How Is This Seder Different?
A selection of seder customs from around the world
The seder has spawned countless customs around the world, some centuries old and some created in the past few years. The following article surveys some of these traditions from around the globe. Excerpted from Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holiday Handbook (Jason Aronson Inc). Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
The Seder Plate
In North African Jewish communities and in India, it was customary to pass the k'arah [seder plate] over the heads of everyone at the table in a circular motion. Encompassing all gathered in the historic experience. It was an acknowledgment that as the world turns, first we were slaves, then we became free.
Afikoman and Acting Out
Many communities added dramatizations to their Exodus reenactment, usually of a Jew departing Egypt and wandering in exile expecting redemption.
Prior to the start of the sederin Djerba, Tunisia, young people come to pay their respects to the rabbi, some carrying sacks and staffs resting on their shoulders, hobo style. It used to be customary that when the middle matzah was broken during the service, a member ofeach household would be sent to neighbors to predict the messiah's arrival.
In some Sephardic [Mediterranean Jewish] communities, the cloth-wrapped afikoman [the broken middle matzah that is hidden early in the seder] was tied to the shoulder of a child, who left the company and then reappeared knocking at the door. In the ensuing scripted dialogue, he identified himself as an Israelite on his way to Jerusalem carrying matzah. On entering the room, he looked at the specially arranged table and asked "Why is this night different from all other nights?"
Sometimes an adult walked around with the afikomanon his shoulder, as though it were bread carried on his back. One ofthe most elaborate of such ceremonies was dramatized in the Caucasus. The rabbi paced, like our ancestors leaving Egypt, with "their kneading troughs bound up in their clothes on their shoulders" (Exodus 12:34). The young men chose one person to portray a fugitive, dressed in rags, carrying the standard props. When he showed up at the door from Jerusalem to announce the coming redemption, the others did not readily believe him, until he cried, was invited in, and amid joyous celebration, answered questions about life in the Holy Land.
In Morocco, the enactment came at the end of the meal, when the participants quoted, "So you shall eat it: your loins girded…" (Exodus 12:11). Dramatizations extended to the synagogue also, where in some places in Eastern Europe, water was sprinkled on the floor during Shirah [reading about the parting of the Sea of Reeds in the Torah] on the seventh day. The people in the congregation took off their shoes to dip their toes into the water to experience the sea.