Beliefnet
c. 2004 Religion News Service

BROOKLINE, Mass. -- Since the ninth century, Jews have gathered in theirhomes each year to read the story of Passover. And since 1952, David Arnow'sfamily had told the story in the same way, out of the same book around thesame table.

What had felt "magical" to him about the holiday as a child, thepsychologist and author told listeners at the Brookline Booksmith storeduring a recent reading, "got a routinized feeling" as he became an adultand realized that because the annual Seder was "100 percent fixed, a lot ofthe magic and a lot of the meaning got squeezed out."

Over the past 18 years that Arnow has been leading Seders in his ownfamily, he decided to do something about that.

Passover, the eight-day period which this year begins at sundown onApril 5, commemorates the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.The holiday, which is celebrated at a festive meal called a Seder, iscentral to Judaism.

"It's the founding story of the Jewish people," said Arnow. "Acollection of families goes into Egypt, and out we come as a nation."

But Arnow believes the spiritual drama and human emotion of the story islost when families sit passively at their dining tables, listening to thestory read aloud.

"That's not the way to make the story come alive, to make people think,'this is my story,'" he said.

He hopes the way that Jews celebrate the transformation of Passover isitself changing, as he explains in his new book, "Creating Lively PassoverSeders: A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, Texts and Activities" (JewishLights Publishing).

Arnow's book is a collection of reflections, activities and ideas forfamilies to consider if they want to create a custom-made Seder experiencethat is unique to their family. Parts of the book are culled from pamphletsArnow has written since 1994, at first for friends and family, but later forincreasingly large interested audiences.

"The way to make this story come alive for people is not to just readit," he said, but rather to experience it interactively, discuss and debateit vigorously--and even think about doing so seated in small groups in theliving room and not around the dining table.

"When people are sitting at the table, it's hard," said Arnow, whoseown family Seders typically last for around five hours. "Empty plates arein front of you and the food is not there yet. It's amazing--if you getpeople sitting in a circle in another room, you have a different dynamic."

Observers of trends in Jewish family life place Arnow's book and otherslike it in a "second wave" of evolution of the modern Passover Seder.

There are more than 3,000 different haggadahs, the books that outlinethe structure of the Seder and record the story of the exodus, on the markettoday, according to Yosef Abramowitz, CEO of Jewish Family & Life!, amultimedia educational organization.

In the past decade, haggadahs have emerged that highlight differentinterpretations of the main themes of the holiday. Freedom from alcoholism,for example, might be explored in one version, while environmentalprotection, women's issues or gay rights might be at the center of another.

Today, however, Jewish families understand the panoply of choices ofhaggadahs, but they want to make their Seders even more personalized.

"What is happening now is that there is a second wave of innovation inwhich resources are being developed to empower parents and families andchildren to create their own rituals," said Abramowitz.

Many of these rituals include activities that get people out of whatArnow calls "the passive mode" of sitting at a table, reading, and beingread to.

At his home, Abramowitz and his family purchased butterfly larvae duringthe February holiday of Tu B'Shevat, which celebrates nature. He and hischildren watched them mature and, just before their Passover Seder begins,they will release the butterflies into the outdoors.

"The children understand the idea--not only of transformation, but offreedom," said Abramowitz.

Connecting with Passover as a harbinger of spring is a powerful tool forinnovative Seder rituals.

For years, Arnow has grown his own horseradish, which is traditionallypart of a Seder, in his garden. When the green shoots of the root vegetablecome up, he and his family know spring cannot be far behind.

Arnow has also taken to growing a small pot of barley, which in ancienttimes was harvested at the time of Passover. Watching the delicate plantgrow, and warding off fungus and diseases, connects him to the past in aconcrete way, he says.

"I had a feeling of what it was like in ancient times when you dependedon this grain for your life. You could understand why there would be a lotof prayer involved," he said.

Innovations and new rituals like these are becoming more common acrossreligious life, say experts.

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