Almost every Jewish family I know, no matter its level of affiliation (or staunch non-affiliation), participates in some kind of seder. It may not take place on one of the first nights of Passover, it may not be kosher, it may not include all of the steps – it may not even use a haggadah. But nevertheless, every year, families make an effort to gather together with loved ones, eat traditional foods, recite some blessings, and celebrate a Jewish holiday.
Why is Passover such a popular part of our tradition? God knows, it can’t be the food, usually the mainstay of any Jewish event. (Disagree? Consider how often one hears, “That’s a delicious ____ . ” Pause. “for Passover.” I suppose it could be the theme of freedom, but there are numerous secular, and much easier, ways to honor this value. Really, I think it’s because Passover is the ultimate opportunity for home-shuling. Almost every aspect of the holiday takes place far away from the synagogue walls. There are no rabbis pontificating, no presidents asking for money, no cantors demonstrating their vocal prowess, and no one looking over our shoulders to tell us we’re doing things the wrong way (depending on whom you invite, I suppose.) We’re free to take a structured ritual, and make it totally our own. Deep down, I think this appeals to many of us who might be secretly looking for just the tiniest bit of something religous-ish (but not too much) in our lives.
If I’m right, then I wonder if there’s a way to encourage the same affection for shabbat, or at least shabbat dinner? Even the most traditional families do not typically attend synagogue on Friday nights. Instead, like Passover, it’s a home based celebration, centered around a gathering of loved ones, a few rituals, a universal theme (rest, what could be better?) and a meal. And with bread!
My on-line friend Meredith Jacobs has written a great book, The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat, which is full of suggestions for how to creatively adapt Friday night dinner to any lifestyle. (Pizza, for example.)
How does your family make Friday night uniquely its own?