Surviving Seder night

Passover at its essence is a celebration of freedom.

Passover seder (illustrative) (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Passover seder (illustrative)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
 Why is this night not different from any other Seder night that has gone before? And I’m not talking about the menu or the wine list. I am not talking about the usual cast of characters around the table (the in-laws, long-standing friends, newcomers and the odd aunt and uncle) or even the Haggada, which is chanted year after year. All those parts we want to stay the same.
What we want to be different is the feeling that this night, the night, a night of magic and warmth, spirituality and family, should live up to its name. It should have seder (order), not squabbles. It should be full of discussions, not arguments, and engender a feeling of warmth, not discontent.
Every year we expect it to be different; every year we face disappointments.
So how can we make this Seder night different from all the previous ones?
Shakespeare wrote, “Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises.” Understanding what your expectations are will help enormously.
Passover is one of the major holidays in the Jewish calendar and Seder night is its peak. Everyone has a different idea and tradition of what Seder night should be. Some of us picture the family sitting around the table enjoying one another’s company, some see it as a time to discuss different topics or spiritual and philosophical ideas, while others see it as a time to indulge the children and play games.
Instead of wishing that everyone would just fall into line with your desired model, sit down and talk with your family about what you and they expect from the Seder. You may be surprised with what people’s thoughts on the matter are. Your Seder may not be everything you had wished for, but incorporating other people’s expectations may mean it could even be more enjoyable and/or meaningful.
Once everyone has identified and stated his expectations, there might be a gap in what others are willing to go along.
Just because your son expects that everyone should listen to his long explanations does not mean that everyone is willing to allow him the time to do so.
Sometimes, when we accept the realities of the circumstances, even those that will limit our expectations, we can enjoy the experience that we have, rather than compare it to what we think it ought to be.
In the case of the son who wants to offer lots of explanations, this would mean telling him that he needs to choose just two that people would listen to. Although this does not fulfill all his expectations, his frustration at being constantly nudged and ignored will be mitigated, and everyone will be able to listen to his two explanations with the knowledge that it is not just the first of a long series.
Umberto Eco wrote, “The list could surely go on, and there is nothing more wonderful than a list, instrument of wondrous hypotyposis.”
Making lists can help. Once you have worked out expectations and set them in a frame of reality, working out how to implement them can really facilitate the smooth running of the whole night, from practical issues, such as how many chairs you will need, menus and table plans, to scheduling, such as when to insert games and explanations.
All the lists take the headache out of storing all these details mentally. Transferring them to paper allows you break things down into manageable chunks, which makes the whole experience less overwhelming.
Lists also help you visualize the whole picture at once and tick off jobs when they are completed.
This provides a clearer understanding of what there is to be done and creates better order (seder again!).
One of the major complaints throughout Passover is the “nagging” effect. If you are the one “in charge of Passover,” you will be accused of constantly asking others to do chores and not allowing anyone to just enjoy the holiday.
Seder night is no different, and although in many families there is someone who leads the Seder, delegating jobs to all can make people feel more involved.
Jobs can include bringing the haroset or bitter herbs, planning entertainment such as educational games for adults or children. Children can be given small tasks such as holding up signs to show which part of the Seder you are up to, or can be asked to create plays or songs.
It is important to delegate pre-Seder so the “nagging effect” is averted.
So, you have asked everyone for their expectations, reframed them in reality, made lists and delegated jobs – but then someone throws a spanner in the works. Unexpected guests arrive who don’t quite gel with the ones you already have, or the children don’t perform quite as expected or even storm off in tantrums.
When there are certain expectations, any change to them may throw you off kilter.
One memorable Seder for me was when the lights went out halfway through Seder night, plunging us all into darkness. There was a brief sense of, Oh no, what are we going to do? Until we found some candles.
Unplanned, that candlelit Seder was one of the most atmospheric we ever had.
The key here is to know that, despite all the planning, we need some flexibility. When you feel that your Seder is ruined if it is not going quite to plan, take a step back and try to see the whole picture. It is just one aspect of the Seder that has not gone as predicted. The key is to place it in perspective and allow a degree of flexibility and not to let it ruin the whole night.
Passover at its essence is a celebration of freedom.
Hopefully, this year we can break free of any negative patterns from previous years. This night, then, can truly be different from all other nights. 
The writer qualified and worked as a lawyer in the UK and is a licensed mediator (UK and Israel) residing in Jerusalem. She specializes in mediation for English-speakers (, and can be contacted at