Mazel Tov! You have been invited to a Passover seder. For many Jews (including me), Passover or Passover, which tells and celebrates the story of the Israelites freed from slavery in Egypt, is a favorite holiday. At its heart is the seder, an intricate ritual and meal filled with song, specialty food (don’t miss the matzo ball soup!), and Big Springtime Energy. Typically observed on the first and second nights of Passover, the seder is woven with countless rules and great audience participation – all part of the fun, but potentially daunting for a beginner. If you’re looking to impress your host and feel ready for the Seder this year, here are five tips to keep in mind.
Do some light research
Doing a bit of reading ahead of time will give you a better understanding of the meaning of Passover and what to expect at a seder. You don’t have to spend hours in the library to educate yourself, but some basic knowledge will help you feel more confident to take on an interactive role throughout the course. (What you will need to do!)
Try everything (if allergies allow)
Leah Koenig, author of six cookbooks, including The Jewish Cookbook and Modern Jewish cuisine, advises that the best thing you can bring is your interest. “As with any meal where there might be foods new to you, arrive with an open mind and an adventurous spirit,” she says. “And if there’s anything that really doesn’t sound appetizing to you, you can just politely decline.”
Whenever I have non-Jewish guests, I try to persuade them to try gefilte fish – a poached mixture of boneless and chopped fish. In my experience, despite its looks, most customers who love seafood end up enjoying it. So slap some horseradish on that fishcake and take a bite. (Plus, you’ll earn major brownie points from Bubbe for trying this one.)
Ask all your questions
Jews have celebrated Passover for at least 3,000 years, meaning it’s a holiday rich in historical and family traditions. That being said, Koenig reminds us that “Passover is also a night for asking questions” – so no need to hold back. Her favorite way to connect with guests is through food. “The Seder plate is my favorite conversation starter for Passover,” Koenig says. “It’s filled with foods meant to symbolize various aspects of the Passover story, so it provides a perfect starting point for table discussions.” During the seder, feel free to share aspects that seem similar to your own traditions and those that are new to you.
Bring something from vacation
Passover comes with a lot of dietary restrictions, like avoiding sourdough bread, so rather than accidentally bringing something forbidden, it’s probably best to just avoid edible gifts. “A bottle of good kosher wine (anything from Covenant Wines) is a safe bet, however, and especially helpful because it’s customary to drink four glasses of wine during the Passover seder,” she says. Koenig also recommends “gifts for the home, like a cute tea towel, a cookbook, or a puzzle (especially this Jewish food puzzle).”
Whenever I attend Passover, a spring festival, I look into seasonality for a host gift. A flower arrangement or a small potted plant, such as a succulent, is a simple idea that the host can even include in the decor of the evening.
Be ready to participate
During the seder, the Passover story is told through readings, songs, prayers, the drinking of wine, and the eating of specific foods. And it is customary for anyone seated at the Passover table (yes, even non-Jews) to participate in the rituals. While it may seem overwhelming, even a little embarrassing, to read aloud and sing along to new songs, Koenig recommends trying whatever is on offer during the night. “Have fun! Drink all the wine! (Or don’t you do.) Sing all the songs (the out-of-chord is fine)!” she says.
And in my experience, children and all adult guests are encouraged to find the afikomen, which is a special matzo that is hidden during the seder. Feel free to win against the kids, it’s all about having fun. Koenig’s final tip: “Passover is an incredibly engaging and interactive holiday. If you bring your curiosity along, you’re bound to have a great time.”