Jewish Journal


April 14, 2005

All Haggadahs Great and Small



The Do-It-Yourself Family Haggadah

Conducting the family seder, attorney Robert Hirschman became frustrated with commercial haggadahs, so he made his own.

"I was put off by the often cryptic language of the usual haggadahs, which were not accessible and lacked historical context," the Tarzana resident said.

After some 50 hours of research and labor on the home computer, the Hirschman Family Haggadah was completed and printed in a limited edition of 25 copies.

Most striking are the four full-page color maps, created by Hirschman, to illustrate the history of the Jewish people.

Starting with the wanderings of Abraham from Babylon to Hebron around 2000 B.C.E., the maps trace the ancient fall of Jewish independence, to the United Nations partition and to present-day Israel.

While generally following the traditional order, stories, prayers and songs, Hirschman has simplified and personalized the language to make it more meaningful to the children and to add historical lore.

For instance, the 30-page haggadah explains the breaking off and finding of the afikomen as "a sign that what is broken off is not really lost to our people so long as our children remember and search."

It also stresses the evolution of monotheism and the equality of all men and women before God. As an integral part of the seder, the 16 family members and guests recall some of their individual life experiences and what the seder means to them personally.

The first step in creating a family haggadah is to draw up a working outline and "then it's easy to flesh out," Hirschman said.

He assigns 20 percent of his workload to research and 80 percent to putting everything together, "enjoying every minute of it."

It helps that Hirschman is computer-savvy and accustomed to writing. He lays out the text and art and then has a commercial shop reproduce and bind the copies.

Hirschman is not the only do-it-yourselfer in the family. His wife, Leslie Aranoff-Hirschman, produces an annual haggadah for the Passover celebration of fellow volunteer docents at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Almost all of the 45 to 65 docents at the seder are women, so the Skirball haggadah emphasizes the role of Miriam, the sister of Moses, and all present dance and sing "Miriam's Song."

In the same vein, an orange is added to the seder plate to symbolize the emergence and presence of women in Jewish life.

Additional readings include Passover-related excerpts from the writings of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elie Wiesel and David Ben-Gurion.

Aranoff-Hirschman describes the haggadah as a collaborative effort, in which "everyone brings in her favorite passage" and then reads it.

She and her colleague Sandra Berube do the final editing to assure the flow of the reading.

The Skirball seder concludes with "The Passover Song," to the tune of "My Favorite Things" from "The Sound of Music." One stanza goes:

Matzah and karpas and chopped up charoset;
Shank bones and Kiddish and Yiddish neuroses;
Tante who kvetches and uncle who sings;
These are a few of our Passover things. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Secular Haggadah Takes Modern Turn

There are more than 3,000 printed versions of the Passover haggadah in existence, according to educated estimates, not counting the private haggadot, custom made on the family computer.

It's a far cry from the 13th-century Spanish version, believed to be the first stand-alone haggadah. In the following centuries, the haggadah has been adapted, at times almost beyond recognition, by environmentalists, humanists, feminists, vegetarians, socialists, gays, lesbians and others.

In other editions, the original focus has shifted to recognize the Holocaust, creation of Israel, and various political and ideological causes, with quotations ranging from Anne Frank to Ho Chi Minh.

Use of a specific haggadah may be restricted to a single family or become a commercial marketing tool by a coffee maker, to the point that one commentator credited a citation to Rabbi Maxwell House.

One of the latest entries is the slim, updated, Yiddish-leaning "Sholem Family Hagada For a Secular Celebration of Peysakh." It is published by the Sholem Community of Los Angeles, a 50-year old secular Jewish educational, cultural and social institution, edited by the group's vegvayzer (guide) Hershl Hartman and Jeffrey Kaye and illustrated in full color by Kevin Bostwick.

Like other secular or humanistic haggadot, the Sholem edition rejects the recitation of "deistic formulas or acceptance as literal truth of the myths of the traditional hagada."

It seeks to honor "the folk traditions that took inspiration from the [Exodus] legend to imbue generations with a commitment to social justice and equality."

Editor Hartman said he had made a special effort "to keep the language fairly accessible to children, while avoiding the childish tone that might repel or bore adults."

There are some innovations in the new version that might startle most synagogue Jews, from Reconstructionist to Orthodox.

For instance, the frogs and boils of the traditional Ten Plagues have been replaced by such man-made miseries as "the plague of homelessness... war... poisoned air and water... the nuclear shadow over our lives."

Besides the prescribed bitter herbs and charoset on the seder plate, an orange is added to symbolize "those not fully recognized by the Jewish community ... women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people."

"The Sholem Hagada" pays special tribute to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising during Passover 1943 with the singing of the Partisan Hymn and recitation of Binem Heller's moving poem, "Peysakh Has Come to the Ghetto Again."

In at least one important respect, tradition has remained unchanged in the rousing rendition of "Had Gadya," the song about the kid my father bought for two zuzim.

For information and to order the Sholem Hagadah, phone (818) 760-6625, or visit www.sholem.org/hagada.asp. -- TT

Haggadah With Some Bling Bling

Twelve months ago, Israeli landscape artist Avner Moriah was busy promoting his illuminated haggadah. He teamed up with calligraphist Izzy Pludwinski to create a limited collector's edition leather-bound Hebrew-only haggadah with a price tag of $4,000.

This year Moriah is back with his illuminated haggadah now in a glossy coffee-table format. "The Moriah Haggadah" has English translation, extensive commentary by Rabbi Shlomo Fox, and is available for only $150 from the Jewish Publication Society.

Moriah's haggadah places a strong emphasis on telling the ancient exodus story but with modern diagrams, commentary and interpretations to help people find significance in an event that many today find difficult relating to.

Much of his work also highlights the importance of the role of women in the exodus story. In fact, the inspiration for many of his trademark watercolor roundels came out of two murals he created for the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York titled, "The Gathering at Mount Sinai" and "Women of the Zodiac."

On one level, Moriah's pictures reveal the Israelites' ancient struggle for freedom after having been enslaved, but they are also imbued with modern day references of man's struggles with the drudgery of day-to-day living and the search for freedom.

Moriah's own struggles also formed much of the inspiration for the haggadah. His wife, Andi, was diagnosed with leukemia and the paintings came out of his owner emotional and spiritual journey as she successfully battled her illness. As he states in his introduction to the haggadah, "I felt what it was like to be on the threshold of the inferno and to find strength to overcome my despair and make something creative out of the experience."

There is much to read into the myriad diagrams with their overlapping modern and ancient references and the accompanying textual interpretations. But, you may not want to bring this glossy, hardcover haggadah to the seder table for fear of spilling one of the four cups of wine over it. Which is why Moriah is hard at work on making a softcover edition, hopefully in time for next Passover. -- Kelly Hartog, Staff Writer

Seder Plate Memories

Barbara Rush's "Passover Splendor: Cherished Objects for the Seder Table" (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, $19.95) is like a seder plate for your living room. But instead of exploring the Passover story through symbolic foods, this book featuring a seder plate on the cover. Once opened, the book tells the narrative of post-exodus Passovers over time and around the world through ritual objects.

Among these objects are ornate decorated haggadahs, seder plates, cups, textiles and a section with Pesach blessing and songs. This book is great to read on its own or as a visual supplement to the haggadah during the seder, as it could be used to illustrate other examples of the ritual objects.

Some of the colorful decorated haggadot highlights include a haggadah cover circa 1740 from Hamburg, Germany, depicting Moses parting the Red Sea in bright rich colors, and a 14th-century Spanish cover depicting Miriam and her maidens dancing. The standout seder plates include a tiered version made by Franz Stobk in 1814 Vienna, which feature Moses and Israelites with cups on their heads to house the various symbolic foods, and a plate depicting the 12 tribes of Israel, made in Baghdad in the 20th century.

"Ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance forever" (Exodus 12:14). This book obeys this quote, creating a feast for the eyes and intellect to reflect on the meaning of Passover in every generation, and reminding of us of the splendor of our enduring tradition. -- Emily Pauker, Contributing Writer


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