‘Mah Nishtana’ in New Haggadot?
Welcome to the Seder: A Passover Haggadah for Everyone By Kerry M. Olitzky. Illustrated by Rinat Gilboa. (Behrman House, 64 pp. $8.95)
Welcome to the Seder is an ambitious project that emphasizes inclusiveness and is replete with an innovative narrative. Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky has designed a seder experience combining intellectual content with a blend of ancient traditions and contemporary realities. Elijah’s cup retains pride of place but shares space with Miriam’s and Ruth’s cups, with the former recognizing the role of women in the Exodus story and the latter welcoming Jews by choice.
Olitzky includes a plethora of quotations from historical figures, from President John F. Kennedy to theologian Marianne Williamson, but only a few among them are Jewish thinkers. And an odd parallel is drawn between the sages of Bnei Brak, whose discussion of the redemption from Egypt is recounted in the Haggadah, and the Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter movements. Despite these excesses of political correctness, Welcome to the Seder is a welcome addition to celebrants of all ages. The volume is enhanced by Israeli artist Rinat Gilboa’s graceful pastel illustrations.
The Jewish Journey Haggadah: Connecting the Generations By Adena Berkowitz. Photographed by Shira Hecht-Koller. Gefen Publishing, 236 pp. $29.95)
This attractive Haggadah is indeed a journey, replete with multiple side trips, all enlivened by Rabbanit Adena Berkowitz’s formidable store of knowledge, humor and innovative ideas. Aside from the traditional text, Berkowitz, a founder of Kol HaNeshama: The Center for Jewish Life and Enrichment in New York City, include unique insights emphasizing both the historic and moral dimensions of the Exodus story, likening it to the experiences of Holocaust survivors and the moving journey of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. There are creative topics for discussion, such as the role of women, including Miriam and the brave midwives, Shifra and Puah. A Kids’ Corner has suggestions for games, craft projects and songs.
Of special interest is the evocation of milestones—the origin of the seder and earliest editions of the Haggadah, dating back to Yehudah HaNasi (135-219 C.E.) and Saadiah Gaon (882-942 C.E.). Other quirky tidbits abound, including a discussion of whether one can substitute grape juice for wine for Kiddush and the Four Cups. The authoritative halachic decisor was the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, whose ruling was affirmative. His decision was later accepted by the Vatican to solve its own communion dilemma. “Mah Nishtanah” is translated into multiple languages—Yiddish, Ladino, Arabic, French, Spanish and Russian—demonstrating the effort at inclusion that touches every page.
The Jewish Journey Haggadah suggests that contemporary plagues—pollution, terrorism, alienation—should be added when reciting the punishments inflicted on the Egyptians, an idea certain to trigger discussion.
Shira Hecht-Koller’s photographs are beautiful, but they are mostly of food, wine glasses and Israel’s landscape. Surely pictures of people celebrating Pesach would have further enhanced the narrative. This small quibble, however, does not diminish Berkowitz’s wonderful and important achievement.
Gloria Goldreich’s new novel, After Melanie, will be published in May by Severn House.