and nonbinary people. See this article’s sources below. We believe Torah (sacred teachings) are always unfolding to help answer the needs of the present moment.


The Seder Plate, My Jewish Learning

Afikomen, My Jewish Learning

The Freedom to Invent: Redefining My Seder
Ilana Gimpelevich
Ilana Gimpelevich

Ilana Gimpelevich is a life-long learner and crafter, passionate about Jewish learning. She is the creator of Oreg: Reweaving our Connections, a monthly multigenerational women's gathering dedicated to source-based learning and hands-on art exploration. She is a mother of five and a student at Yeshivat Maharat.

Share this post

Looking for more ancient wisdom?

  • Explore the energy of this new moon
  • Tap into the wisdom of your body and heart
  • Commit to new ways to make space for yourself