Better Seder? Plan ahead with my One Hour Webinar

sayder – pre passover prep

April 2 2014, 1pm EST.

Prep ahead to upgrade your seder.
Learn 5 simple tools to make this night really different from all other nights, and make a difference in the world.

Join Amichai Lau-Lavie for a one-time, one-hour WEBINAR TRAINING to be a better storyteller and ask questions.

DATE: April 2nd
TIME: 1pm-2pm EST, 8pm Israel
– Online CLICK HERE to register and receive the webinar link
– In Person (Jerusalem, Israel) – only 12 in-person seats available at ROI Headquarters in the German Colony (Email NAOMI to RSVP – first come first served)


  • You will see, on the registration page, a link for making a contribution to Lab/Shul to help us underwrite these types of programs – “pay what you can” – we have a suggested donation of $10.  Here’s a shortcut to that donation page. 


Four New Questions, One Real Conversation
What if the Seder was not just the world’s longest buildup to a feast?
What if it were reinvented as a modern-day ritual that encouraged real conversation about what matters most to us–and still included highlights from the traditional Haggadah?

Meet Sayder: A fresh spin on an ancient ceremony and a new format that celebrates
the best of Good Old Passover with an abbreviated alternative Seder. Structured around a
new version of the classical Four Questions, Sayder preserves the drama of storytelling, the art of retrospection, the depth of conversation, and the courage of optimism found in the traditional Seder. Sayder makes the Exodus saga meaningful to our lives, naming our modern slaveries and oppressions, and renewing our commitment to more freedom for all.

Thank you to ROI Community (esp. Marcus Frieze and Elissa Krycer) for hosting and partnering with Lab/Shul on this event.
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Redefine Kosher/Rediscover Eating: Food for Thought. Word 26

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.



Instead of bringing us together food can sometimes become a reason for rifts.
A commotion outside the bakery on Agrippas Road, on the night right after Passover: A bearded man, clad in black, yelling at a group of Israelis, men and women, some in knit kippas and headscarves, some not, who are trying to buy fresh pita, eager for the first flavor of unleavened and not in the mood for the yelling: “It isn’t kosher!” the man gestures wildly, “It’s too soon after the holiday is over! This bakery is not kosher!”. He points at a sign on the wall: “Fresh pitas may not be purchased before 8:05pm on April 1. It takes about 30 min. to prep and bake a pita. signed: The Rabbis.”
It’s 8:15.
The bakery owner is not there to reply, the Arab workers busy packing pitas into plastic bags don’t even look up and a few of the startled customers are, Israeli style, shouting back, showing him their watches. He refused to relent – the bakery has been open since 8pm! It must be shut down at once.
We walk away from there, amused but also really not, nibbling a fresh pita and trying to make sense of all this food related mania and where ancient rules for dietary well being have become so Kafka-like ridiculous and so very unappealing. All the flavor taken out of simple pleasures, with too many regulations, too much supervision, separating us instead of adding another chair at the table.
Passover is just such an example of kosher gone wrong – on steroids.  The holiday, like so many others, is grounded in the art of eating – the flavors are what give it meaning, the taste is where our memories reside. But also the ongoing slavery to the wrong kind of stuff. The ultimate gastro-judaic obstacle course sets up each year unpleasant tiffs and family feuds sparked by different traditions of what one does or doesn’t eat and how. Quinoa, for instance, the latest addition to the “kosher for passover or not’ saga is banned by some, blessed by others and ignored by most. But at least at one Seder that I know of – an entire pot of it was thrown out because the hosts feared the hostile reaction of a cousin. Really. It’s not like there aren’t lots of hungry people among us! For THIS we left Egypt? For pseudo Bible thumping hunger games??
Far beyond the norms of actual nutrition, dietary restrictions define our most private and public norms of living, which is, most likely, their very reason for existence.
You could argue that Kosher (Or Halal, etc.)matters because God said so, or because that’s how social walls protect and mould an ethnic identity. But for me it’s simply a device to be more aware of the  daily duty of conscious nutritious intake. It’s about discipline, it’s about gratitude, and it’s about control. The religious prohibitions were inserted to make it more scary to some folks, but really, it’s just the gravy.  The main dish is more conscious eating.
Maybe it all began with that first bite of forbidden fruit – and all this kosher stuff is the reacting to boundless desire?
I grew up 100% kosher, tested the boundaries during my teens and army years, gone way off, and am now somewhere in the 85% vegetarian camp, kosher-ish. I only really started understanding the power of dietary restrictions when I went on a rigid – and successful -low-carb diet about ten years ago. AH! I remember thinking as I carefully removed the slices of bread from my tuna sandwich, with carbs clearly marked as the new Treif: THIS is why we have dietary restrictions in the Torah – it isn’t about some god-like menu – it’s about the disciplined practice of careful eating  – conscious, healthy, enviromentally aware. The law is there to serve the greater human need for better living – and for survival on the planet. The eco-kosher
movement is totally a step in that direction. My friends at Hazon are also doing amazing work in this area.
In this week’s Torah text, Shmini, Leviticus 11 lists the famous do’s and dont’s of kosher cooking – rabbit out, chicken in, etc.
We are what we eat – and what we are not allowed to or choose to avoid determines who we want to become.
Laws are important for the health of a nation, but sometimes laws become an obstacle to life. With all due respect to Kosher and to Kosher for Passover – and even with respect to the yelling Jew outside the bakery on post passover night: dayenu.
The obsession with minutia is driving us away from the real bottom line, the big picture, the healthy diets of disciplined pleasures that will nourish our bodies, satisfy our souls and help us be in better sync with the rest of the planet. Food is there to bring us closer to ourselves, each other, the divine. We must make sure it isn’t used so much as a tool for oppressive separation. There are enough food disorders in our lives already – let’s figure out a way to make the Jewish diet one that doesn’t promote more suffering, but brings more joy into our lives – one bite at a time.
How privileged we are to be having this conversation.
Bon Appetit.
Shabbat Shalom


Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999.

Cut to the Chase: Moses, James Bond, Drama in DC: Word 25

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.




On the evening before Seder my father and I watch Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie, on their home TV. He used to like action flicks, and with all the cooking going on in the kitchen it seemed like the perfect diversion.
I’ve not a big fan of gunblazing action but found myself riveted, towel in hand, matza balls waiting, sitting next to him and narrating some of what’s going on (‘no, that’s not the bad guy – he’s the good guy’) and tensing up with each and every chase scene. There are lots.  
“Did you like it?” I ask him later, he shrugs – it was OK. But later, when he’s getting ready to go upstairs he says to me: ‘good guys don’t always win.”

The next night we sit around the Seder table, intimate, just 8 of us, I get to lead, and skip around the hagada to focus on the key issues,  cut to the chase: What about this exodus story is important, meaningful, helpful to us today? Beyond the preservation of national legend, our master story – what here is useful to our personal soul journeys, our struggles with what holds us back and what helps us be more free?

Not everyone in my family is into the psychological rendering of passover, but they’re with me so far. Inspired by Skyfall I go to the chase scene, which is only alluded to in the classical hagada but is the one biblical quote I choose to read verbatim, trying to make the story as tense and anxiety provoking as the best of Bond:

“And the Egyptians chased them,  horses and chariots of Pharaoh, the army, and overtook them encamping by the sea..

The children of Israel looked up..and were terrified, and cried out to God, and yelled at Moses: There were not enough graves in Egypt?? We told you back in Egypt – leave us alone! It would have better for us to stay slaves in Egypt rather than die here in this wilderness.”(Ex. 14:9-12)It’s great text. Also chosen to be the Torah reading on the Sabbath of Passover. Much has been written on this first official Jewish National reaction to crisis: a sarcastic joke and terrified refusal of risk. What does this reaction tell us about our ancestors, about ourselves and our own choices?

What does it tell us about the fear that chases us on our fleeing from where we’re stuck to greater inner freedom.

“Imagine that you are in that chase scene,” I ask the Seder guests, well into our 2nd (really 4th) wine refill, “Who are you?  What’s your reaction? What will you do?”

We get into it: One of us will fight, two will hide, two will pray, three will run ahead into the sea.

The conversation drifted to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the new government, Iran, Syria, religious extremism, digital overdose and global warming: what are our different reactions to crisis, to change, when danger is on us like a hostile army? As individuals, as nations? Are we like the ancient children of Israel sarcastic and fearful of the future or do we leap into the sea and risk it all for progress? Or somewhere in between?

Right from Seder (‘best ever’  tweeted by niece) into the supreme court drama in DC. It’s not exactly a chase scene but there’s bad guys and good guys, and whatever happens in these next weeks and months this is certainly another major milestone in the public liberation project of the American people.  here, too, the reactions to major change, to the call for ‘exodus’ are telling – the choice to stick to familiar narratives and fears or go for a more complex but equalizing reality, with more dignity for all. The Phraonic forces are chasing, and who knows, in this version of the saga, they may still get the good guys. Like my father said – good guy doesn’t always win.

The chase is on.

Here’s hoping, praying, trusting that the good guys win, that not many get hurt in the chase, that progress will overcome the tyranny of terror.

Not just for James Bond, or for Moses, in blockbusters of biblical proportions and sacred myths of old –   but also in courts of justice – i hope that our master stories  will hopefully guide us to a much more promised land.

Happy Passover, Shabbat Shalom


Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999.

What the Prez is Passing Over: Obama’s Public Rituals. Word 24

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.



Loudspeaker carrying police cars woke me up on Wed. morning with instructions about our roads closing for the 48 hours. Who  thought it’s a good idea for Obama to visit Jerusalem 4 days before Seder? The city has already been semi blocked off for two days, and with all the holiday prep in high gear-  – complex driving arrangements are not adding to the passover pressure. How the hell am I supposed to go get the fish meat  etc.  from machne yehuda market downtown on Friday morning with a motorcade crossing through town twice in each direction?? Not to mention that the West Bank is virtually cut off.
Ok. relax. we’re used to this. This is no Pharaoh. It’s the President. And besides. Holiday stress is as part of the ritual as the holiday feast, with no Jewish holiday more OCD than this one. Chametz/spring cleaning, Seder cooking, who’s coming or not to Seder situations and dramas, precursors to the big night, are, to quote a friend, “like birth pangs”, necessary pressures towards the release ritual which is that night about the privileges of freedom. Some bigger bangs, grander goals, are worth the efforts, and so is, let’s hope  this Presidential state visit. Means can sometimes justify the ends.
Mainly to figure out where not to drive this week, and when and how to pick up my mother’s extensive Seder shopping lists, I carefully scanned the presidential itinerary . It’s on every Israel news homepage, (tweets from the White House on ha’aretz masthead along with a official vid featuring Ben Rhodes explaining the trip’s goals.). Helpful. And a fascinating study in the art and price of public ritual.
Much has already been noted about the fact that the only (so-called) religious site that Obama will visit is the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. No Western Wall or Golden Dome. Handshakes, photo-ops, wreaths, speeches: The rituals of this visit are carefully orchestrated to be mainly political, cultural, and civic. perhaps deemed safer to leave hard core religious ritual out of it. At least the Arab-Jewish ones, I guess. His only prayer will be private, all his own. sort of.
There’s enough religious zeal in the air as is. cinder box, anyone? Very American separation of church and state.
Because rituals really do matter. All of them.
Presidential gestures or religious rites – they really do mean something when we actually focus on what they represent even when we’re cynical or jaded. What flower will be placed, and where; Who will recite the four questions, and how. Rituals magnify the meaning of our most sacred, simple values , and we screech, sometimes not even knowing it, when they go off the rails of our expectations and familiar frames. its always very specific.
The risk of rituals is that at best they’re very real. and real can be dangerously honest and raw.
Which is why we sometimes opt for not so real – auto pilot, refined, safer rites. Which is why, perhaps, Obama won’t visit the religious sites or speak his mind, and why so many of us will not really talk about freedom at our Seders, and won’t  say the real things we want to really say to each around the table at the political or pascal feast, and avoid the real and fake the rituals by route- but know it, and play along, and yearn, if we remember to, for when it’s real and juicy and felt and alive with tissues and all no matter how messy. You know – we know when ritual really works to move us closer to the truth.
At best it does and I hope it will these days ahead. Even just a little bit. and hopefully more.  When they really work- rituals change reality.
I trust there will be moments of magnificent meaning, wows,  within these upcoming different but somehow similar rituals, because of and despite of, the  carefully planned and choregprahed, top security, kosher for passover detail oriented ritualism up ahead. Not always when we expect them.
That’s where  Torah comes in.  Torah not as law – but as ritual. This  week’s text, Tzav, like so much of Leviticus, is about the many minute details of the Hebraic ritual machine. The laws of uniform, construction, sacrifice and constant burning on the altar (ego) is a perpetual sacred system – every detail matters to the very success of the human enterprise – the constant connection to the mystery. Without this connection the world goes unplugged. All this Torah OCD ritual minutia makes sense when we get this ancient mindset. The word that is used to describe this overall legal system is ‘Torah’. Usually Torah means ‘Law’ or ‘The Law’ – but in the context of the temple service the NJPS translation always chooses to translate it as ‘Ritual’, such as: “Command Aaron and his sons: This is the ritual (Torah) of the burnt offering…”  Lev 6:2

Rituals matter because they connect us to the bigger picture, symbols of the mystery we sometimes need to be reminded of, reconnected to. The pope in Rome, the president in Jerusalem and Ramallah, each of us around a Seder table, making gestures that, like simple sacred sacrifices, break or make the world.  Hopefully all the details are worth it, adding up to a much needed recharged reality, new and improved.
Anyway. welcome Mr president. We’re glad you’re here.
Next Year in Jerusalem? Maybe.
Shabbat Shalom – and a meaningful, delicious Passover. Let Freedom ring.


Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999.