When the Geeks Bring Their Haggadot: How to Make Your Seders a Little More Nerdy
Nothing quite captures the transformative time of year between Purim and Pesach (the Hebrew word for Passover) like the Cinderella meme floating around on Facebook.
The Jewish community—particularly the geek Jewish crowd—go from donning their wildly creative Purim costumes to dissolving literally overnight into a mess on the kitchen floor hugging a box of cereal crying out, “My chametz!” Or really, this entire YouTube video.
All of this is in preparation for two of the most structured meals a human being can partake in. The seders, yes there are actually two, are meals that are structured around a manual called a haggadah. Our sages have told us that it is important for each person attending a seder to personally feel as if they themselves are making the journey out of the land of Egypt. The haggadah acts as a road map to help the host guide guests through the story.
The meals are packed full of beautiful rituals. Each person in attendance is supposed to recline during the meal as a reminder of our freedom, we wash our hands, we drink four glasses of wine throughout the night, and we relive our exodus from Egypt. The meals also cannot start until after sunset because in the Jewish calendar the day is sunset to sunset. Meaning that this year on April 10th everyone needs to wait until after the sun has gone down to begin, or else you will be starting the holiday on the incorrect day.
This, combined with the fact that we are supposed to engage in discussions about the story, and to really involve ourselves, can lead the meal to last well past midnight. This can be a problem if you have children or happen to have adults at the table with short attention spans. As such, people have been attempting to come up with clever ways of engaging guests in the meal. No two seders will be identical. Even if they are both of the orthodox variety, I once went to a seder where the rabbi dressed up as a giant frog. So, how can you add some creativity to your holiday this year?
If you search “how to make pesach more kid-friendly” online, you will find a whole bunch of articles about finger puppets. That might work for kids who are very young, but elementary-aged and middle school-aged kids will not be impressed by finger puppets.
The Unofficial Hogwarts Haggadah written by Rabbi Moshe Rosenburg from Riverdale, New York is here to rescue you. The haggadah takes readers through the journey of what you would normally expect from a seder. It has text in both English and Hebrew, providing enough tradition so not to lose the internal meaning behind the holiday. For a little extra magic that goes beyond finger puppets—although I feel Harry Potter finger puppets can really only be an advantage—the text ties in the various components of the meal to parts of the Harry Potter story. Reviews on Amazon say that it also includes discussions from Rabbi Rosenburg’s students that people have found to be discussion inducing—something that is tantamount to the seder experience.
On the hunt for something a little more traditional that packs a social commentary punch? Try the “New American Haggadah” written by Jonathan Safran Foer. The Hebrew text has been translated by Nathan Englander, and it contains commentaries by various Jewish influencers such as: Jefferey Goldberg, Lemony Snicket, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, and Nathanial Deutch. Illustrations are done by Oded Ezer, an Israeli artist. Inside there are essays meant to engage people in conversations, and it is meant to serve as an inter-generational approach to the seder.
If you already have a tried and true Hagaddah your family uses, you can always have fun with the traditional “Four Questions” also known as the Ma Nishtama that are asked. These questions are to help facilitate discussion, and prompt the re-explanation every year of why we are participating in the seder. Sure, you can say them in English, Hebrew, or Yiddish, but to make this year really special? Try them in Klingon, or one of of the other “300 Ways to Ask The Four Questions“. It’s a fun way to include an international aspect to your seder festivities, and to get people to think globally. After all, as a nation, the Jewish people have lived all over the world and have spoken many different languages. It’s a great way to talk about different traditions even within Judaism!
Finally, you can go the DIY route and make your own haggadah that will tailor made to your guests. So you can find a way to channel your inner social justice advocate, feminist, Jewish identity, and your Harry Potter side, all while creating a scandal that will go down in family history (speaking from experience). Haggadot.com allows you to go through their library and choose what you want to add. It has a template you can use in order to ensure that you don’t miss any crucial elements, while also giving you the flexibility to create the experience you want for yourself and your guests.
Pesach is about each of us personally feeling the story of Passover. It is about feeling the bitterness of slavery, the process of getting ready for freedom, and then enjoying the bliss of freedom. It is about opening our hearts and remembering that we must open our doors and invite all those who are hungry to come and eat with us. To accomplish this incredibly personal task, it is important to find a haggadah that speaks to you and your guests individually. There is no one-size-fits all for all groups and families. So this year, get creative, have some fun, and shock your in-laws with some Klingon.
(featured image: Shutterstock/tomertu)
Kit Englard is an orthodox Jewish, deaf-blind, freelance writer whose primary focus is working toward expanding opportunities for people with disabilities in STEM fields. Currently she is working on Femme De Chem, a blog that will focus on Geek Culture, Science News, and Disability launching April 3rd! Follow her on twitter at @MathnSkating, and like Femme de Chem on Facebook!