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Seder Supplements, Readings, and Poems for Passover 2024/5784

Mah Nishtanah Halailah Hazeh? How different this night will be. 

Pesach 5784 begins in five days and it is clear to all of us that our sedarim will feel different than last year. How could they not? How might we consider what additions to bring to the table to supplement our usual haggadot? Should we bring new readings or poems to speak to the matzav (“situation”)? How about additional items to the seder plate? And is all of this kosher (by that I mean, OK)?

YES! Jews and Jewish families have responded to current events – both within the Jewish community and the wider human family – for generations with seder additions such as fair trade chocolate, bananas, olives, and tomatoes to speak to various issues. Supplements have been published with additional verses to traditional seder songs. And, most importantly, questions have been posed to seder-goers about everything from refugees, modern-day slavery, human trafficking, fair wages, and environmental crises. 

So…what should we do this year?

I am pleased to share the following seder supplements, readings, and poems for a post-October 7th world. Give yourself time over the next few days to peruse and see what resonates with you and your seder participants. Perhaps you’ll bring forth a perspective that closely aligns with your current perspective. Perhaps you’ll choose something that pushes you in new and different ways. May you find comfort in the knowledge that others are struggling just as you are struggling, that others are questioning just as you are questioning, and that others are grappling just as you are grappling.

Whatever you choose to add/bring to your seder and/or whatever someone else brings to the seder, I encourage you to come to the experience with a softness of heart, a curious mind, and a commitment to kavod and chesed (respect and loving kindness) for the dear ones with whom you will be gathering. 

As one of the resources below so astutely teaches us: 

Family relationships and friendships are long journeys of discovery and can hold discomfort. As you go through the seder night, invite your guests to ask questions about the texts…and to bring their own perspectives. If arguments start to brew, welcome them. As the convener, if you find that a few people are dominating the conversation, invite other people to join the discussion by saying, “I wonder if there are other perspectives…” Remember your role at the seder is not to achieve world peace. Instead, it is to create an environment in which everyone can have an experience that will soon turn into a memory. Ensure that everyone around the table feels that they are valued, and they belong. Our families, friends, and communities are the contexts in which we work out our ideas and ideals. Each person gathered around your table is meant to be there. We need everyone, young, old, loudly opinionated, and passive alike. In a world of so much strife and division, you are a gatherer. Inclusivity, patience, and love will pave your way forward.

May this Pesach season truly be Zman Cheruteinu, a time of freedom – and peace – for us all. Kein Yehi Ratzon.

Seder Interrupted: A Post-October 7 Haggadah Supplement

Let us begin with Seder Interrupted: A Post-October 7 Haggadah Supplement, edited by Dr. Ora Horn Prouser and Rabbi Menachem Creditor. This collection of essays, liturgy, and poetry came together over the past few months with the participation of some of our generation’s most well-known writers, thinkers, and poets. Bonus material: watch a great webinar recording about the Supplement for background and context.

I’ll highlight one particular poem that struck me as speaking powerfully to the moment:

Forward Together by Julie Brandon
The sea calls to me
To stand and wait
For the miracle to happen
For the song that follows
Shall we wade into the water
Buoyed up by faith and trust
Grab my hand
We’ll cross together
Never to forget the bondage
For if we do, how can we help others break free
Hold my hand and take that first step
As we reach freedom together

Kveller: 7 Ways to Address October 7 at Your Family Seder

Kveller offers us 7 Ways to Address October 7 at Your Family Seder with the hope that these rituals offer “an opportunity to reflect, mourn and celebrate as a family and community this Passover.” Try adding an olive or olive oil as a symbol for peace, or subtracting items from your plate to acknowledge those living without enough food and water, or asking different questions about the plagues (“What does the plague of darkness mean to us this year? What is one thing we’ve done to bring in light”)

Shalom Hartman Institute: In Every Generation

The Shalom Hartman Institute has published In Every Generation: A Haggadah Supplement for 5784, which brings together readings, essays, and questions. It begins:

This year, the reverberating trauma of October 7, ongoing war in Gaza, thousands of Israelis displaced from their homes, rising antisemitism, and weakening bonds of allyship around the world give us new lenses for understanding the Exodus story. In some cases, the words of the Haggadah feel more relevant; in others, the Haggadah’s proclamations clash with reality. How can we celebrate a holiday of freedom when over 100 people are still held captive in Gaza? How do we call for all who are hungry to come eat at our tables when so many Israelis are not at their own seder tables and millions of Palestinians are on the brink of famine?”

Bayit: This Broken Matzah

Bayit’s This Broken Matzah: Pesach 2024 offers poems, art, and liturgy to elucidate the Four Cups and the Four Questions. Consider the following poem by The Velveteen Rabbi (R’ Barenblat):

Hungry by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
“This is the bread of affliction” lands differently
As desperate Palestinian parents make bread from animal pellets
To feed their starving children.
And how can we say, “Let all who are hungry come and eat,”
As Gaza descends into famine and aid can’t get through,
While Hamas leaders hide, safe underground?
Now people go hungry. Next year may all be fed.
Now we are crushed by the vice-grip of grief.
Next year may all of Abraham’s children be safe and free.

A Way In: Passover Guide to Honor and Heal our Broken Hearts

A Way In’s Passover Guide to Honor and Heal our Broken Hearts is a heart-expanding offering of poetry, prayers, and kavannot (intentions). For the Yachatz section of the Hagaddah, it reads:

Yahatz: Breaking the Matzah

As we begin the seder the matzah is lechem oni—the bread of affliction. By the middle of the seder the matzah has become the afikomen—the dessert—what we seek, what we long for.

This transformation begins as we lift up three matzot, break the middle matzah and call out, “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat.” As we let ourselves feel the suffering and brokenness in ourselves and in the world and as we turn toward relationship with each other and all life the matzah transforms. It goes from being the bread of poverty to being the bread of connection, hope and faith. The matzah becomes the call that says to our broken hearts; healing and transformation is possible. This is the bread we will bless and eat.

This year we add a new aspect to yahatz, the ancient practice of breaking by Sharing our Broken Hearts: The ritual begins with a short meditation. Then each person in turn breaks a whole piece of matzah and shares an experience of heartache, grief. The sharing is received in silence and then a short blessing meditation and prayer. The halves of the broken matzah are set aside for later in the evening.

Rabbi Yael Levy: Four Questions as We Enter this New Season

Rabbi Yael Levy (from A Way In) offers us Four Questions as We Enter this New Season:

  1. How do we go out from the narrow perspectives and constricted thoughts that so deeply divide us?
  2. How do we soften our tender, vulnerable hearts in a world of such violence, pain and fear?
  3. How do we cross over into a new way of being in which all people, all life, earth herself, are treated with dignity and sacred care?
  4. What will guide us through this wilderness?

She then adds a fifth question to take us deeper into our souls and the depth of the holiday of Pesach.

iCenter: Pesach supplement

The iCenter has created a robust supplement filled with background information, artwork, readings, and rituals. In the 10 Plagues section, which is subtitled “Reducing Our Joy” the author notes that there are different practices regarding what one does upon reciting the plagues in order. When you remove wine from your glass, do you wipe it away or do you leave it on your plate? What do you do with the leftover wine on your finger or fork?

Some families have the tradition that you cannot lick the wine from your finger, not because of a fear of ingesting the plagues, but rather out of a sense that we should not derive pleasure from the pain of others. This practice aligns with a well-known Midrash about the splitting of the sea when the Israelites pass through on dry land but the sea crashes into the Egyptian army that had followed them. According to the Midrash, God chastises the angels who begin to sing at the downfall of the Egyptians. “How dare you sing for joy when my creatures are dying!” As we reduce our joy by spilling our wine, let us remember that while we can celebrate being saved, our tradition teaches that we should not sing while God’s creatures are dying. This is echoed in Mishlei (Proverbs): “When your enemy falls, do not rejoice.”

Pardes: Why Is This Year Different from All Other Years

Pardes published a document called Why Is This Year Different From All Other Years: Celebrating Passover Post October 7. One of the elements of the seder it explores is Dayenu (typically translated as “it would have been enough”). 

This year, in the wake of October 7th, I wonder if it might be time to sweeten the taste of Dayenu’s irony with a less paradoxical coda. Let’s think about what we really need as a people and ask ourselves: What would be enough? Safe and secure borders in Israel. The return of hostages. The eradication of Hamas. Support from the international community to strengthen infrastructure, education, and employment opportunities for Palestinians. A commitment from global leaders to combat and root out antisemitism in all its insidious forms. This year, invite your Seder table to imagine Dayenu is a vision statement. Think about “enoughness” and its potential. Ask your guests to share a hope or dream for the weeks and months ahead. 

J Street: Fifteen Steps to Freedom

J Street’s Fifteen Steps to Freedom begins by asking the reader: What does it mean in 2024 to be pro-Israel, pro peace and pro-democracy? 

What questions do we need to ask about our power and responsibility? How might we be responsible for the oppression faced by others? What plagues us, and how can we not simply celebrate our own freedom, but use our freedom to help others become free? This haggadah supplement provides a framework for envisioning ways we can fight to ensure that Israel flourishes as a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people and that Palestinians are able to achieve self-determination and independence in a state of their own – ensuring one day we will live in a world of peace, security and freedom for both peoples. It reminds us that as long as others are suffering, our own celebratory glasses of wine are never full to the brim.

ARZA: Mah Nishtanah? A Different Seder in a Post-October 7 World

In ARZA’s Mah Nishtanah? – A Different Seder in a Post-October 7th World, we are offered seder additions like Four (different) Questions — Why did this happen? When will it end? Who is to blame? Who is right and who is wrong? — and a concluding piece called Next Year in Jerusalem:

Next Year in Jerusalem

When we sit at our Seder tables in Israel one word is added to the end of this prayer. We say: “לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּיְרוּשָׁלָיִם הַבְּנוּיָה”- “Next Year in a Rebuilt Jerusalem.”  While the original prayer refers to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, the concept of rebuilding could not be more poignant this year. This year we pray for those who fled their homes to return and rebuild (literally) their homes and their lives. We pray that an international coalition will come together to rebuild Gaza which is in shambles, so that Gazans can rebuild their lives as well, with a new government without Hamas.

We will need to rebuild and reconcile relationships with those who see the world very differently from us.

May this year be a year of redemption from captivity, freedom from hostility and war, and a year of rebuilding.

Other suggestions

More resources from Ritualwell

From Rabbi Ilyse Glickman:

Please let me know what materials, poems, and readings you chose to add to your sedarim this year. I’d love to know how they resonated in your hearts and minds. I look forward to the conversation: rabbiglickman@djctoronto.com

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