New Haggadah Earmarked for Families
BY NOW THERE are who-knows-how-many different editions of the Haggadah. It is probably the most published book in all of Jewish life. There are haggadot for vegetarians, peaceniks, secularists, art lovers and almost every category you can think of. So what do we need another one for? That was my thought until I opened this one, and then I understood which niche this book fills. It is for those who may not know much, but who want to learn and who want a seder that is user-friendly and interactive and meaningful for both adults and children. That is a pretty big segment of the market, and so this is a book that deserves to be considered for possible use for at least one, if not both, of the nights of the seder. The people who put it together are not only good pedagogues, they are master designers. And so they have worked out a number of formats and prompters on each page that make it clear and easy to use For those who don t want to or are unable to stay up till midnight, there is a bare bones seder that consists of both text and ideas for discussion and projects for the kids and that can be completed in an hour. There are thought questions, such as Was it right for Abraham to break his father's idols? and Are we not all Jews by choice today? that are bound to raise debate at the seder. And there are quotations from a whole range of people such as Frances Bacon, William Shakespeare and Winston Churchill as well as Maimonides and Rav and Chassidic masters. Shakespeare s thoughts about whether revenge is good or bad are a lovely sendoff to the discussion of why we spill ten drops of wine for the ten plagues. The whole idea of the seder is that it should be an experiment in intergenerational communication. And so the editors do something very special with the section about the four children. They bring us 15 pages of different drawings, so that we can discuss together what constituted wiseness and what constituted badness, and what constituted simpleness and inability to ask in different periods and in the imagination of different artists. They show us a rendition from the Prague Haggadah (1526) and, next to it, one from Budapest (1924). And they suggest we might do some role playing or debate whether the wicked child may be an unfair description. They show us Abrabanel's opinion that the wise child may really be a smart ass, wise guy trying to show off his knowledge instead of the good guy that we have always thought him to be. There are renditions of the four children that show the wicked son smoking at the seder (1879) or as a prize fighter (1920). Tanya Zion adds two marvelous sets: one of the four versions of the ideal Jewish girl and one of the four children in contemporary Israel. See if you can figure out why the haredi child is the one who does not know how to ask. A set by Dick Codor uses the Marx brothers as models (quick do you remember which one never spoke?) I bet you can t get through this section of the seder without many laughs and a lively interchange on what constitutes goodness or wisdom or rebelliousness or apathy in our age. But try to save some time for the rest of the Haggadah, for there are a lot of innovations and surprises all through this book. By the way, one of its best suggestions is to expand the meaning of the karpas that we eat at the beginning of the seder to include dipping and tasting various fresh vegetables and other appetizers so that When do we eat already? does not become the kvetch of the evening. The seder is not supposed to be an endurance contest or a speed race or a rushed-through prelude to the meal. It is supposed to be a holy moment, when parents teach children who we are and what our story is and manufacture the memories that will nourish them for years to come. --Rabbi Jack Riemer, Jewish Journal SouthGood to the Last Cup Did Maxwell House kill the American Passover Seder?
It seems like a heavy charge to pin on a coffee company. But who knows how many Jewish children, numbly and obediently flipping through the pages of the blue and white Maxwell House came to regard the seder as a stultifying arcane ritual, a regimented recitation of thees and thous, an endurance test as lacking in levity as leaven? Is it only a coincidence that in the 70 years since Maxwell House began distributing tens of thousands of haggadot as promotional items, the intermarriage rate among Jews has soared? The rabbis never intended that the Exodus From Egypt be recited rote out of a paperback book. And Noam Zion and David Dishon don't intend that either. They have written a Passover haggadah for families eager to dispense with set questions and answers but intimidated by the prospect as well. Careful to retain the traditional core of the haggadah the 15 steps beginning with the first cup of wine and kiddush and concluding with the hallel, nirtza prayer and folk songs they weave around the text a tapestry of ancient midrash, contemporary commentary, provocative questions, and unexpected answers. They involve the children, with skits, games, and gentle horseplay. Some are silly like the Afghani Jewish custom of striking your neighbor with a stalk of green onion during the chanting of Dayenu. Others encourage introspection, like asking children to name the one object they would carry with them out of Egypt. At the same time, adults are urged to consider the mature themes of what Zion and Dishon call a leap of solidarity back into the founding event of Jewish nationhood. The heart of this effort is the section they call maggid or storytelling. The section takes the form of six suggested symposia on timeless themes: assimilation, anti-Semitism, ancient Egyptian oppression, resistance to tyranny, sexual oppression and the lessons of suffering. The sources brought to bear are as varied as Reb Nachman of Braslav, and Abraham Lincoln, Zora Neale Hurston and Victor Frankl. Because the authors are superb Jewish educators and scholars on the staff of Jerusalem's Shalom Hartman Institute (founded by Orthodox philosopher Rabbi David Hartman to create a common language among the most and least traditional Jews), their Haggadah avoids the easy relevance that has reduced recent haggadot to public service announcements on nuclear war or women s rights. When the authors urge a discussion, they offer appropriate texts on Jewish tradition, contradictory views, that invites the opinions of guests across the range of religious, ideological and generational perspectives. A few warnings for those who undertake to host a post-Maxwell House seder. As the authors point out, their haggadah contains enough material for a few years of seders and some preparation is advised to select themes, pull out readings, and assign roles. The other risk is that a long session of discussion and storytelling, however stimulating, can't compete with the smells emanating from the kitchen. Zion and Dishon suggest you revive the original rabbinic custom (forbidden by some, although not all, spoil sport halachic authorities): Along with the vegetable that is dipped into saltwater near the beginning of the seder, offer substantive appetizers with dips of their own. And if intelligent conversation, imaginative role-playing, and probing questions aren't enough to keep some guests awake? There's always coffee. --Andres Silow-Carroll, Moment Magazine
Noam Sachs Zion and David Dishon, educated in ivy league schools in the U.S., made aliyah to Israel in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. They are on the Judaica faculty of the Shalom Hartman Institute for advanced Jewish studies in Jerusalem. Noam runs the curriculum development department specializing in Bible, midrash and art. He also contributed to the Bill Moyers book entitled Talking about Genesis (Doubleday) issued in conjunction with the Moyers Genesis series. David Dishon is the Judaic studies coordinated at the experimental Hartman high school, author of The Pluralistic Culture Of Rabbinic Debate (Schocken, Hebrew) and currently writing on rabbinic views of warfare.