One of the most important parts of our Passover Seder is our discussion of the 10 modern plagues. In our family, retelling the story of Passover is only worthwhile if the themes of the story are made relevant to the 21st century. Otherwise, why do we pass this story on from generation to generation? It is to recall our freedom from bondage, certainly, but it is also to remember others’ bondage today, and our responsibility to help those born less free or powerful.
With that, I give you the Modern Ten Plagues.
Today I’ve been working on the story of Passover for the Haggadah. Some people really like to bring the tale alive, with props and songs and activities, whereas some people would prefer to get to dinner as soon as possible. If you are a member of the latter category, here are two versions for you – from short to shortest.
What is the story of Passover?
Version 1: Moses, born a Hebrew but raised as an Egyptian prince at a time when the Hebrews are enslaved in Egypt, is told by God that he is the liberator of the Hebrew people. He asks the Pharaoh to free the Hebrews, but the Pharaoh refuses. God (with Moses as messenger) unleashes ten plagues upon Egypt, and after the last one Pharaoh finally agrees to let the Hebrews go. The Hebrews rush to leave, but even so, get stuck between the Sea of Reeds and the Egyptian army, who have been ordered by the Pharaoh to bring them back. Moses lifts his staff and the sea parts in two, with enough room for the Hebrews to hurry through to the other side. The Egyptians try to follow, but are drowned when the sea returns to its normal state. The Hebrews celebrate their freedom. They go on to receive the Ten Commandments from God, but when they lose faith and worship a golden calf, they are doomed to wander the desert for 40 years before finally arriving at the Promised Land.
What is the story of Passover?
Version 2: They tried to kill us, God saved us, let’s eat!
I love that there are so many people doing creative things with the holidays.
Passover is hard to explain. Looking past the fire and brimstone story for a second, there’s still something about lamb’s blood (“jeez, poor lamb”), haroset (“am I supposed to eat that?”) and the afikomen (“can you explain again why you hide half a cracker?”) that just doesn’t translate into Gentile-speak very well.
But every year around this time or so, I get all excited about bringing my non-Jewish friends in on the glorious party that is a Passover Seder. Sometimes my family asks, “why?” and sometimes my friends ask “don’t I have to be Jewish?” I just brush aside all that awkwardness and insist that they’d be missing out on the most ridiculously awesome holiday of the year. Thanks to FOMO, they always come.
But then what? I have a bunch of RSVPs from people who don’t know the story, don’t know the language, don’t know the tunes, and don’t know why they should care. To ensure that everyone at the table has a good time, I do the following:
1) Emphasize to my non-Jewish friends that Passover is completely different from everything else, and that it is okay to feel out of their element.
2) Also mention there will be wine. Mandated wine. At least four cups of wine.
3) Let the Jews know that there will be non-Jews at the Seder, so they can prepare to be patient.
4) Include a Seder “cheat sheet” at the beginning of the haggadah, that defines the basics – the words “Seder”, “Haggadah”, a blurb about what it is we are celebrating, etc.
5) Make it clearly understood that the celebration of Passover is a celebration of freedom, not a celebration of defeating the Egyptians.
6) Rework the haggadah so that there’s less Hebrew and and more discussion, interactive activities, and fun.
7) At the Seder, make sure everybody has been acquainted before properly starting.
For anyone else entertaining their Goyim friends this year, I hope this helps!