This Passover Seder will be different for most of the world’s Jewry

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Bonnie K. Goodman
17 min readApr 22, 2024
Source: Wikimedia Commons

As world Jewry gathers this Passover at their Seder’s, there will be a new question they will ask during the Mah Nistanah: Why does this night have to be different this year? With over 120 hostages still held captive by Hamas in Gaza after the October 7, 2023, attacks, this is the first year in a long time that Jews are physically enslaved, and it has altered how we will observe the most celebrated Jewish custom. Throughout millennia, the globally dispersed Jewish community has modified its customs to fit different cultures and environments, resulting in a wide range of regional and denominational practices for Passover seders across the globe. The Passover Seder is the Jewish observance that most Jews participate in, with different traditions and hagaddahs for every denomination and Jewish group. It is the most observed and varied in observances and lengths, especially among fringe Jewish groups. Christians also celebrate the Passover seder because it is close to Easter and Jesus’ last supper. The Seder is celebrated at home with food and is most associated with Jewish identity.

American Jews celebrate the Passover Seder more than any other Jewish holiday or observance because Passover is a distinct Jewish holiday observed at home, similar to Thanksgiving. Unlike traditional and formal synagogue-like events and holidays, this enables families to establish and uphold their customs. It is a holiday known for adaptability, ensuring each Seder is unique. Among less and non-religious Jews, the trend in the US is to make the Seder as diverse as possible. The Seder has common traditions no matter how it is observed. Passover starts at sundown for two Seders in the Diaspora, with only one in Israel. During Passover, Jews read from the Haggadah and recount the tale of the exodus from Egypt before enjoying a special meal. Typical customs involve:

  • a Seder plate with symbolic foods,
  • reciting the “four questions” to elucidate Passover’s distinctiveness and
  • kids hunting for a concealed afikoman (broken piece of matzah).[1]

Anthropologist Ruth Fredman Cernea, in her 1981 book The Passover Seder: An Anthropological Perspective on Jewish Culture, argues that the Seder, as a customary Jewish practice, plays a crucial role in shaping the Jewish community and heritage. Cernea’s book utilizes “anthropological theories, history, folklore, religious writings, and personal observation” to elucidate how the Seder enables participants to interpret their experiences within the context of society’s history. The Seder plate, featuring common foods, also highlights important ideas in Jewish culture that endure beyond the Seder.

Cernea observes, “Seders are observed in every country where Jews reside, among every social class, in one form or another, in even the most difficult circumstances of war, poverty, physical danger. Those who come to the Seder share little except their self-identification as “Jew.” Although some participants are extremely pious and learned in the biblical stories nd commentaries that provide the rationale for the Seder and a code for daiy living, others disavow belief in the teachings and exclude themselves from all other ritual participation. Still these disbelievers come, and the Seder continues to be celebrated. Its persistence provokes one question above all: Why, in an age and civilization in which ritual among Jews is in decline, is the seder still vital?” Cermea responds to her own question, “It is through the investigation of the total dynamics and semantics of the ritual, and its relationship to the society’s perceived history and experience — its culture — that the answer may be sought.” (1)

Cermea also notes, “History is the framework that defines the Jew of the present — no matter where or when he celebrates the Seder — by his existence in this in-between state, and it is this eternal, conclusively inconclusive identity that is displayed and played with through the symbolic actions of the Seder evening.” (6) In 1995, writing in the preface to the second edition, Cermea who worked with Hillel, indicated why the Seder tradition continues to be important and most celebrated. Cermea indicates it is because “such rituals provide a point of stability in otherwise transient lives; they are built on a latent, almost intuitive sense of Jewish identity established in childhood, even when practice and association are minimal. They present Jewishness as “family” when no actual family is present and acknowledge the essential position of the wandering individual within that family.” (xi)

Church Seders typically inspired by the Last Supper, which occurs around Easter, are frequently culturally appropriated. Nevertheless, the Unitarian Universalist Church is distinctive in its church seder. It incorporates humanistic teachings from various religions and backgrounds without focusing on a specific deity belief. The church is a preferred option for interfaith families and Jews who feel disconnected from organized Judaism, with members from various religious backgrounds, such as Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews. The church also includes Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness, which aims to foster understanding and acceptance among its members. The gathering was similar to Reform synagogues’ community Seders, designed to be child-friendly and relaxed, with communal singing of traditional tunes. [2]

In his 1977 article, “‘In Every Generation’: The Seder as a Ritual of Anti-Structure,” Jonathan S. Woocher indicated, “The Passover Seder ritual serves as a primary means of expressing Jewish identification and identity among American Jews.” Woocher argues that the Passover Seder ritual is essential for American Jews, as it is deeply connected to their Jewish identity. It is based on the Haggadah’s instruction to reflect on the experience of escaping from Egypt. The Seder revisits the initial Exodus event, creating a legendary framework to interpret Jewish history. The Exodus myth and the Seder ritual both capture significant transitions: Israel’s journey from slavery to independence in the Exodus story and the Seder ritual’s movement from shame to praise through recitation and ritual actions.

Woocher used Victor Turner’s concept of “anti-structure” to highlight the concept of “passages” in religious myths and rituals. Anti-structure refers to periods and relationships where typical social structures are suspended or altered. This concept is exemplified by liminality and communitas, which are unstructured and undifferentiated communions of individuals. The Exodus is a significant liminal experience in Jewish history, where Israel is transformed into a communitas ready to receive God’s Torah. The Seder ritual reflects this anti-structural character, with its strange observance, emphasis on universal participation, and the significance of major Seder symbols like the maror, Pesach, and matzah.

Woocher, in his essay, indicates why the Passover Seder is so important, and despite the lax in American Jews’ religiosity, nearly three-quarters still participate each year in the seders. Woocher explains, “The Seder is a uniquely appropriate ritual for the expression of Jewish identification and identity at their most basic level.” The Passover Seder ritual is vital for American Jews, as it is deeply connected to their Jewish identity. It is based on the Haggadah’s instruction to reflect on the experience of escaping from Egypt. The Seder revisits the initial Exodus event, creating a legendary framework to interpret Jewish history. The Exodus myth and the Seder ritual both capture significant transitions: Israel’s journey from slavery to independence in the Exodus story and the Seder ritual’s movement from shame to praise through recitation and ritual actions. [3]

According to the 2013 Pew Research survey, the Seder is the only religious celebration a majority of Jewish Americans; 70% took part in a Seder the previous year. Among them are 42% of Jews who identify as Jewish but do not adhere to any specific religious beliefs. Although only 23% of U.S. Jews attend religious services at least once a month, 70% took part in a Seder last year. It emphasizes the common occurrence of religious services within the Jewish community, even though only 23% of U.S. Jews attend religious services at least once a month. It is more common for Jewish Americans to participate in Seder than fasting for Yom Kippur (53%), the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, and lighting Sabbath candles (23%).[4]

The updated Pew Research Center’s report, “Jewish Americans in 2020,” found that six in ten American Jews participated in a Seder or Jewish milestone event in the previous year, with a comparable number participating in rituals to commemorate lifecycle events or milestones. Nevertheless, 46% of individuals fasted fully or partially on Yom Kippur. Individuals who identify as Jewish are more inclined to engage in these activities compared to non-religious Jews. Individuals with Jewish spouses are more inclined to engage in Seder, fast on Yom Kippur, and participate in rituals than intermarried individuals. Individuals under 50 from the Jewish community tend to participate less in traditional life events, while the youngest Jewish adults show a higher tendency to observe fasting on Yom Kippur. According to the survey, 40% of Jews regularly observe Shabbat meaningfully. Orthodox Jews in the United States are more inclined to participate in Seder, observe Yom Kippur by fasting, and partake in Jewish customs for significant life events.[5]

Members of the Jewish American community are somewhat devout, yet they maintain a solid connection to their faith through various traditions and cultural practices. Approximately 70% of Jewish individuals prepare or consume traditional Jewish cooking, indicating it as the predominant mode of participation. The survey finds that 60% of Jews share Jewish culture and holidays with non-Jewish friends, participate in a Seder last Passover, or observe a Jewish ritual to mark a lifecycle milestone in the past year. Many Jewish households in the United States have a menorah for Hanukkah and a mezuzah with scripture passages. Sixty percent of respondents have a Hebrew-language siddur, while 56% own a Seder plate for Passover. Individuals married to partners of the same faith are more inclined to possess these belongings than those in interfaith marriages. Individuals who align with an institutional stream of Judaism, especially Orthodox Jews, are more inclined to possess these items compared to those who do not identify with any specific branch. [6]

According to the 2016 Pew Research Center’s report on Israel’s Religiously Divided Society, most secular Jewish Israelis still celebrate religious holidays, including Hanukkah and attending the Passover Seder. Secular Israelis celebrate holidays more than culturally Jewish Americans. The survey determined that 56 percent of Israelis light Shabbat candles, including half of secular Jews, and a third keep kosher. Still, most Hiloni Jews and half Masorti do not adhere to Shabbat rules, and only half fast through Yom Kippur. Pew found that “Substantial proportions of Hilonim practice some aspects of Judaism, whether for cultural or religious reasons.” Pew concludes, “These views reflect the fact that 83% of Hilonim see being Jewish as a matter of ancestry and culture rather than as a matter of religion.” [7]

Passover Seders are Israel’s most well-loved Jewish tradition, with 93 percent of Jews participating in or hosting a Seder last Passover. Most Jewish demographic groups, such as Haredim, Datiim, Masortim, and Hilonim, participate in a Seder. Even Russian-speaking Jews who are not very observant, 70% participate in or host a Seder. Approximately two-thirds of Israeli Jews participate in a traditional Seder, with 26% indicating that it is not traditional. Hilonim has a 41% participation rate in a traditional Seder, with 46% considering it non-traditional. Many Haredim, Datiim, and Masortim participate in a traditional Seder. [8]

However, only 23% of Russian-speaking Jews participated in a traditional Seder, while 47% attended a nontraditional Passover meal. Last Passover, Sephardi, Mizrahi, and Ashkenazi Jews participated in a Seder. However, Sephardim and Mizrahim are more inclined to describe the Seder as traditional. Israeli Jews who have less education and those who received their highest training from a religious institution are more inclined to participate in a traditional Seder. Nevertheless, fewer secular individuals participate in a traditional Passover Seder compared to ultra-Orthodox, religious, and traditional Jews. [9]

The Pew survey indicates that more Israelis celebrate the Seder than in earlier polls. According to a survey conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics from 2009 to 2010, it was found that 82.2% of secular Jews in Israel continue to participate in Passover seder, with 94% maintaining Jewish traditions. 67% of non-religious Jews participate in lighting Hannukah candles. However, just 22% consumed exclusively kosher-for-Passover food during the holiday. 62% of secular and traditional Israeli Jews favored civil marriage, while 78% supported the idea of opening pubs, restaurants, and entertainment venues on Shabbat. The data has shown a consistent trend, with 85% participating in a Passover Seder and 71% lighting Hannukah candles.[10]

A 2021 Forward article had the headline, “The single most important statistic from the Pew Survey is about…food,” American Jews find Jewish food more important than celebrating any Jewish tradition, including the Seder, where food takes center stage. According to the Pew survey, 72% of Jews prepare or consume traditional Jewish cuisine, making it the most famous Jewish pastime. After that, 62% of individuals partake in the Passover seder, and the same percentage engage in cultural exchanges with non-Jews centered on food. One possible solution for increasing Jewish involvement could be in the kitchen, as 62% of Jews participate in the Passover Seder, and 62% engage in cultural exchanges with non-Jews.[11]

Samira Mehta, an assistant professor of Jewish studies at the University of Colorado, told the Forward, “Religion and culture is a false binary. Food is this thing we think of in terms of culture. But it ties into these big cosmic things, like love of family and tradition. Food can be metaphysically meaningful.” With the rise of intermarriage, holidays with Food at the center have a greater chance of being observed. Mehta studies intermarried couples in her paper, “I Chose Judaism But Christmas Cookies Chose Me.” She indicated, “Food serves a critical role in the creation of familial religious practice. Food, considered ‘just’ cultural, actually carries religious meaning forward in the lives of these families.”[12]

Even for the least religiously involved American Jews, the Passover Seder and the food associated remain an intricate part of their identity instilled as children. Henri Tajfel and John C. Turner determined the psychology behind this in their Social Identity Theory. The social identity theory, introduced by Tajfel and his associates in social psychology, examines the influence of group membership on individuals’ self-perception, including factors like religion, nationality, and ethnicity. Social identities have the most impact when individuals view belonging to a specific group as a core part of their self-identity and have strong emotional connections to the group. Being part of a group boosts self-esteem and maintains social identity. Important social identities involve within-group assimilation and various forms of intergroup bias. Developmental psychology has utilized social identity theory to elucidate conformity, socialization in peer groups, and group-based prejudice. Turner and his colleagues presented self-categorization theory, blending personal and social identity. In different social situations, a person’s personal or social identity may be more noticeable to them.

Vivian L. Vignoles, in her study “Identity: Personal AND Social,” built on the theory, argues that identity involves how individuals respond to the query, “Who are you?” This involves both personal and social aspects in terms of content and processes. Exploring identity’s personal and social aspects offers valuable theoretical insights into the connection between individuals and society. Vignoles finds that exploring the full potential of identity involves combining insights from various branches of psychology, such as social and personality, developmental, cultural, critical, and discursive psychology. Essential factors for grasping this concept involve analyzing the complex and interrelated aspects of identity content and considering the combination of sociocultural, relational, and individual processes that shape, sustain, and evolve identities.

Another study indicates the connection between food, Passover, and Jewish identity: Susan Weingarten and Georg Schäfer’s essay, “Celebrating Purim and Passover: Food and memory in the creation of Jewish identity.” Weingarten explores how food plays a significant role in Jewish festivals such as Purim and Passover, shaping the identity of Jews during pivotal moments in their history. Both festivals involve textual and material components, where texts influence eating practices, but these practices can also develop independently. These festivals’ biblical and Talmudic accounts show an apparent effort to create communal memory, emphasizing the importance of history and memory in connection to food in these situations. As Weingarten explains, “Together with the function of forging a Jewish identity, the biblical and Talmudic accounts of these festivals demonstrate the deliberate attempt to build a prospective communal memory, so we shall also be examining the function of history and memory as related to food in these contexts.” [13]

After the October 7 attacks on Israel, reconsiderations, new ideas, and traditions are being considered for the upcoming Passover Seder and the reading of the Haggadah. In the article, “Can Jews sing ‘Dayenu’ while there are hostages? The Passover seder gets a post-Oct. 7 rethink,” American-Israeli poet Marty Herskovitz asked rabbis and community leaders to reconsider singing the song that means, “It would have been enough.” Herskovitz told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “We have to take the text and find a way to make it relevant and not just say the words that seem so impossible to say. ‘Dayenu, it’s enough.’ It’s clearly not enough. As long as people are trapped in Gaza, that’s not enough. As long as our soldiers are still risking their lives, it’s not enough. We can’t say ‘Dayenu.’ It can’t be, you know, ‘Praise God for this situation.’ So we have to find new texts.” [14]

Israel’s Conservative Schechter Rabbinical Seminary brought together rabbis and Jewish community leaders to rethink the Haggadah, the central text of the Passover Seder. This will provide Israeli families with a resource to use during the upcoming holiday, following the recent disruption caused by the Hamas attack on October 7 during Simchat Torah. Many Seder tables traditionally include empty seats to honor those who are unable to join, such as victims, hostages, and soldiers. This year, the empty seats will hold even more significance. The seminary strives to offer rabbis and their communities different approaches to modernizing the ancient tradition. [15]

Rabbi Arie Hasit, Schechter’s associate dean, explained, “The Passover holiday is really one in which families celebrate on their own. But Passover is going to happen in the home. So our job right now, which is so significant, is to help people navigate how to prepare.” The supplement includes an addition to the “Four Questions,” which asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The new question will ask, “On all other nights, we think that we have answers. Tonight, we all just stay silent. On all other nights, we remember, sing and cry. … On this night, we only cry.” [16]

Other movements are also creating supplements in the US. Rabbi Menachem Creditor, the scholar-in-residence at UJA-Federation of New York, is publishing a haggadah supplement with the Academy of Jewish Religion, a pluralistic rabbinic school in Yonkers, New York. Creditor told JTA, “To talk about liberation when our family is not yet whole again is very hard, and our own tears will mix with the maror,” using the Hebrew word for the seder plate’s bitter herbs. “We won’t need the haggadah’s usual explanation of what bitterness feels like.” AJR’s CEO and academic dean, Ora Horn Prouser, suggested developing a Passover supplement focusing on the Israel-Hamas conflict. They requested contributions in the form of prayers, essays, and artwork. The responses will be compiled into a resource, available for purchase on Amazon and offered for free on the seminary’s website. Horn Prouser told JTA, “This is a supplement that very directly addresses our current time and provides a community of thinking that we can bring into our Seders.” [17]

The Passover passage “Vehi Sheamda” cautions about a recurring threat to the Jewish community in each generation. This year’s situation has inspired fresh perspectives on how to overcome the opponent. Creditor expressed, “The language in the seder, in the haggadah, is that God will save us. But Zionism represents a very different religious posture, which is: We will save us. Unfortunately, the first part of the paragraph remains true and was amplified horribly on Oct. 7. The second half of it must be true through the connection that we have, as a Jewish people throughout the world, strengthening our homeland.” [18] This year’s reconsiderations only prove how the Passover Seder is malleable to fit our collective specific circumstances and fit with the conflicts we are confronting as Jews. Whether in the recent past, it was for Soviet Jewry, missing soldiers, terror victims, the pandemic, and most recently, Ukraine additions and adaption commemorate the obstacles Jews are facing. The adaptability of Seder’s traditions to the circumstances of the times is one of the main reasons for this. It remains the foremost observance Jews in the Diaspora and Israel maintain as Jewish identities transform into more secular and cultural rather than religious.


Cernea, Ruth Fredman. The Passover Seder: An Anthropological Perspective on Jewish Culture. Seconded. Lanham, MD.: University Press of America, 1995.

Woocher, Jonathan S. “‘In Every Generation’: The Seder as a Ritual of Anti-Structure,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume XLV, Issue 4, December 1977, Page 503,

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a historian, librarian, journalist, and artist. She is pursuing an MA in Jewish Education at the Melton Centre of Jewish Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the author of the recently released “On This Day in History…: Significant Events in the American Year,” and “A Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now anti-Zionism,” which will be released as an ebook and paperback on May 14, 2014.” She has a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused Medieval and Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.” Ms. Goodman has been researching and writing about antisemitism in North American Jewish History, and she has reported on the current antisemitic climate and anti-Zionism on campus for over fifteen years.

She is also the author of among others, “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896” (2008), “On This Day in the History… Of American Independence Significant Events in the Revolutionary Era, 1754–1812” (2020), and “We Used to be Friends? The Long Complicated History of Jews, Blacks, and Antisemitism” (2020). She contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, where she was a top writer in history, and regularly writes on “On This Day in History (#OTD in #History)” Feature. Her scholarly articles can be found on

[1] Pew Research Center. “Seder and American Jews,” May 30, 2020.



[4] Pew Research Center. “Seder and American Jews,” May 30, 2020.

[5] Mitchell, Travis. “Jewish Practices and Customs in the U.S. | Pew Research Center.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, February 15, 2024.

[6] Mitchell, Travis. “Jewish Practices and Customs in the U.S. | Pew Research Center.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, February 15, 2024.

[7] Mitchell, Travis. “Jewish Practices and Customs in the U.S. | Pew Research Center.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, February 15, 2024.

[8] Mitchell, Travis. “Jewish Beliefs and Practices in Israel.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, April 26, 2022.

[9] Mitchell, Travis. “Jewish Beliefs and Practices in Israel.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, April 26, 2022.




[13] Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery (2011 : St. Catherine’s College), Mark McWilliams, and Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery. Celebration : Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery 2011. Totnes, Devon U.K.: Prospect Books, 2012.

[14] Gurvis, Jacob. “Can Jews Sing ‘Dayenu’ While There Are Hostages? The Passover Seder Gets a Post-Oct. 7 Rethink.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 6, 2024.

[15] Gurvis, Jacob. “Can Jews Sing ‘Dayenu’ While There Are Hostages? The Passover Seder Gets a Post-Oct. 7 Rethink.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 6, 2024.

[16] Gurvis, Jacob. “Can Jews Sing ‘Dayenu’ While There Are Hostages? The Passover Seder Gets a Post-Oct. 7 Rethink.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 6, 2024.

[17] Ibid., Gurvis, Jacob. “Can Jews Sing ‘Dayenu’ While There Are Hostages? The Passover Seder Gets a Post-Oct. 7 Rethink.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 6, 2024.

[18] Ibid., Gurvis, Jacob. “Can Jews Sing ‘Dayenu’ While There Are Hostages? The Passover Seder Gets a Post-Oct. 7 Rethink.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 6, 2024.



Bonnie K. Goodman

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a historian, librarian, and journalist. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @