Alternative Afikomen Search Brings New Meaning to the Seder

shmuramatzaIf you find yourself at a seder at which the “youngest child” is in college, there’s a good chance the requisite hunt for the afikomen isn’t much fun anymore. There is an alternative that is fun and enlightening for everyone at the seder table. which I highly recommend you try next year.

I encountered this brilliantly simple tradition at first seder this year, at the home of David and Laura Cher. We adapted it for our second seder and it was met with such an enthusiastic response we intend to adopt in permanently.

This alternative hunt for the afikomen involves hiding the sacred middle matzah not in some dusty nook and cranny of your house, but rather hiding it somewhere in history. The guests then have to guess where it has been hidden by asking, in turn, a single question that can answered with yes or no.

At the Chers’ seder, the afikomen was hidden at Los Alamos by the Jewish scientists working on the atom bomb. Our host imagined a seder at which the prospect of nuclear war formed a mushroom cloud of concern on Passover.

For our seder, we decided to refine the rules to place the afikomen at a seder in history that we imagine took place. This allowed us to ponder the many times throughout Jewish history when a seder held special meaning for the participants.

The exercise connected us to the generations of Jews faithfully observing the ritual, offering us a sense of solidarity with the Jewish people. It also served as a poignant reminder of centuries of oppression and points in time when Jews were once again forced to escape from tyranny. Time and time again, Jews have fled for their lives, with the promise of freedom driving them to desperate action.

We placed our afikomen at a seder held aboard Columbus’ ship as he sailed toward the New World in 1492. The guests quickly established the time period, the Inquisition. But the exact location was tricky. Spain, someone guessed.  Well technically a Spanish ship on the high seas is not in Spain, but it is not in any other country either. Our vague answer – sort of Spain – caused some confusion.

But one person focused on what Jews were doing in 1492, fleeing for their lives on vessels bound for strange new lands where a haven from the Inquisition might be found. I had examined this phenomenon in depth during Menorah’s program “Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean” at the BJCC a few months ago, so the daring history of Jewish participation in the exploration of the New World was fresh in my mind.

After Debbie Liebowitz “found” the afikomen, someone asked if there had in fact been a documented seder on Columbus’s fabled voyage. Of course not, and in all likelihood there was no seder on that maiden voyage.

But I could only imagine that with Jews fleeing Spain by the thousands, some eventually found themselves on storm-tossed seas at Passover.

I see them gathered in a small dank galley, candles flickering as the ship sways and creaks, telling the story of Moses and Pharoah. About to begin years wandering the wilderness, these Jewish explorers  were no doubt buoyed by the collective memory of their ancestors who made a daring dash for freedom as the waters parted and they found themselves safely ashore on the other side, their enemies miraculously vanquished.

These sailors did not find a land of milk and honey waiting for them, but they did forge new Jewish life in the many places they came to call home. We were reminded that as Jews took destiny in their own hands and fled their Pharaoh, this exodus reshaped history.

Our seder was enhanced by this trip across the oceans of time, and we look forward to next year’s journey.

About Kathryn Bernheimer

Kathryn has spent her professional life writing about, teaching, and presenting the arts. Founding Director of the Boulder Jewish Film Festival, Kathryn was Director of Menorah and ACE at the Boulder JCC from 2003 through August, 2019. The former film and theater critic for the Boulder Daily Camera, Kathryn is the author of "The Fifty Greatest Jewish Movies" and "The Fifty Funniest Films of All Time."

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  1. How Sweet!

  2. Nice thought about a seder on Columbus' voyage, but his first voyage left Spain on August 3, 1492, so a seder would have been out of season.

  3. Neat idea (kind of like 20 questions, but more 'personal', somehow!) and I love the way you describe a seder on a sea vessel.

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