This Year’s Hag­gadah Roundup

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Jay Michael­son

Passover re­flects Amer­ica.

Over the last two decades, two trends have de­fined Amer­i­can re­li­gious life: dis­af­fil­i­a­tion and spir­i­tual search­ing. More Amer­i­cans than ever are leav­ing the re­li­gious de­nom­i­na­tions of their child­hood: Protes­tant, Catholic, and Jewish com­mu­ni­ties alike. Each tra­di­tion, in turn, is be­com­ing smaller, more tra­di­tional, and more con­ser­va­tive (ex­cept Catholics, due to the in­flux of Lati­nos).

And at the same time, record num­bers of Amer­i­cans iden­tify as “spir­i­tual but not re­li­gious.” We haven’t given up on the roots of re­li­gion — just on the no­tion that the tree has to look a cer­tain way.

En­ter the Passover Seder, which re­mains the sec­ond-most widely ob­served Jewish rit­ual (sec­ond to the Yom Kip­pur fast, but ahead of at­tend­ing Yom Kip­pur ser­vices) and the most de­cen­tral­ized. Whether it’s a rote recita­tion of the Scroll of Maxwell House, an in­ter­ac­tive rit­ual of par­tic­i­pa­tory per­for­mance, or just a quickie be­fore we get to the gefilte fish, Amer­i­can Jews have con­tin­ued to roll their own Sed­ers, even as they’ve left their syn­a­gogues and move­ments be­hind.

This year’s batch of new Hag­gadot — the tenth I’ve re­viewed for this pub­li­ca­tion! — re­flects Amer­ica in a num­ber of spe­cific ways as well.

Of all the new hag­gadot of the year, Kerry Ol­itzky’s “Wel­come to the Seder,” is the most rep­re­senta-

Why do the ul­tra­Ortho­dox do such a bet­ter job of sub­si­diz­ing Jewish cul­ture?

tive of the trend in Amer­i­can hag­gadot to sim­plify, adapt, and de­mys­tify the Seder li­turgy. The em­pha­sis here is on in­clu­sion. Of all the hag­gadot I’ve re­viewed, “Wel­come to the Seder” is the eas­i­est to use. Some­one give an award to the de­sign team (Ann Koff­sky and Za­hava Bogner) who have suc­ceeded in mak­ing the flow of the evening clear, un­like far-fancier hag­gadot — like the bete noire of my Hag­gadah-re­view­ing life, the hope­lessly and in­com­pre­hen­si­bly over-de­signed “New Amer­i­can Hag­gadah.”

Sec­ond, “Wel­come” re­flects the Amer­i­can re­al­ity that most nonOrtho­dox sed­ers will have non-Jews, Jews by choice, and/or non-af­fil­i­ated Jews at them. The text is short and sweet. The val­ues are plu­ral­is­tic (the wash­ing rit­ual is analo­gized to Chris­tian bap­tism; there are quotes from Mar­i­anne Wil­liamson). And the em­pha­sis is on the so­cial jus­tice as­pect of the Feast of Free­dom.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, the SJW-PC bit gets a lit­tle much. Does the “wicked” son re­ally have to say “I have cho­sen my own course in life, dis­tant from what oth­ers had hoped for me. Ac­cept me as I am, even if you don’t al­ways like the de­ci­sions I have made”? I don’t know. But bet­ter too much than too lit­tle, when it comes to mak­ing the Seder wel­com­ing to all.

This year, I even learned some­thing new: namely, the Re­con­struc­tion­ist (or is it Re­con­struct­ing?) in­no­va­tion of adding a pineap­ple to the Seder plate to re­mem­ber the plight of im­mi­grants and refugees, es­pe­cially in our nau­se­at­ingly na­tivist po­lit­i­cal mo­ment. I’m not sure my alt-Seder-plate can hold any more pro­duce, what with the beets and olives and or­anges al­ready, but it’s still a great idea.

But for ev­ery con­cerned lib­eral in Amer­ica, there’s also an out­raged rad­i­cal. So if “Wel­come to the Seder” isn’t mil­i­tant enough for you, con­sider Alan Wag­man’s scrappy “Holy Hag­gadah,” set mostly to verse (and mostly to the rhythm and tune of Holly Taya Shere’s fa­mous “Holy, Holy” chant), and fea­tur­ing fem­i­nine God(dess) lan­guage

‘These are the brains of af­flic­tion that we ate in the land of Egypt.’

and bit­ing po­lit­i­cal lines like Wag­man’s re­write of the Get­tys­burg ad­dress: Twelve score and count­ing years ago, Our fa­thers brought forth On this con­ti­nent A new slave state, Con­ceived in servi­tude and Be­trayal of the propo­si­tion That all men are cre­ated equal.

Bet that’ll wake up your mil­len­nial col­lege stu­dent af­ter three cups of wine!

Of course, “Holy Hag­gadah” isn’t for ev­ery­one. If you can’t stom­ach the mas­sacre at Ly­dda be­ing re­mem­bered at your Seder, then move along. But if you’re look­ing for a woke, rhyming Hag­gadah with lines like “Mus­lims, women, im­mi­grants, LGBTQ; When they come for a mi­nor­ity, they come for me and you,” get in touch with Alan.

In ad­di­tion to dis­af­fil­i­a­tion and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism, the Jewish 21st cen­tury has also seen a re­nais­sance of Jewish cre­ativ­ity, again mostly away from the main­stream in­sti­tu­tional world. That’s re­flected in a hand­ful of new and newish hag­gadot this year.

First, the artist Eli Ka­plan-Wild­mann has pro­duced an as­ton­ish­ingly beau­ti­ful… thing… called “Un­bound: The Recre­ated Hag­gadah,” a craft­pro­duced, small-batch set of twelve cards, each lav­ishly dec­o­rated, that to­gether con­tain the en­tire tra­di­tional text of the Hag­gadah. Un­bound is not meant to be a user-friendly in­tro­duc­tion to the Seder. Though it comes with a set of guided ques­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties keyed to the art on each card, it’s best for “ad­vanced prac­ti­tion­ers” who will ap­pre­ci­ate its many sub­tle themes and beau­ti­ful ex­e­cu­tion.

Sec­ond, and in a very dif­fer­ent key, is the hi­lar­i­ous hu­mor-Hag­gadah “For This We Left Egypt?” co-writ­ten by Dave Barry (no, not Jewish, but friends with a lot of Jews), Adam Mans­bach (of “Go the F--k to Sleep” fame), and Alan Zweibel. (“For This” was pub­lished last year, but too late to be in­cluded in the roundup I wrote last year.)

I’m not sure if you could re­ally run a Seder with this thing, but I laughed out loud many, many times while read­ing it. “For This” has what it thinks is the tra­di­tional He­brew text of the Hag­gadah, but notes that “for all we know it’s a He­brew re­pair man­ual for a 1973 West­ing­house dish­washer.” Help­fully, it notes, “You’ll also find dis­cus­sion ques­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties sprin­kled through­out the book. These will make the Seder last longer, so you should ig­nore them.” And it of­fers in­ci­sive com­men­tary on the Ex­o­dus nar­ra­tive, such as “slav­ery to­tally sucked.” You get the picture. And then there’s the lo-fi, kick­starter­funded “The Zom­bie Hag­gadah” – or, as it spells it at one point, “Aaaahg­gadah.” As with “For This,” I think the best use of “Zom­bie” is to sneak it in with you if you’re stuck at a Maxwell House type Seder. As your rel­a­tives re­cite the Where­fores and Ex­alt­eds of their ha­bit­ual li­turgy, you can sup­press bursts of laugh­ter at lines like “These are the brains of af­flic­tion that we ate in the land of Egypt.” What I liked most about “Zom­bie” is how knowl­edge­able it is, filled with ex­ces­sively long com­men­taries and nar­ra­tives, and with in­sider-base­ball par­ody in­struc­tions like “Move the tray of brains to the side along with the sec­ond cra­nium filled with cere­brospinal fluid. Al­though you will be tempted, do not eat the brains or drink the cere­brospinal fluid… yet.” These guys know their Hag­gadah.

There’s more. Last year’s “Harry Pot­ter Hag­gadah,” for ex­am­ple. McSweeney’s par­o­dic “Kush­ner Fam­ily Hag­gadah” (“To those who are hun­gry and in need, we of­fer our prayers and hope, which is enough — Dayenu!”) And sev­eral new tra­di­tional Hag­gadot, such as Artscroll’s clear, handy “Il­lus­trated Hag­gadah.”

You know, pro­gres­sives could learn a lot from Artscroll. The tra­di­tion­al­ism isn’t for me, and some of the il­lus­tra­tions are tacky. But it’s easy to use, help­ful for re­li­gious fam­i­lies with chil­dren, and at an $8 price point, it’s af­ford­able and us­able. How come the ul­tra-Ortho­dox do such a bet­ter job of sub­si­diz­ing Jewish cul­ture than the non-Ortho­dox?

That’s all for 2018. See you next year — un­less the re­demp­tion comes first, as the Zom­bie Hag­gadah prays: “Next year, we will be free zom­bies feast­ing on the brains of the Le­viathan.” Have a mean­ing­ful Sedaaaaar­rrh!

Jay Michael­son is a con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor

of the For­ward.


UN­BOUND: The ‘Recre­ated Hag­gadah’


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