For A Very Hard Year: The Movie Seder

Passover 2009 was a time when it seemed like we could not get a break. I don’t remember all the troubles – it’s a fog now – but I had been struggling with depression and after six years in rabbinical school, I had only part time work as a rabbi. One son had a job so scary that I couldn’t think about it. The other son was having a tough time with bipolar disorder, and we were still adjusting to it. The previous year California voted in Prop 8, saying, yeah, you lesbians are worthless.

We didn’t have energy for a seder that year. Looking back, I think we were in the depths of Egypt and it was hard to even imagine a seder. I didn’t feel like going to someone else’s seder and smiling and making nice, and neither did Linda.

But we still had the commandment to observe the chag (festival.) I take these things seriously, and so does Linda. It wasn’t OK to just ignore it, no matter how tattered we felt.

So we came up with what I remember as The Movie Seder. Purists will be horrified, but that year it was perfect for us. We had a box of matza, we made a green salad, charoset and something basic for dinner, I think roast chicken.

At the kitchen table, we did the preliminaries: lit and blessed the candles, made kiddush, and washed without blessing. Then ate our salads and broke the matzah, moving to the living room couch. There we had more matzah, horseradish, greens, charoset and the roast chicken. We put on a recording of The Prince of Egypt and settled in to watch as we munched on the ritual food. When they got to the red sea, we broke into dessert (chocolate matzah!) We sipped wine all the way through; I’m sure we had four cups.

And I have to tell you, while it wasn’t a proper seder, at the end we felt hopeful. The music and the beautiful messages of the film had lifted us just a bit. Watching it together, eating together, talking about the movie reconnected us in ways I still don’t entirely understand. I just know that I rose from that seder “table” ready to trudge on through that year’s personal wilderness.

That seder was years ago. A lot has changed. We aren’t nearly so worried about either son. Prop 8 and DOMA are gone (good riddance) and we feel like citizens at last. I’m in a good place emotionally right now, and I have work I love. Linda survived cancer, again. Linda and I are solid, baruch Hashem. But I think of that funny little seder with great affection: it got us through a very bad time.

When you are deep in Egypt, sometimes your seder has to be basic. If you are having a rough year of your own, I encourage you to buy a box of matzah, a jar of horseradish, some salad greens, and a bottle of wine. Make the blessings. Put on a good Exodus film (I recommend The Prince of Egypt or The Ten Commandments) and relax with one of the great stories of all time. Be in it; in a rough time, that story tells us things we need to know.

The Haggadah teaches us that “in each generation, each person is obligated to see himself or herself [lirot et atzmo] as though he or she personally came forth from Egypt.” Part of the reason this works is that over the course of a lifetime, most of us will have an experience of our own personal Egypt. If you are in Egypt today, I wish you deliverance.

L’shanah haba’ah birushalayim!

Next year, in Jerusalem!

Published by


Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

66 thoughts on “For A Very Hard Year: The Movie Seder”

  1. Rabbi Ruth, thank you so much….this was a huge help to me. I’m pretty much in my own personal Egypt right now. Thank you for sharing that, and wishing you and all your family a wonderful Passover. I’ve not seen the Prince of Egypt, so will see if I can watch it online. Thank you again for all the help and wisdom and guidance I get from you: it’s very much appreciated.

  2. I really enjoyed your post and your perspective. I don’t know much about Jewish culture honestly, but I understand struggle and depression and finding something to bring hope in dark times. Your post was inspiring 🙂

  3. It is nice to see a blog on Passover and Seder. I think many forget that this is a special time for those that observe Passover and have seders. Sounds like your world is on a positive note and I am glad to see that. Next year in Jerusalem may we all be free whether it is our own Eygpt or something else. Bravo on this blog and Hag Semach!

  4. You are an inspiration. This would never have occurred to me and there have been times when it would have been an awesome option! I hope that this season of celebration brings with it a sense of balance, a return to kindness to strangers and loved ones alike and peace. I hope it is a good Pesach for you. Hag Semeach Rabbi Ruth.

  5. I think you mean Prop. 8 (Rhymes with hate). 13 was the property tax one in the 70’s, which decimated school funding and thus was a plague of another kind, to use a seasonally-appropriate metaphor.

    The Ten Commandments is on free TV again this Sunday, so everyone has time to run out and get their matzo and wine.

  6. Rabbi, I think I needed to read this today. I have long since abandoned organized religion, and typically I don’t feel any loss in doing so. But this year I find myself a little sad that the family Passover celebrations are all in the past, and that I have no future opportunity so participate in the kind of seder we once had.

    I appreciate the reminder that some themes are universal, and that — should I so choose — I could find a way to celebrate this holiday in my own way.

  7. You inspired me to do a Movie Easter!

    I watched “Jesus Christ Superstar” and ate Peeps.

    My BFF was too sick to go to church, but she found a rerun of “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and had a Cadbury egg.

    Those aren’t in the Bible, but Peeps and Cadbury eggs are certainly ritual Easter foods, I think.

    Hmm… if you’re a multi-faith family, you could watch “The Ten Commandments” or “The Prince of Egypt”, drink kosher wine, and make s’mores out of chocolate matzo and Peeps! (Peeps aren’t kosher, so only the non-Jews could have them, but maybe you could make your own)

      1. The gelatin might be from piggies. They don’t specify. But I guess you could buy vegan ones or make your own, perhaps in the shape of the plagues? Although most of those would be pretty yucky… maybe a nice Yul Brynner Peep?

        1. Bingo. Gelatin from all sorts of unspecified animal sources: pigs, cows, horses. I think that if a company came up with Kosher Plaggue Peeps, they’d be a huge hit.

      2. I’m not eating Plague of Boils, darn it.

        Frogs, maybe. Flat black pieces for darkness. Maybe a wiggly line that’s half-blue, half-red for rivers of blood. I don’t know, but package them in boxes of 10, one for each plague.

        Someone is missing out on a great opportunity. Get these on the shelves right next to the matzoh and gefilte fish!

        Honestly, the kids would love having a Peeps equivalent. I think a seder could only be improved by smashing a marshmallow frog between chocolate matzoh. Have the second-youngest one (who doesn’t get to ask the questions any more) pass them out to everyone at the end. Kosher S’mores.

        (Peeps are headquartered in Bethlehem. Pennsylvania.)

  8. This is just the perfect motivation my family and I needed! We all got together and ate our Matzos with our bitter herbs (and yes, we had wine to lol) …now finishing up the Feast of Unleavened bread, this came right on time!

  9. Thank you, I needed this, especially this morning. Being a Catholic, we have rituals but none surrounding, family, food and love. I hope you and Linda remain Happy and Healthy and may the road rise up to meet you.

Leave a Reply