The first step was giving up on the prospect of ever doing Pesach cleaning "properly". I didn't have enough time, and I couldn't kasher a broken oven, and cleaning couldn't be a priority at my parents' place with everything else going on, and I still haven't worked out a good way to kasher the kitchen that I share with my non-Jewish husband in the house I only live in a couple of days a week.
So I turned up at my parents' on Friday morning, and our "small" family seder ended up being a dozen people, most of them original family plus partners. But we have things down to a fine art by now, and with my sister the chef managing, preparing the seder goes a lot more smoothly. I mostly washed up, which requires little thought and allows me to be in the kitchen chatting to everybody, and is an obvious contribution. We have a selection of dishes that reliably work, with room to try a couple of new things even in a stressful year, and P'tite Soeur is getting adept at making truly gluten free Pesach stuff rather than relying on matzah meal. So many amazing desserts, lemon pudding and caramel and nut torte and mango sorbet and chocolate dacquoise and the traditional little Passover cakes, cinnamon balls and coconut pyramids along with P'tite Soeur's new invention, totes amaze balls. There was enough slack to chat to Granny in between cooking, and for a day spent basically standing at the sink it was really surprisingly pleasant.
And seder itself was really pretty perfect. More than half the participants were fully familiar with the service, but we did have some new guests too, enough to make it feel real. So we didn't appoint a service leader, just let people chip in with whatever bits (or whatever vetoes) they wanted to offer, and nobody minded our horribly unmusical singing, and we had some real discussion, not just covering the same ground we do every year. Even the clearing up was pretty smooth, with everybody chipping in.
jack drove me up to Stoke for second night seder, and driving 150 miles isn't very appropriate for shabbat but at least we got a chance to talk. We had 30 people at the community seder; as every year, a team of experienced volunteers had done all the food preparation and set-up in advance, so I just had to turn up and do the liturgy. All our regulars turned up and we had a smattering of non-Jewish guests. I don't know why ordained Christian priests think some random Jewish chick is the right person to ask their New Testament interpretation questions, but I did my best, and hopefully explained the actual seder to their satisfaction too. And some actual, real live children, as opposed to the first night when my over thirty sister ended up asking the Four Questions. The 6 and 5-year-olds had both learned the questions and were at just the right age to be excited and interested and curious. And I even got a question which genuinely stumped me, thanks adam_in_rabbinical_school: does anyone happen to know on what basis we're permitted to break up the Hallel on Pesach?
And everybody had a good time. Well, except one woman who has a bit of a reputation for complaining about everything, who on this occasion complained that we were still going at 9 pm. I don't know how to make her happy, really, so I try not to worry about it too much. I thought I was pretty brisk, starting officially at 6 but a bit late cos everybody was milling around gossiping, actually eating by 7:30, and the whole thing completely wrapped up by 10. I did offer to start the seder at the halachically proper time of quarter past nine, after Shabbat was out, but nobody except me wanted to do that, so I made havdalah randomly in the middle of bentsching.
And at the end of the week I get to run a seder for my partners and their children. I was sort of hoping parents would join us if not invite the whole crowd of five extra people to their seder, but it's really not practically feasible this year. They are being really supportive with lots of advice, though, so I feel loved and accepted. I am trying not to get into a mindset of being excessively nervous because I want my loves' first ever seder to be perfect. We've been having lots of good conversations about doing the seder in an appropriately interfaith way.
If you've ever been a non-Jewish guest at a seder, please do comment with what sorts of things were helpful and welcoming, or what was confusing and alienating. I'm happy to hear suggestions from Jewish friends too, of course, but I'd particularly like to know about people's direct experiences.
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