Redefining the Meaning of the Seder

By Heather Subba

May 9, 2012


wine glasses close up for Passover dinner

I have spent a lot of the last year thinking about time. At 34 years old, I find myself in the middle of a life that is blessed and whole, yet still unfolding. As the soft and subtle breezes of March bellowed into April, lingering thoughts mixing present and past, happiness and sadness, predictability and chaos moved me to host my first Passover seder in over four years. I felt a necessity and a longing for order, tradition and togetherness.


As my focus drifted away from myself and toward others, the seder preparation eased my mind. In this process, even before Passover, I felt a connection to Judaism. I had rediscovered that seder, a Hebrew word, means “order.” Just examining life on a micro level, so much of my daily routine as a working mother revolves around sequence. At the macro level, I had been worrying so much about the movement of time and yet, the seder has survived for thousands of years through wars, famine, suffering and more than I can even imagine living through. This thought inspired me to always believe in possibility, hope, endurance, survival and courage, and to draw strength from those who came before me and from those who sacrificed for me.

As I analyzed the meaning of the seder, a blend of familiarity and strangeness encircled me. Before interfaith marriage, it was effortless to be Jewish; but after interfaith marriage, it’s more special in some ways because I am seeing Jewish culture and practices through a different perspective, as if I am becoming Jewish for the first time along with my husband and young son. In this moment, I again thought of time. I realized that who we are is simply a mirror of a particular moment. I felt myself let go and accept who I am without feeling the resistance of who I had chosen to become. For the first time, as Passover started, I ceased to feel the friction of two worlds, one Jewish and American, the other Hindu and Nepali. Like the orange on our Passover table to represent inclusivity, I felt whole and at peace even though there were many different pieces struggling to fit together inside.

I have not always been as open and vulnerable as I was on that first night of Passover. I have always felt that Judaism separated me from others who were different than me and that this boundary required a veil of protection and restraint. I am Jewish and my son is Jewish, but we also belong to my husband’s race, religion and culture as his family. My invited guests were from different worlds and backgrounds — Catholic, Indian, Hindu, Christian, American and Nepali.

On this night, however, it was Judaism that brought us all together. I had intended to lead the seder entirely on my own, but when I looked at my friends’ faces I realized that we were in this together. I asked everyone to start the seder by saying what they were grateful for. As each person spoke, I again wished to freeze time. It was so beautiful to hear positive thoughts, heartfelt appreciation and expressions of love and friendship. All I could feel in this moment was relief, freedom and gratitude. My friends’ words liberated me from a selfish pursuit to control everything that I could not; they provided me with an opportunity to think less about the passing of time and more about the quality of time. Time does not stop in spite of our wishes. The traditions we uphold, the love we share and the values we live by define our time on Earth and make it worth living. Time will be most fulfilled by the presence that we fill it with every day in each year.

As we dipped our parsley in salt water, reclined on pillows and hoped and prayed for peace, each person found a genuine connection to the service. Although I read and sang in Hebrew at times, my guests released their reservations and read something unknown to them in their Haggadahs because of their trust and belief in me. With that strength and bond, I felt less uncertain and more emboldened. Passover unified us through the power of universal, truthful and global messages and this spirit encouraged me to think that all around the world, we have the potential to forgive, rebuild and join one another because we are more the same than we are different.

I can’t say what next year will bring. Maybe there will be less confusion and more reassurance. Maybe some of my prayers will be realized and wounds will heal. Maybe I’ll be able to relinquish the hold that time has over me… While I may not know any of life’s developments for certain, I do know that next year, just as March quietly fades into April like a disguise, I will be ready to welcome order into our lives again.


About Heather Subba

Heather Subba lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two children. She works in the field of educational publishing.