Going to your first seder this year? Have no fear.
A little smiling and nodding can go a long way.
Whether you're a non-Jew dating a Jew, an interested friend from a different, less chosen faith, or a Jew who has been to a million seders and still feels confused, I'm here to help. As a currently non-practicing Jew from Long Island whose uncle is a rabbi, I'm a bit of an expert.
1. Just Accept All the Weird Stuff on the Table Without Questioning It.
Don't worry about it.
Anyone who's ever been to a seder knows the table is going to be covered in some crazy stuff. Some of it will be food; some of it won't be. It may not be clear which is which. Sometimes there is food hidden in ornate ceramics that you wouldn't expect to find food inside of.
My mom loves to load up her Passover table with toy figures that represent the Ten Plagues. You should never play with these toys, no matter how tempting. Too many years my family's seder has been interrupted by my Mother scolding her adult son for forcing a toy frog to make out with a toy cow. I'm not 100% sure if this issue is her fault or mine.
Author's dramatic interpretation of frog plague.
2. Don't touch or eat anything unless you're specifically told to.
Pro Tip: Don't eat gefilte fish even if you've been told it's okay.
There are rules to a seder (which literally means "order"). Too many if you ask me. Things are eaten in a long, drawn-out and highly specific manner. Even if something is placed directly on your plate, that doesn't mean you can eat it. It's often just supposed to sit there for a bit while someone says things about it. You should just watch what other people are doing and follow their lead—never act first.
3. Warning: You'll have no idea what kind of seder you're getting into until you're there.
Good news! If it's the type of seder where there's bread, it will probably be short.
There is a wide range of seder styles, varying from family to family. Some can be very Jewish, other are barely Jewish at all. Hopefully you won't be stuck at one of the very Jewish kind. A lot of Jewish people don't even like those. My family switches back and forth depending on which relatives are invited that year. The number of older people invited is usually a strong prognosticator of seder length. Older Jewish people love a long seder. Be advised, the long ones also tend to be in Hebrew. It's OK if you don't know what's going on; many of the Jews at the table won't either.
This year, I'll be celebrating Passover on Cape Cod with my mom and some of her friends. I guess you could call it a.......Cape crew seder.
— Zach Sherwin (@zachsherwin) March 6, 2015
4. Prepare to meet new people.
Prepare by drinking cup of wine #0.
For some reason, the host will often invite one older single person from their synagogue. If you return the next year, they will be replaced with a different older single person, so be nice but don't get attached. No one else at the table will have met this person before either. It is very likely that there is a terribly sad story that explains why they are there and not with their own family. TRY NOT TO HEAR THIS STORY.
Always honored when my friend invites me to his Passover dinner. (Although last year, honestly, felt a little heavy on the Jewish stuff.)
— Kevin Seccia (@kevinseccia) March 10, 2015
5. Enjoy the wine!
Pour yourself enough that you lose track of how long this is taking.
The tradition of drinking four glasses of wine with the Passover meal is literally the only seder custom designed to enhance the dining experience. I've witnessed seders that begin with a subdued mumbling of prayers and end in a rambunctious shout-singing of “Let My People Go." Thank you, wine. Be careful though, there are some exceptions. I've also attended seders where “four cups of wine" means four times you hold up your glass, say things about it and then take a sip.
6. Have you tried the matzah, you should try the matzah.
Don't be afraid. It's just a cracker.
Matzah gets a bad rap for being a dry, flavorless cracker. The reality is it's a dry, regular cracker. Crackers are usually tasty and so is matzah. You're here, might as well give it a chance. The real problem with matzah starts when you keep kosher for Passover and give up bread during the entire week. Your diet becomes 85% matzah (the other 15% is cream cheese on your matzah).
And that's about it. Of course, you're going to be confused by other things (like how some Pepsi is kosher for Passover and some isn't even though no Pepsi contains bread). Luckily, Passover is one holiday where asking questions will make you seem like you know what you're doing.
Happy Passover! A holiday that ignores thousands of years of advancements in bread technology
— Mike Lawrence (@TheMikeLawrence) April 15, 2014
(frog image courtesy of Justin Laub; other images via Thinkstock)