Passover Advice - How to Plan a Simple Seder

Passover Begins Monday, March 25

By Ellen Zimmerman, March 21, 2013
During Passover, Jewish and interfaith families around the world celebrate the freedom of the Jewish people from slavery.

The Passover Seder, the ceremony and meal that launch the week-long holiday, asks us to retell the story of what happened to our ancestors – and to imagine that we, ourselves, were in the desert.

But the spirit and length of the Seder vary dramatically from home to home, and even from year to year. Most families use a Haggadah, a printed guide to the Seder, to lead us through the key 15 steps. (Seder means “order.”)  And there are 100s of Haggadot (plural of Haggadah) available.

If I had one tip to give all the Seder planners (to myself included!), it’s to focus on using the opportunity to build memories. To learn. To laugh. To sing. To eat. To create moments that you’ll remember and cherish.

What’s the Passover Story?

Here’s the very condensed version. The Israelites were forced to serve as slaves in Egypt for 100s of years. G-d warned Pharaoh to free the Jews. Finally, he agreed. But just as the Jews started to flee, he changed his mind and began to chase them. When the Jews reached the Red Sea, G-d parted the waters, allowing the Jews – miraculously – to cross over onto dry land. The Jews celebrated their freedom by dancing in the desert.

How to Plan a Simple Seder

We like to build our Seder around the 15 key steps in every Haggadah. These steps begin with a blessing over wine, then move through blessings over symbolic foods, and telling the Passover story. We then eat dinner (everyone’s favorite part!), search for a special piece of matzah (the finder gets a prize), and sing songs of praise.

For children, the symbolic foods conjure up immediate Seder connections. When else do you dip parsley into salt water (reminding us of the tears of the enslaved Jews)? Or eat charoset, a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine that resembles the mortar that the slaves used to make bricks? Or the roasted egg, with its associations of fertility, birth, and rebirth?

One of our favorite make-it-easier traditions is to assemble mini Seder plates for everyone at the table. When kids put the mini-plates together – with some parsley, charoset, and horseradish – they really grasp the meaning of the symbolic foods. We also add some hard-boiled egg, celery, and a piece of gefilte fish to the plates, enabling us to take a breather after the third step, although this not traditional. We find it keeps everyone’s spirits high.

Finding the Afikomen

There are many moments during any Seder that excite the senses – of taste, of smell, of sound. And these can become the memory-making moments for your children.

One of them is the tradition we mentioned of searching for the matzah. The Seder leader hides this piece of matzah, called the Afikomen, and at the announced moment, all the children go on a mad dash looking for it. The finder must return the Afikomen to the leader – and they negotiate a prize. Small pieces of that matzah are then distributed to everyone at the table to be eaten after all other food is consumed, even dessert.

Be As Creative as You Like

When Miriam crossed the Red Sea, she danced in the desert with her timbrels. So we like to bring kid-friendly instruments to the table to accompany the final Seder songs. Tambourines. Little drums. Maracas. All of these add to the sounds of joy during the final moments of the Seder.

Some families even hold Passover re-enactments to tell the story, with tents made of sheets or cheesecloth. With the Red Sea made from huge sheets of red construction paper or strips of wavy crepe paper that you have to part to get through. With Egyptian headdresses or long robes as costumes.

And if you have a special talent or passion, there will almost surely be a way to weave it into your Seder. One year, my husband and I were studying bluegrass music, so we brought our banjo and guitar to the table and invited everyone to sing a Welcome to the Seder song that I’d written to the tune of “You are My Sunshine.”

So don’t get caught up in angst about making sure everything is perfect. Regardless of how much time you have, gather around a table to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt. Tell about Seders from your past. And build memories for your children to tell to their children.

Ellen Zimmerman, president of, wrote “Celebrate Passover: How to Plan a Fun, Simple Seder” to help families prepare faster, involve the kids more, and ramp up the joy. The 36-page guide comes with two MP3s, a Seder planning overview and a pronunciation tutorial, and is available for immediate download. The cost is only $4.99 for the three-part package: the downloadable PDF and two audio files, including a pronunciation tutorial.