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Seder can be splendid the second time around

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Creating a colorful table can add some spice to the second-night seder. (Laurie Blumberg-Romero)

Creating a colorful table can add some spice to the second-night seder. (Laurie Blumberg-Romero)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, a suburban Washington spiritual leader, jokes that "The second night of Passover was invented because God knew there would be in-laws."

The first seder may last late into the night as the ancient story is told, the questions are asked and the blessings recited. But when it is over — if you live outside of Israel — many will have an encore the next night.

In ancient times, before the days of a set calendar, a second seder was added to the celebration of Passover to ensure that Jews living outside of Jerusalem would get the notice in time that the holiday had begun.

In the modern world there is hardly any doubt over what day of the week that Passover falls or when to begin celebrating holidays. But Mark Leuchter, professor of Jewish studies at Temple University, says today there are more symbolic reasons for maintaining the tradition of preparing a seder on the second night of Passover. 

“The second seder gives us an opportunity to affirm our identity as Jews in the diaspora,” Leuchter says. “It’s an affirmation of our ability to thrive outside Israel.”

While that may be so, is it still necessary to conduct a repeat performance of the first night?

Weinblatt says that spending the second seder with different people either at home or by attending a community seder at a synagogue is one way to ensure that the evening is different from the previous one. He also suggests using a different Haggadah for the second seder to help bring out different aspects of the Passover story.

“The Haggadah we use today is not the one Moses and the Children of Israel used. It has evolved over time and is a product of centuries of innovation,” says Weinblatt, of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md. Contributing commentary and fostering discussions is also encouraged, he said, adding that  “whoever adds to the [Passover] story is to be praised.”

Jamie Jakobowitz appreciates the opportunity of having two seders in order to spend quality time with both her family and her husband’s. The suburban Philadelphia social worker doesn’t mind reciting the entire Haggadah again on the second night.

“As an adult I love it,” she says.

Jakobowitz does admit, however, that it can be "trying" to have her two small children sit through several hours of plagues and prayers two nights in a row.

To help families combat seder fatigue, the Union of Reform Judaism will host a one-hour webinar this month with suggestions for infusing some creativity into the Passover seder by adding new melodies, customs, questions and an interactive plague kit. The purpose, says the URJ’s Rabbi Rex Perlmutter, is to help people “go beyond the Haggadah” during the seder.

In addition, Cantor Alane Katzew, the worship and music specialist at the URJ, encourages activities for children at a seder such as performing skits and acting out scenes from the Haggadah, as well as incorporating a favorite song that can serve as a compliment to the traditional “Song of Songs.”

Families can also look to different cultural backdrops for ideas when making something as simple as the charoset, says Katzew. She recommends finding inspiration in the culture of Jews from places such as India, Italy or Morocco by using less traditional ingredients like bananas, cranberries, cloves and even different nuts in the dish.

“There are lots and lots of ways to be creative,” Katzew says. “Begin with your own passion and whatever it is that might have relevance to you and will help bring [you] forth from a personal Egypt.”

For Rabbi Michelle Greenberg, the second night of Passover has become a more intimate affair than the first evening. While she will attend the first seder with lots of friends and family, on the second night it is usually time saved for her father and stepmother. Together they recite all of the traditional Passover blessings before beginning a discussion on a theme like personal freedom or gratitude.

“We talk about our lives, but in the context of a seder,” says the Jewish educator from northern California. And over the years, the discussions have helped bring the family closer, she says, yet at the same time fulfilling the religious obligation of retelling the Passover story.

“We use the Haggadah and also our own lives,” Greenberg says. “Passover is all about the story, but writing one’s self into the story.”

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