Seder night is a challenge. There’s just so much to do and so many things to put on the table!
In addition to a formal setting – charger, dinner plate, appetizer plate, water glasses and wine glasses, four kinds of forks (salad, fish, meat, and dessert), two knives (one for fish, one for meat), three spoons (appetizer, soup, and tea), and dinner napkins – there are ceremonial foods and objects that need to be available to the seder leader.
Keep things as simple as possible. Use rectangular tables and get the smallest folding chairs you can find.
Where to start? Make a list of the things you will need for the ceremony itself:
“¢ Candle sticks on a tray to catch melted wax. Use disposable aluminum bobeches to catch drips. After you light the candles, move them to the sideboard. It’s simply safer to keep burning candles away from a crowded table.
“¢ Some people use a three-tiered matzoh holder that comes with a seder plate on top; some use embroidered matzoh bags with dividers. In either case, they are placed directly in front of the leader. The matzohs go underneath the seder plate, which is marked to let you know where to put what.
“¢ Ceremonial foods placed near the leader so that s/he can assemble the seder plate. If you love your silver heirlooms, keep the horseradish, eggs, and charoset in porcelain or glass bowls. Saltwater should go in a glass dish, too. You can put potatoes, greens, and romaine lettuce in silver bowls, but you’ll work harder later trying to get out the water spots.
“¢ Lots of bottles of wine, kiddush cups, and matzoh plates. Passover does feel special when everyone gets to make kiddush together and drink four cups of wine. If you don’t have silver cups, small wine glasses will do nicely. Well-balanced, stable glassware is best. Stemware tends to tip over when the table shakes. Be sure to put a saucer underneath each cup to catch spills. There’s lots of moving around and the saucers help, but don’t necessarily prevent accidents – so keep plenty of cheap paper napkins or paper towels nearby.
“¢ Haggadahs. Each person needs to read from one. You may want to pick up some at the supermarkets or at Judaica outlets, or perhaps you have special editions; family members may have their favorites. Put the Haggadahs on top of the appetizer plate, under the dinner napkin.
“¢ Elijah’s cup usually sits right in the middle of the table, where your flowers normally go. Put the flowers on the sideboard or in the living room, where they can be beautiful without getting in the way. Extra wine and the ice bucket can go on the sideboard, too.
When putting two tables together, make sure they are on the same level. If that’s impossible, use two separate tablecloths, or everything will tilt and fall if the cloth is pulled.
Make a matching cloth for a small TV table to set up next to the leader without interfering with your seating. It can hold most of the ceremonial foods, extra matzoh, and some of the wine bottles (which also can be placed on the floor below the table, along with other beverages).
Finally, the question de tutti questions: Should you put a plastic tablecloth over the fabric cloth?
A good white linen damask table cloth will be ruined forever by red wine. Stain-resistant fabrics are available, but you need another set for the second night, and you do spend time cleaning them. There are different grades of plastic, and you can sponge and wipe heavier kinds. Or use a thinner sheet, lift off, toss, and replace.
Jeanette Friedman is co-author with David Gold of “Why Should I Care? Lessons from the Holocaust.” She lives in New Milford.