Passover Reading: Haggadas and More
As Passover approaches, I am always curious to see if there is a new blockbuster haggada. I didn’t find one this year but there is one sublime version that we missed last year. Other non-Haggada holiday selections are scholarly, outrageous and (for some, perhaps) even silly.
Last year’s transcendent tome, Escape Velocity, A Post-Apocalyptic Passover Haggadah, by Stanley Aaron Lebovic (Black is a Color, Inc., 200 pp. $36 check price) is truly masterful not only in its deep, passionate commentary but also artistically—it has 48 dramatic, full-page color images. The two-sided haggada opens from the left with personal insights that connect the hell of the Holocaust to the hope and faith inherent in the redemption from Egypt. The right side opens into a traditional Haggada, edged with commentary. It also includes The Song of Songs, with an English translation, which this year is read on the last Shabbat of the holiday.
While you are not likely to bring Escape Velocity to the table—it is too huge—you can bring The Mosaic Haggadah: Themes of the Passover Haggadah by David Silberman. This brightly colored haggada is reader friendly and jam-packed with stories and commentary from sources as diverse as Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. Themes are indicated by color-coded boxes: freedom; contemporary; family and community; gratitude; redemption; and Israel. The stories will give you plenty of material to involve the entire family and guests in readings.
Canadians—in Canada or elsewhere—finally have a Haggada of their very own, in three languages: Hebrew, English and French. Canadian Haggadah Canadienne (Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, $20) is compiled and edited by Rabbi Adam Scheier and Richard Marceau of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal. Profusely illustrated with 100 black-and-white archival photographs, including a long view of the Baxter block of housing on St. Laurent Boulevard in Montreal, ca. 1915. Through the 1950s, the area was the biggest center of Jewish language, culture and commerce in Canada. Other pictures show Canadian Jewish support for the State of Israel (there are many of visiting Israeli dignitaries, including David Ben-Gurion) and involvement in the struggle for freeing Soviet Jewry in the 1970s. One image shows a Jew working his claim in the Yukon in 1900. The Haggada is multidenominational, with commentary from 20 Canadian rabbis. (Of course, you don’t have to be Canadian to use it—just curious about Canadian Jewish history.)
The cover of the Haggada with an attitude announces itself as: The Unorthodox Haggadah: A Dogma-free Passover for Jews and Other Chosen People, written by Nathan Phillips, Jew; designed by Jessica Stewart, goy. Safe for non-believers (Andrew McMeel Publishing, 84 pp. $9.99). As funny and irreverent as this Haggada is, amazingly, it includes much of the traditional high points of the Seder plus much you would not expect to find in a Haggada. For instance, when the instructions for hand-washing are given, there is also a full page of directions for washing from the Center for Disease Control. Aside from expected explanations and directions for karpas, yachatz and the Ma Nishtana, there is the unexpected “proof that was found on the Internet that aliens built the pyramids.” Among preparations for this special Seder are how to 1) make a shank, 2) decorate an Easter egg, 3) recipes for the weed macaroons and weed butter, 4) cook non-gross gefilte fish.
This Haggada may draw hipster nonbelievers to the table and keep him there for the duration—but it is not for the faint of heart.
For those who want to study The Song of Songs before listening to the Shabbat reading, there are two new volumes: The JPS Bible Commentary: Song of Songs by Michael Fishbane, Ph.D. (University of Nebraska Press, 338 pp. $55) is in Hebrew and English. The commentary gives the history of the interpretation of The Song of Songs, from the simple to the mystical.
The other academic work is a translation and commentary by scholar Robert Alter, Strong As Death Is Love: The Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Jonah, and Daniel, A Translation with Commentary (W.W.Norton, 24 pp. $27.95). The award-winning author of more than two dozen books writes that, “…the Song of Songs stands out in its striking distinctiveness—a distinctiveness that deserves to be called wondrous.”
Perhaps the most practical, useful and accommodating Haggada is The Gateways Haggadah: A Seder for the Whole Family, written and illustrated by Rebecca Redner (Berhman House, 64 pp. $9.95). This haggada was designed for families with children who have speech, language and learning difficulties. The organization Gateways: Access to Jewish Education uses more than 150 picture communication symbols developed for special education and the book is replete with colorful pictures and words in squares (including whole songs like “Had Gadya”). Clear and simple narratives explain why we celebrate Passover, how we participate in the Seder and what the symbols stand for. The four sons brilliantly become The Four Children: The child who is excited about Passover and wants to learn everything about it. The child who was upset about Passover because she doesn’t like special occasions and needs help to calm down (included is a schedule that spells out expectations). The child who is confused because he does not recognize the things his family is using on Passover; because he can ask for help, he can practice using the Kiddush cup, the Seder plate and matza. The fourth child is overwhelmed by all the new routines, foods and objects and had to be reassured that it is O.K. to feel confused and felt better by starting to learn about Passover months before the holiday arrives.
This haggada is not only good for special needs children, it is a good first haggada for very young children.
Finally, if you are a baseball fanatic, there is The Baseball Haggadah: A Festival of Freedom and Springtime in 15 Innings written by Rabbi Sharon G. Forman and brightly illustrated by Lisa J. Teitelbaum (baseballHaggadah@gmail.com, 56 pp. $11.99).
Inspired by her 10-year-old son, Josh, Forman’s family created its own baseball-themed Haggada, which has since been refined into a book that integrates the order, actions and actors of baseball and the Seder. Both involve wandering, confronting challenges, returning home, aloneness, judgement and risk. Forman quotes basaeball’s seventh commissioner, A. Bartlett Giamatti, who wrote: “Baseball is about going home and how hard it is get there and how driven is our need.”
There are Coaching Tips for a succcessful Seder (Pre-Game warm ups). The Teams are The Israelites (Moses is captain) and The Taskmasters (Pharaoh is captain). The four sons are four types of baseball players and Sefirat Ha-Omer reminds us of the countdown to spring training. A parallel is drawn between the heroics of Nachshon, the first person to walk into the Sea of Reeds, and Jackie Robinson, whose courage made him the first African American to play in a Major League (the Brooklyn Dodgers, April 1947).
The Seder recap tells how the Jews started out at home plate in the land of Canaan with Abraham and Sarah; reached first base in Egypt; second base was 430 years of slavery in Egypt; third base was the exodus and 40 years of wandering; until reaching home plate in the Promised Land after receiving the Torah and pledging to be a holy and good nation.
Not so silly a concept, after all—if you love baseball.
Kar-Ben has a number of picture books for the holiday: Engineer Ari and the Passover Rush (Ages 5-9, $17.95 hardcover, $7.95 paper) by Deborah Bodin Cohen, illustrated by Shahar Kober; And Then Another Sheep Turned Up (Ages 3-8, $17.95 hardcover, $7.95 paper) by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Amy Adele; and, for older readers, Scarlett and Sam: Escape from Egypt (Ages 6-9, $15.95 hardcover) by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Ivica Stevanovic.