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Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, CA has been holding successful women's seders for years. We did it much the same way every year: a lovely service, a complete meal, lots of singing, and even a little dancing. We had 80-100 women in attendance each year, to rave reviews.
So why change it up? Because lately, interest and attendance have been waning, and while our committee women provided most of the meal, the cost of catering the main course kept rising. We wanted to keep this event accessible to all our women, so we have never charged more than $18.
A couple of years ago, someone told us about a women's seder at a nearby sisterhood where the theme was Sephardic customs and food. It sounded like an interesting idea, something different. But what to serve?
Our committee decided to host a tasting dinner, and each woman's assignment was to make a Sephardic Passover dish of their choosing. Some of us consulted Sephardic cookbooks, while others found recipes online. The Sephardic tradition allows for the consumption of rice during Pesach, which opened up the possibilities to more than just matzah-based side dishes. And because we hold our women's seder before the actual start of Pesach, our women who are more strictly observant of Passover dietary restrictions were still able to keep their tradition.
Once we decided on our menu, we needed to addresses the question of charoset: Would we go with our traditional style of apples, nuts, and wine (which everyone loves) or with the sweet, Sephardic-style recipe made with dates? The decision was to make both and let the attendees compare.
Finally, we consulted a temple member who is Persian and was raised in the Sephardic tradition, asking what else we could do to make our seder more authentic. We learned that the Persian Jewish tradition of saying “Dayenu” on Pesach includes giving everyone a green onion to gently "beat" one another with during the song. It was great fun, but it did make a mess!
Ultimately, our steps for a successful alternative seder included:
View the recipe book we prepared for our guests with all the food we made for the evening, as well as more information about Sephardic traditions.
Margie Meadow is Women of Reform Judaism’s Pacific District Area director.