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My Big Fat Orthodox Seder

Everyone, please welcome my guest blogger Ruchi Koval, who I met last month at the JWRP Leadership Conference, and we really hit it off! A mom of SEVEN, she is the creator of the humorous and insightful Out of The Orthobox, which teaches us about her Orthodox life in a spiritually uplifting, down-to-earth way that unites ALL Jewish women.

ootob door magnet

First, a bit about Ruchi:


Ruchi is co-founder and director of the Jewish Family Experience, a family education center and Sunday school located in Cleveland, Ohio.  She is also a certified parenting coach, runs character-development groups for women, is a motivational speaker, and writes a popular blog on Judaism, www.outoftheorthobox.com.  In her spare time, Ruchi enjoys reading, thinking about writing a book, putting on an Israeli accent, playing piano while singing loudly, and organizing closets.  She does not enjoy cooking or sweeping her floors.  Ruchi resides in her hometown of Cleveland with her husband and seven children.

Now here’s a peek into her Orthodox Passover seder:

Hi!  Welcome to my seder!  I know you’ll find lots of incomprehensible practices here, as well as some familiar rites, so come on in, have a seat, and let me fill you in on what you might find here:

1. Empty stomachs that will remain empty for awhile.

I hope you’re not hungry.  Other than some potato (smallest appetizer you’ve ever seen), ground up horseradish that puts hot sauce to shame, and more grape juice or wine than you ever thought you could handle on an empty stomach, we won’t be eating till about 11 pm.

2. Pillows.

There are pillows at nearly every seat.  Yes, I know they will get full of grape juice and matzah crumbs.  Wasn’t that the point?  The idea of the pillows is that it’s a mitzvah to “recline” while eating at the seder, to demonstrate that this is a night of royalty for us.  It’s great fun for the kids.  Try it!

3. Large, round, hand-baked matzahs.

These are awesomely delicious.  Expensive, too.  You must try some at least once in your life.  They bear absolutely no comparison to the ubiquitous square variety.  Tip: great with cream cheese.

4. No clocks.

We’ll be here all night, guys.  We typically end at 2 am.  But who’s counting?  Oh, and we’ll do it all over again tomorrow!  Unless you live in Israel, which means it may be a good time to consider aliyah.  Why so late, you may ask?  Well, we read the whole Haggadah.  Every single word.  Each of us.  In Hebrew. And then?  We expound on each paragraph!

5. Kids.

So actually, the kids rule the roost at the Seder.  Firstly, the night is really theirs – the mitzvah of “haggada” (retelling) the Passover story is given to parents to tell to their kids – passing the torch to the next generation.  But when you have kids in day schools, they come home all prepped and primed and psyched with a lot of information (“TMI” comes to mind, but somehow feels sacrilegious) to share on the whole Haggadah.  I’m talking far more than the Mah Nishtanah.  Every single word.  Each kid.  The tug-of-war between intense nachas and fatigue-driven impatience is fierce.  Just being honest.  In fact, I will just throw out there that one of my kids’ Zaidies has been known to bribe the kids with chocolate NOT to say all their insights and stories.  You be the judge.

6. Beautiful dinnerware.

The Seder, as I said above, is a night of royalty.  We bring out our best stuff.  Silver, crystal, every wedding present we never used.  It’s beautiful, and the kids remember it each year.

7. Extended family.

We usually have one seder with my in-laws, which includes my husband’s siblings who are in from out-of-town.  Depending on who’s here when, that’s a lot of people.  It’s the most incredible, noisy, exciting night that my kids just don’t forget.  Some of my most formative memories are from going to my grandparents in the Bronx, NY for seders, and the tunes my grandfather sung then – which we still sing today.

8. Chicken instead of brisket.

I know this one sounds crazy, but our custom has always been to serve chicken at theSseder, since there was a lamb sacrifice in Egypt and we want to avoid meat so it doesn’t look as though we’re replicating that (we don’t do animal sacrifices anymore.  I know you were worried about that).

And finally, I’m going to end with all the things we share in common at the Seder: family, faith, song, community, special food, excited children, and incredible memories.  Happy Passover!

Ruchi family