Sunday, April 24, 2011

In every generation - Maggid 2.0 at our Seder

This year we tried something a little different at our Seder.  We were so pleased with the result that I wanted to share it here - an idea to store away for next year.  It won't work for everyone - certainly not for Jews who do not use additional power or technology on the festivals - but that still leaves a lot of Jews who might want to try something new.

We began our Seder fairly conventionally, following our Haggadah through the festival candle-lighting, first cup of wine, and so on, through to Yachatz - the breaking of the matzah.  But when we arrived at the heart of the haggadah (and the longest section) - Maggid - telling the story, we put down the haggadah.  First, we performed what has become a family ritual over the years - the Passover story in rap, with costumes and movement.  That story in its entirety, from Moses' birth to the crossing of the Sea, is rather difficult to find in a traditional haggadah, but we like to cover the basics.

What we do find in the haggadah is a confusing mix of conversations from generations ago - Rabbis talking all through the night, fantasies about multiplications of plagues, four questions (some of which are never answered in the text of the haggadah), four children who respond to the whole Seder experience in different ways, and so on.  Its a rather strange hodge-podge if you think about it.  I've always regarded it as something of a 'teacher's manual' - it gives you ideas of how to engage in the storytelling, but it doesn't work so well as the storytelling itself.

If it is the case that, 'in every generation' we must have an experience that gets us back in touch with what it means to experience slavery and what it means to seek and gain freedom, then how might we tell that story today?  This year, we used visuals and video to help us access that story in ways that deeply tapped into our own experiences and understanding, challenging us, moving us, and inspiring us.
We began with a video of a new song out of Israel, entitled 'Out of Egypt', by Alma Zohar.
She reminds us:
Don’t you know that each day and in every age,
one and all must see himself as though having escaped Egypt
So he won’t forget how he fled, how he was beaten, bled, left dead
How he called out to the heavens 

The song concludes:
There’s always war in Africa
What luck that it’s so far away
We don’t have to see or hear the screams

The video can be viewed here.  
This was how we began to think about Avadim Hayinu - we were slaves, but now we are free.  If the spiritual message here is to remember in order to empathize, in order to be moved to action when we remember what slavery was like, we cannot simply ritually recite the words, but must look at the world we live in today.  Zohar's video powerfully engages us.  The words at the end of the youtube tell us:
Since 2003, an estimated 10,000 immigrants from various African countries have crossed into Israel.
Some 600 refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan have been granted temporary resident status to be renewed every year, though not official refugee status. Another 2000 refugees from the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia have been granted temporary resident status on humanitarian grounds.
In 2007, Israel deported 48 refugees back to Egypt after they succeeded in crossing the border, of which twenty were deported back to Sudan by Egyptian authorities.

An Israeli looking for something more from her people and her country.

From here, we looked at the 'Pharaohs of today'.  These are included in the video of the powerpoint presentation below.  As we followed the slides, the storytelling took us from reflecting on some of the worst dictators and their oppression of their people, to a call on each of us to reflect and discuss how we use our power.  The image of the scallion and the staff represent enslavement and freedom-fighting - that which we do to others, and that which we do to ourselves.  Why the scallion?  Because it is a Sephardi Jewish tradition to take a scallion and beat the person next to you with it when telling the story of enslavement and hard labor in the Pesach story.

Just as each of us has the ability to use our power to oppress or to free, so each of us contains something of each of the four children.  A small selection of the images used to illustrate these children in haggadot over the ages gave us an entree to discussing what these had to teach us.

Then we moved to the moment of freedom.  With several artist's renderings of the crossing of the Sea, we pondered whether the experience was one that was awesome, fantastical, celebratory... its not so easy to leave behind the known for the unknown, however bad it might have been.  The emotions that accompany us are complex.

Finally, many of our guests brought their own image of freedom.  The range was diverse - abstract, specific, political, inspiring, peaceful, spiritual... each image birthed a story or description - just a minute or two each, to enable us to engage with the deeper meaning and experience of freedom.
All of these sections are reflected in the video below:
One contribution was in the form of a video:

In truth, time did not allow us to discuss each section equally fully - we could easily have been like the Rabbis of old, up all night, to really do justice to this much material.  But we certainly had one of the more meaningful experiences of engaging with the Passover story that I can remember.

We closed out the section with a couple of videos that have done the rounds this year and in past years - The Fountainheads 'Dayenu', and Michelle Citrin's wonderful '20 things to do with Matzah'.

Our Seder is conducted in our living room space and not seated at tables, so the logistics of this way of doing Maggid were relatively simple - a laptop plugged into a projector pointing at the wall.  It might easily have been done by plugging into a flat-screen TV.

But even a 'low-tech' version of this mode - photocopies or photos of images passed around a table - would achieve a similar result; like the chalk pictures on the pavement in the movie 'Mary Poppins', they provide a portal and, when we jump right in, these images offer a different way of accessing the journey from slavery to freedom.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz


  1. Thanks for the Michelle Citrin video - I'd never heard of her, but that's wonderful!

  2. Great material. You two are geniuses. I'm definitely trying some of this next year! This year we all followed a haggadah online - on ipads kindles and macs. This would fit right in. Might be nice to upload all the videos and photos to a dropbox so folks could return to them in weeks after the seder.