“We all struggle with different things — illnesses, issues with our livelihood — but through the right kinds of questions, we can all feel that kind of freedom.”
David Farber, a Bethesda lawyer, has often taken his three daughters to Israel for Passover. Two of his brothers live there. He said the family Seder was transformed by one brother’s decision to ditch the tradition of sitting around the dining room table, which encourages everyone to want to start eating. Instead, he hung sheets from the living room ceiling to create a tent-like effect and foster a more informal discussion about the Passover story. With parents on couches and kids on the floor, scenes were acted out and debates were had.
“It was so engaging, so much fun, something you just don’t forget,” Farber said. When he hosts Seder in Bethesda, he includes stories for his daughters about biblical heroines, and he gives everyone a different type of Haggadah to provide diverse commentary and ideas. In recent years, numerous new Haggadahs, some emphasizing Israel and Zionism, others focused on women or singing, have emerged from the various theological schools of Judaism.
‘So many memories’
The business of transmitting culture and values, however, is mysterious. Farber’s 20-year-old daughter, a ballet dancer in Fort Worth, said she didn’t recall the tents but had wonderful memories of her siblings and cousins “getting restless and throwing matzoh and making pyramids from Styrofoam cups” or taking stickers depicting the 10 plagues and putting them on one another.
“Passover is one of my favorite holidays because I have so many memories,” Alexandra Farber said. This Passover she will be a guest at someone else’s Seder in Fort Worth, but she planned to go through the laborious process of making her apartment kosher for Passover.
Jonathan Sarna, a Brandeis University professor of American Jewish history, said he thinks that the revved-up Seders are partially a product of “the child-centeredness of American society” but that over the centuries there have been waves of efforts to change and innovate. For example, the tradition of hiding a piece of matzoh for children to find goes back to the earliest centuries of Judaism. And North African Jews, including those from Morocco, were known to hold Passover plays long ago.
Even Antine’s idea of starting the Seder in a different room of the house — to prompt questions and curiosity — has echoes of an era in Jewish history when people didn’t eat in kitchens but ate in living rooms on low couches.
“These are new ways of keeping something old,” Sarna said. “Kids have been kids for a very long time.”