Tradition & Innovation

A Personal Seder to Celebrate Aging

By Anne Tolbert

Ritual marks an important turning point in an individual's life and sanctifies it in a special Jewish context. It provides sacred time for us to reflect on where we've been, who we are, and where we are going. As a woman who wanted support and encouragement in my spiritual growth and acknowledgment of aging, I created a ritual to celebrate my aging that would also affirm my intention to remain visible and continue to work for personal and political change: "Biz a hundred und tvuntsik!" "To 120!"1


Niggun: A melody is a gentle way to come together. The ceremony begins with everyone seated in a circle as they introduce themselves and indicate their relationship to the celebrant.

Reading: This selection, adapted from the writing of Albert Einstein, honors our coming together.

Strange is our situation here on earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, here is one thing we do know: that we are here for the sake of each other, above all, for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, and also for the countless unknown souls with whom we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times each day, I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of others, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving from others. 2



B'rukhah at Sh'khinah, Eloheinu ruach ha-olam, boreit m'orei ha-esh.
Blessed are You Shekhinah, Our God Spirit of the Universe, Creator of the lights of fire.
(Each person may light a candle)

Song: Hinei ma tov u-mah nayim, shevet achyot [sisters] gam yachad.

Reading: This poem by Rami Shapiro, which is read responsively (the leader reads one stanza, the group reads the next, etc.), challenges us to reflect and build upon our heritage.

In each age
we receive and transmit

At each moment we are addressed by the World.

In each age we are challenged by our ancient teaching.

At each moment we stand face to face with Truth.

In each age we add our wisdom to that which has gone before.

At each moment the knowing heart
is filled with wonder.

In each age
the children of Torah
become its builders
and seek to set the world firm
on a foundation of Truth. 3

Song: Sing Linda Hirschhorn's "Miriam's Slow Snake Dance at the Riverside"4 while wearing a circle of colored ribbons.


We drink this cup of pure spring water to honor the prophet Miriam, who sang and danced after crossing the Sea of Reeds. Legend tells us that the well of living waters that followed Miriam throughout the wanderings in the desert provided sustenance to the Jewish people. When Miriam died, the well disappeared.

This cup of living waters, mayim chayyim, also resembles the promise of a fresh beginning. A baby, born from the living waters of its mother, is sustained by water, as we all are. Fresh water is our birthright, but we must protect it. This first cup celebrates birth, renewal and the promise of each new life. (Fill and lift cup)


Zot Kos Miryam, kos mayim chayim, chazak chazak v'nitchazek.5
This is the cup of Miriam, the Cup of Living waters. Strength, strength, and may we be strengthened.
Barukh attah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, she-ha-kol nihiyeh b'd'varo.
Blessed are You, God, Life Source of the Universe, by Whose Word everything is created. 6


The orange. The seeds of this round, sweet, tart fruit represent the beginning of life, as well as life's cycle. The skin, which protects the fruit, is removed to uncover the edible fruit. This reminds us that good things are often hidden. The sections of this fruit represent the myriad possibilities that unfold as we begin life's journey.

B'rukhah at Yah, Eloheinu M'kor ha-chayim, boreit pri ha-etz.
Blessed are You, Source of Life, Creator of the fruit of the tree.

Share oranges and other fruits.

Reading: This poem, by Judy Chicago, offers a vision of the world we can work toward. (Please read responsivelythe leader reads the first line, the group reads the next, etc.)

And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both women and men will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another's will
And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
And then all will share equally in the Earth's abundance
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old
And then all will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life's creatures
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.7


This cup of red juice (cranberry or cherry) celebrates the first stage of adolescence, the onset of puberty and menstruation, and the growing sense of one's personhood and independence. (Fill and lift cup)

B'rukhah at Sh'khinah, Eloheinu malkat ha-olam, sh'ha-kol nihiyeh b'd'varo.
Blessed are You, Shekhinah, our God, Ruler of the Universe, by Whose Word everything is created.


Mint. This herb, which grows wild and abundantly, reminds us of the bounty of the earth, and perhaps also of a time when we were uncultivated and wild. Before it is eaten, the mint may be dipped in vinegar or soy sauce, suggesting the freedom to experiment and the lessons we learned through experimentation.

Barukh attah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, borei p'ri ha-adamah.
Blessed are You, Our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who created the fruit of the earth.

A rose. This flower represents our personal blooming into womanhood. Thorns protect the opened rose. While we need to develop protective skills, we do not want to become too hardened. The rose that flowers into beauty, fades and withers when its season is past. (Foods made with herbs, and various sour or salty condiments are now served.)

Reading: An innovative Ecclesiastes" (Each person reads two lines.)

To everything there is a season
and a time for every purpose under heaven:
A time for tradition, and a time for change;
A time to be alone, and a time to be together;
A time to be young, and a time to be old;
A time to begin monthly bleeding, and a time for it to end;
A time to be with women, and a time to be with men;
A time to work, and a time to play;
A time to feel pain, and a time to feel pleasure;
A time to be creative, and a time to rest from creativity;
A time to experience, and a time to reflect;
A time to be physical, and a time to be spiritual;
A time to learn, and a time to teach;
A time to free oneself, and a time to share freedom with others;
A time for the sun, and a time for the moon;
A time for endings, and a time for new beginnings;
The gain is in the receiving and the giving. 8

Stories of our adolescence, our first period, and our first love are shared. (Use a crystal or stone to focus attention on the speaker.)


This cup represents the potential of commitment: the choices we make while balancing relationships, meaningful work, career, marriage, and children. We are grateful to the women who came before us and we are aware of the sacrifices they made. This drink is a mixture: an "eggcream," made with chocolate syrup, milk, and seltzer. It is my personal symbol of growing up in New York. It is the milk of nursing made sweeter with chocolate and as evanescent as a dancer's life. (Fill and lift cup)

B'rukhah at Yah, Eloheinu m'kor ha-chayim, sh'ha-kol nihiyeh b'd'varo.

Blessed are You God, Source of Life, by Whose Word everything is created.


Nutmeg. This spice reminds us that labor is a necessary part of life. Grating releases the spice's scent and flavor. As with Torah study or finding one's calling, there is no reward without work.

Barukh attah Yah, Eloheinu ruach ha-olam, borei minei b 'samim.
Blessed are You our God, Whose Spirit fills creation, bringing forth spices.
(Grate and smell the nutmeg.)

Chocolate. Chocolate hardly needs explanation. It stands for the delights and rewards of life, whatever they are (love, work, children). But we pay a price for overindulgence!

B'rukhah at Yah, Eloheinu m'kor ha-chayim, sh'ha-kol nihiyeh b'd'varo.
Blessed are You God, Source of Life, by Whose Word everything is created.

Share food like kugel flavored with nutmeg and cinnamon, spiced cheeses, etc. Then share chocolate desserts.


This cup represents the problems and new opportunities we see ahead of us. (A bubbly drink such as sparking wine or flavored seltzer is offered.)

(Fill cups for those drinking wine and say)

B'rukhah at Adonai, Eloheinu Ruach ha-olam, boreit p'ri ha-gafen.
Holy One of Blessing, Your Spirit fills creation, forming the fruits of the vine.

(Fill cups for those drinking water and say)

Barukh attah Adonai, Eloheinu ruach ha-olam, sh'ha-kol nihiyeh b'd'varo.
Blessed are You, Spirit of the Universe, by Whose Word everything is created.


Raisins. These dried fruits are golden, sweet, and delicious. We hope that even as we wrinkle on the outside we will remain "delicious" on the inside.

B'rukhah at Yah, Eloheinu m'kor ha-chayim, boreit p'ri ha-etz.
Holy One of Blessing, Your Spirit fills creation, forming the fruit of the tree.

(Eat raisins and fruit compote.)

Let us discuss our expectations, fears, and hopes for this "third act" of our lives. Let us examine how our traditions can support us as we grow older. And let us strengthen the connections with our families and friends that nurture us.

Concluding reading: "After Sixty" by Marilyn Zuckerman 9

The sixth decade is corning to an end.
Doors have opened and shut.
The great distractions are over
passion children the long indenture of marriage.
I fold them into a chest I will not take with me when I go.

Everyone says the world is flat and finite on the other side of sixty.
That I will fall clear off the edge into darkness,
that no one will hear from me again
or want to.

But I am ready for the knife slicing into the future
for the quiet that explodes inside,
to join forces with the strong old woman,
to give everything away and begin again.
Now there is time to tell the story,
time to invent the new one,
to chain myself to a fence outside the missile base,
to throw my body before a truck loaded with phallic images,
to write, "Thou Shalt Not Kill" on the hull of a Trident submarine,
to pour my own blood on the walls of the Pentagon,
to walk a thousand miles with a begging bowl in my hand.

There are places on this planet
where women past the menopause
put on tribal robes,
smoke pipes of wisdom

The "formal" portion of the ceremony ends with a song and-or dance. Then, with black markers, participants write a message on the colored ribbons used during Miriam's dance. This will become a decorative wall hanging or a tallit when the ribbons are glued or sewed on a rectangle of clotha ceremonial reminder of sacred time.


1. A special debt of gratitude is owed to Joyce Foster for her faith in me and for her support, and to Matia Angelou for inspiration, encouragement, and suggestions for this ceremony. The ceremony was initially inspired by Phyllis Ocean Berman's "Recreating Menopause" in Moment, February 1994.

A note on procedures: As this ceremony takes between four and five hours, eating and drinking at appropriate times during the seder are encouraged. If people gather in the afternoon, a light lunch might be provided while they are waiting for all guests to arrive. Similarly, for evening events, a light supper might be appropriate.

For the four ritual cups, the host should have the following drinks available: spring water, cranberry or other red juice, milk, chocolate syrup, seltzer, and sparkling wine (optional). For the ceremonial plate, an orange, fresh mint, nutmeg (and grater), a rose, chocolate, and yellow raisins are needed. Other foods, including fresh fruit and vegetables, kugels, and desserts are optional.

Special candies and ribbons in the celebrant's favorite colors should be provided. Prior to assembling, guests could be asked to lead readings or songs.

Other hints: Limiting the guests to eight to twelve is advised so that each person has time to share in the ritual. Using a stone or crystal (like the Native American talking stick) is one way to focus attention on any given speaker. The object is passed to each person in turn around the circle, and no one interrupts or speaks out of turn.

A note on the blessings: Because Hebrew is not a gender-neutral language, all references to God are traditionally in the masculine forms. This creates a difficulty if one's image of God is neither male nor female. The language in this ceremony has been adapted to include feminine forms (such as Shechinah) to counter the image of God as exclusively male. Nonhierarchical forms such as "Source of Life," rather than "King of the world" are also used at times along with the traditional references. Participants may adapt the blessings to suit their needs.

2. Siddur Kol Haneshamah: Sabbath Eve (Wyncote, PA: Reconstructionist Press, 1989), 203.

3. Ibid., 101.

4. Available on the CD and cassette Gather Round from Oyster Records, PO Box 3929, Berkeley, CA 94703.

5. Kol Isha. For more information about Kos Miriam, contact Nishma HaNashim, P.O. Box 132, Wayland, MA 01778.

6. Copyright 1996 Kol Isha (Matia Rania Angelou, Janet Berkenfield, Stephanie Loo).

7. Kol Haneshamah, 137.

8. Anne Tolbert, 1994.

9. Marilyn Zuckerman "After Sixty," in Poems of the Sixth Decade (Cambridge, MA: Garden Street Press, 1993).

Complete Ceremony

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