New Haggadot for Your Seder
“Pesach comes and goes,” Marcia Falk writes in Night of Beginnings, her new Haggadah, “always bringing with it something new: Although the narrative we tell is the same, the way we view and understand it changes each time we tell it.” The themes referenced by Falk—change, renewal and the resiliency of Jewish tradition—run through the latest crop of Passover titles.
Night of Beginnings: A Passover Haggadah
By Marcia Falk (Jewish Publication Society)
In her introduction to Night of Beginnings, her decades-in-the-making Haggadah, Marcia Falk reminds us that with “each spring—each Pesach season—we encounter newness in the world.” The acclaimed poet, liturgist and Judaic scholar skillfully traverses that delicate balance between modern perspective and traditional views, inviting readers to explore centuries-old seder night customs as well as her own fresh reflections on hymns, psalms and Passover motifs. Springtime is evoked throughout Night of Beginnings, in the delicate floral illustrations drawn by Falk, her inclusion of biblical epigraphs like passages from the Song of Songs and the pastel colors of the pages themselves. And while the Haggadah follows the text’s classic structure, in Hebrew with English translations and transliterations, Falk replaces the traditional blessings with egalitarian versions and adds what she calls kavanot (Hebrew for directions or intentions), which take the form of prose poems, biblical phrases and meditations.
Falk, one of the leaders of the early Jewish feminist movement and author of groundbreaking prayer books with alternative and supplementary prayers, brings her distinct sensibilities to the seder night. During Maggid, the storytelling portion of the seder, she includes the full biblical tale of the Exodus, replacing the compressed version found in most Haggadot in a way that uplifts the actions of the female characters, including Yocheved, Miriam, Bat Pharoah, Shifrah and Puah.
As we recount the stories in the Haggadah, Falk writes, “we re-enact with all our senses—tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing, and touching—ushering the past into the present moment.”
Pictures Tell: A Passover Haggadah
By Zion Ozeri (Gefen Publishing)
The seder, notes the preface to Pictures Tell, the new Haggadah from veteran Israeli photographer Zion Ozeri, “is a reflection of Jewish connection across both time and space.” Ozeri, who has spent decades chronicling far-flung Jewish communities, uses his photos to illustrate the classic Passover text, in Hebrew with English translations, as well as to emphasize the customs and observances that tie Jews together. There is a striking image of a woman making matzah in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, in 2002, and a 2009 photo of a woman teaching children to make matzah at a Detroit Jewish community center. There are images of Jews engaged with sacred texts, including a photo of a women’s study group in Seattle, Wash., in 2009, and another from 1992 of children in the mountain town of Haidan A-Sham in Yemen gathering in a cave to study the weekly Torah portion.
Pictures Tell asks readers to use the photographs as jumping-off points for seder discussions. In a sign of the times, Ozeri includes in the Haggadah QR codes that link to additional information. All this is supplemented by short quotes and commentaries from contemporary Torah scholars and Jewish thinkers, such as Israeli writers Daniel Gordis and Yossi Klein Halevi and Mizrahi writer and psychotherapist Rachel Wahba.
Becoming Elijah: Prophet of Transformation
By Daniel C. Matt (Yale University Press)
Elijah is a guest at every seder, invited toward the end of the night, given a cup of wine—the kos Eliyahu—and expected to usher in the redemption. But how did the prophet, shown in biblical texts as a zealous, fiery, even angry figure railing against injustice, become a permanent invitee to the Passover table? Why does he have a seat at every bris and a starring role in Jewish folklore? (There are more Elijah stories in The Israeli Folktale Archives, the books notes, than any other Jewish figure.)
Author Daniel C. Matt gives readers a researched, thorough look at the legendary prophet who is thought to have ascended to heaven while still alive. Filled with quotes from biblical texts, rabbinic commentaries and books of Jewish mysticism, Becoming Elijah explores how the zealot was transformed into a man of compassion and earned his place at Jewish holidays and life-cycle events. The book presents Jewish views of the prophet over the centuries as well as the Christian and Muslim connection to Elijah. Ultimately, Elijah is a figure of hope, the author concludes. “Each generation pours their yearning into him and draws comfort from him,” Matt writes. “The various portraits of the immortal prophet reveal as much about the mind of the people of Israel—their needs and ideals—as about the character of Elijah.”