What to Put on Your Seder Table

[By Jeanette Friedman] [Photo thanks to JTA]

NEW YORK (JTA) — Seder night is a challenge. There’s just so much to do and so many things to put on the table!
With so much “stuff” there, who is going to notice those gorgeous new napkin rings or your gleaming flatware and crystal glasses?

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.

Sometimes making enough room means adding leaves to the table, putting two tables together or putting a round table at the end of a rectangular one.

Keep things as simple as possible. Use rectangular tables and get the smallest folding chairs you can find. You can get sturdy folding tables at Home Depot or Lowe’s, or use hollow core doors on saw-horses.

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 matzah holder that comes with a seder plate on top; some use embroidered matzah bags with dividers. In either case, they are placed directly in front of the leader. The matzahs 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 matzah 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 supermarket, 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.

Now that we know what goes on the table, it’s time to set it in a most attractive way.

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. You can customize your tables by choosing yardage from your favorite fabric store. One family bought a brocaded stripe in red, gold and black, cut the cloth to the lengths needed, and it looked great against gold-trimmed ivory china and gold-plated flatware with ivory napkins.

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 matzah 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 table cloth 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.

Be creative — one family built a pyramid!

They must’ve had more room than most.

(Jeanette Friedman is co-author with David Gold of “Why Should I Care? Lessons from the Holocaust.”)

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