The shank bone was aluminum foil, the charoset was a few slivers of apple doused in wine, and the seder plate was a floral-imprinted serving tray. There was no haggadah.
No, this isn’t the setup of a Passover-themed horror film. It was a seder I helped put together a few years ago in West Hollywood, Calif. Even though it wasn’t traditional by any stretch, it ended up being one of the most meaningful Passover experiences I’ve ever had.
But let me take a step back and tell you how we came to be celebrating Passover sans shank bone.
In 2013, I moved to Los Angeles to play rugby for the Santa Monica Dolphins. When Passover came, I felt a need to attend a seder. As luck would have it, three of my new teammates were Jewish and were also without a home base in L.A. All four of us, while not especially observant, had attended seder growing up, and we decided to put one on ourselves. My teammate Justin, who hails from Sydney, Australia, agreed to host at his apartment in West Hollywood, and we invited some girls to celebrate the holiday with us.
That’s where the planning stopped.
The day of the seder arrived and I asked Justin what to bring. “Lots of wine,” he said.
“Do you have matzah?” “No.”
“Do you have any haggadahs?” “No.”
“Do you have a seder plate?” “No.”
I could tell this was going to be a challenge. I headed off to Trader Joe’s to see what I could salvage on my way over.
Matzah I found quickly, along with parsley and romaine lettuce for the bitter herbs. Next, I bought a premade hardboiled egg and an apple to make charoset. But my search for a shank bone and haggadah proved fruitless, and now I was running out of time.
I got to Justin’s apartment and hastily assembled all the ingredients for the seder plate in shot glasses that I found in his kitchen. We arranged them on a serving tray and put it on the table.
When I looked at what we had created, I was disappointed. What would my parents say if they could see this train wreck of a seder plate created with shot glasses and a few hastily acquired ingredients?
The majority of guests had never celebrated Passover or even seen a seder plate, and when I sat down, they had lots of questions. So I did my best to tell them why this night was different from all other nights.
“Passover is about freedom,” I said. “This seder plate is meant to symbolize the Exodus of Jews from slavery.”
And so it began. We told stories and drank wine. Questions were asked, answers were given, and we drank more wine. In the end, a group of people from very diverse backgrounds and very faraway places celebrated Passover together. It wasn’t pretty, it didn’t have everything I was used to, and it wasn’t perfect. But Passover was never meant to be perfect.
Much in the same way that the Jews hastily created matzah on their way out of Egypt, so did we hastily put together a seder plate to celebrate Passover in our own way.
Passover isn’t about following a haggadah. It’s about finding your own way to celebrate freedom.
So this year at your seder, try to shake things up a little. You wouldn’t hide the afikomen in the same place twice; why would you have the exact same seder?