The last remnants of Iraq’s once-vibrant, 2,500-year-old Jewish community left the country long ago. (Only five Jews remain, according to a recent New York Times op-ed.) But some Iraqi Jewish manuscripts, community records, and holy books may soon be sent back, much to the chagrin of Jewish Iraqi expatriates.
How can we have Passover without wine? This is a question that is asked of me each year as Passover approaches. I always answer that the blessing is over the fruit of the vine and grape juice is perfectly acceptable. I then ask a different set of questions.
If the Passover haggadah seems like hieroglyphics to you, it could be a good thing.
Rabbi Adam Schaffer, who's been leading chocolate seders since he edited a chocolate seder haggadah in 1996, acknowledges that “people often do feel ill” from all the chocolate.
Francine Hermelin Levite and Edgar Bronfman have been using unique versions of the Passover Haggadah for years. Now both have decided to publish their versions of the Exodus story.
“The most unfortunate thing that happens to a person who fears failure is that he limits himself by becoming afraid to try anything new.”
This Passover, Jews can still reliably be called “the people of the book.” If sales of newly published versions of the haggadah are any indication, on the first night of Passover, when it comes time to tell the story of the Exodus, most people sitting at seder tables will be holding in their hands a text that consists of printed words and images on paper.
Never mind the gefilte fish and brisket, the mass-produced, cardboard-like matzah and the kosher-for-Passover wine. Instead, Passover seder at my parents’ Karaite Jewish home includes a mouth-watering menu of barbecued lamb chops, crisp homemade matzah, sweet raisin juice and chewy almond cookies that stick to the roof of my mouth.
At first glance, it’s hard to tell if Eileen Levinson’s Alternative Seder Plate is deeply thoughtful or merely playful. Or perhaps just coolly irreverent.
The Passover Haggadah challenges us not just to remember the pain of slavery and the joy of freedom, but to relive the journey from one state to the other: “In each generation, every individual should feel as though he or she had gone out of Egypt.” How can we achieve that?
The haggadah, the user’s manual to the Passover seder, might be the world’s oldest annually practiced ritual, and the story of the Jews’ freedom from slavery in Egypt is, Jonathan Safran Foer said recently, “the best-known greatest continuously read story” in book form.
Leading a seder for the first time this year? There’s an app for that.
Every year at Passover, families around the world pull out their Haggadahs for their Seders, and whether they use a traditional text, a modern one, or even Maxwell House, the story and the words remain largely the same. But one man, Rick Lupert, saw an opportunity to do something more than produce just another slight tweaking of the classic text. And thus, the Poet's Haggadah was born.
A Passover haggadah is something like an article of clothing — a great many styles and sizes are available, it can be tailored to suit one’s own needs and tastes, and we can always make one of our own. The readings and rituals, stories and songs that decorate the observance of Passover are as diverse as the Jewish people itself. Now, as Jewish families around the world prepare to sit down at the seder table, here are a few new and noteworthy examples.
"Thank you for reminding those who sometimes forget that "never forget" means just that..."
Approximately one in five Israelis living east of the West Bank security fence would leave if offered government support, a poll found. According to an internal government study, whose results were leaked Tuesday to Yediot Achronot, approximately 15,000 of the 70,000 settlers whose communities are not taken in by the fence would accept voluntary relocation packages.
William Shatner is God. And Pharaoh. And Moses, too.
Just in time for Passover, the Jewish Music Group (a division of Shout Factory) has released "Exodus: An Oratorio in Three Parts," performed by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. It is conducted by David Itkin, who created and composed the Oratorio, sung by baritone Paul Rowe and includes dramatic readings from the Bible and from the haggadah, spoken by none other than Shatner.
There's a 1,000-year-old haggadah, there's an Internet haggadah, and now there is a new $15,000 Arthur Szyk Haggadah.
It's one of the great mysteries of the Jewish tradition. Every year, Jews around the world gather around a seder table to retell the story of our people's liberation from slavery. You can read a thousand articles, talk to a thousand rabbis, and they'll all say the same thing: At the Passover seder, we retell the story of the Exodus.
There's only one problem with this statement: It's not really true.
Both the composition and inclusion of "Had Gadya" into the Passover haggadah are shrouded in mystery.
This popular Aramaic song, chanted at the end of the seder purportedly to keep the children awake, is dated no earlier than the 15th century. Composed of 10 stanzas, "Had Gadya" follows a cumulative pattern similar to "The House That Jack Built," where a new detail is added in each stanza.
Every Passover The Jewish Journal receives story pitches for a new batch of seders that the organizers tout as original or groundbreaking. Evidently the traditional ritual, at which Jews gather and retell the story of our people's liberation from slavery in Egypt, is so 2000 B.C.E.
This season, several new haggadahs raise new questions. New interpretations bring new approaches to the seder, enabling readers and participants to bring new layers of meaning to their own celebrations of the holiday.
If you recall, a couple of weeks ago I asked you if there were Passover experiences that really moved you. Well, all I can say is I'm glad I asked.
Little known facts about Judaism and Passover.
When author Marge Piercy was a little girl, her grandmother set a special place at the Passover seder for Blackie, her grandmother's cat.
The Haggadah tells us "you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Here is the interesting thing -- because we were strangers, we are supposed to learn not how the Israelites should have acted, but -- how the Egyptians should have acted. We are supposed to learn how not to oppress others. Don't treat others the way we were treated.
Moshe Hammer's pieces look like quirkier, black-ink versions of medieval illuminated manuscripts. The Hebrew letters dance and morph into images based on his intensive studies of commentaries on the sefarim. Apparently, Hammer was feverishly working on such drawings when he took one of his late-night walks to clear artist's block in July 2004. He had trekked miles from his Fairfax area apartment when the truck hit him at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Western Avenue, killing him instantly, according to a coroner's report.
The haggadah hints that Jews ignore the way they are spoken about at their own peril. Actions too often follow words.
Throughout his life, until his death at 57 in 1951, Szyk always returned to his Jewish themes, from argumentative shtetl figures and paintings of Jewish craftsmen and merchants to Jewish refugees and fighters.
Margie Pomerantz and her fellow volunteers from Congregation Beth David, a nearby Conservative synagogue, were out looking for Jews. In a supermarket. Unaffiliated Jews, if possible, but they weren't being picky.
Los Angeles hosted the national kickoff for LiveNetworks last weekend, bringing together about 75 of the program's 87 participants. Hailing from five regional "hubs," the participants will meet about six times throughout the year in their hub location. In the process, they'll meet with local leaders and philanthropists, attend seminars and receive individual coaching and mentoring.
Not all seders are sit-down affairs. When "Dayenu" begins at the home of Simone Shenassa of West Orange, N.J., everyone takes bunches of scallions and hits everyone else, to imitate the whipping of the slaves.
Of all the Jewish holidays, none is so firmly rooted in the home and so joyously celebrated with song as Passover. This simple fact would lead you to expect an avalanche of Passover records, but this year the avalanche is more like a mild rain of pebbles, at least in the quantity department.
In the Passover haggadah, we read of the 10 Plagues that God sent to convince Pharoah to let the Hebrew slaves go free. The plagues -- bloody, violent, magical -- are a dramatic highpoint of the narrative. Mindful of the pain these plagues brought even to innocent Egyptians, Jews have traditionally spilled out a drop of their festive seder wine at the recitation of each plague.
Passover is a time for remembrance, but it is also a time for making memories relevant, and at many seders in Los Angeles, there is a practice of incorporating meaningful events of the day into the ritual dinner.
While there are only four questions posed in the haggadah, most seders struggle with the unasked fifth question, "When are we going to eat?" It is asked, not only by hungry children, but also by adults who feel disconnected to the rituals of their ancestors.
Afternoon naps, a steady flow of food and the promise of an afikomen surprise might keep children awake during the seder, but there is nothing that makes them tune out faster than the formal language of an adult haggadah.
Q. Why do we have a haggadah on Passover? A. So we can seder [say the] right words.
It's a terrible joke, but it suggests why seders have gone from righteous to rote, from dynamic to deadly boring. Everything is too much by the book, the haggadah, to be exact, in the worst possible way, says David Arnow, in "Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, Texts & Activities." (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2004, www.livelyseders.com).
Arnow says that seders are supposed to be living, vibrant, creative -- with room for spontaneous discussion and new ideas that reinvent what freedom means to the current generation, which gathers to commemorate a liberation that occurred thousands of years ago.
We learn in the haggadah, "B'chol dor v'dor, chayav adam lirot et atzmo k'ilu hu yatzah mi'mitzrayim" -- "In every generation it is one's duty to regard himself as though he personally had come out of Egypt."
I confess that most of my childhood Passover memories have nothing to do with the Passover story itself. How could they when seders were family dramas enacted against a backdrop of matzah and gefilte fish? Like most American Jewish kids, I started out observing the proceedings from a card table, fidgeting while the grown-ups read from the haggadah.
Conducting the family seder, attorney Robert Hirschman became frustrated with commercial haggadahs, so he made his own.
At Jewish Family Service's Freedom Seder, participants read from a haggadah that was just a little bit different. Instead of reading of the four sons, those at the Freedom Seder read about the "four community members."
"The wise community member asks, 'How can we, as individuals, and a community, address domestic violence?'"
When newer, color versions supplanted the 1923 Union Haggadah Revised, Tamar Soloff's brother and father hoarded enough copies of the original to ensure that their extended families would have a supply of their own.
While Israeli artist Avner Moriah was creating "Haggadat Moriah" (Moriah Haggadah), his wife, Andy, was undergoing chemotherapy treatments for leukemia.
"I sat next to her when the chemicals were dripping in," said the 50-year-old artist, in Los Angeles this week for an exhibit opening of his work at the University of Judaism. "In Israel everyone davens and says 'Tehillim' when someone is sick, but I came up with images for the haggadah. When I started, the images were really small but as she got healthier, they became more colorful and more lively. When I finished [and Andy recovered] I realized that I had painted my own journey from Egypt."
Some people like their Passover seders just as they remember them: the same lines recited by the same relatives with the same emphasis, the same songs, jokes and foods, the same delicate glassware that picks up the light in a certain way, reflecting past and present.
There's something very ironic about Pesach. Why is it that getting ready to celebrate our liberation from slavery involves so much hard work?
It may be the season for planting trees, but Yosef Abramowitz is pushing for sundae-making this Tu B'Shevat. In what he calls a "revamped" and "recast" seder in honor of the New Year of Trees, Abramowitz and the staff of BabagaNewz, an educational magazine for Jewish kids, are teaching would-be arborists to plant "seeds of hope" in the form of nuts and candy, using cookie crumbs instead of dirt, and wishes instead of water.
Spiritually devoid? Downright ridiculous?
Too much driving and dreaming makes me practically a native here, I suppose. When I complained to my friend Stuart back East, he said: "Slow down. Pull over. Take a class."
Once a year, soon after Purim, my parents lug down the hydraulic press from their attic.
Passover is our holiday of words -- words to study and ponder, lines that evoke memories and also inspire hope of better times. Every year, publishers bring out a significant number of new books related to the holiday -- new editions of the haggadah, books of essays and commentary, children's books and cookbooks. This season, there's plenty to read geared to the weeks leading up to the holiday, throughout its duration and afterward. What's common among the new titles are stories, whether reminiscences about great scholars or accounts of unusual circumstances for seders. Here are stories that weave history and transcend it.
"I have a dream." With those magical words, the great leader of a generation began a speech that still quickens hearts today.
I have never quite gotten used to celebrating two seders.
After doing only one seder for each of the nine Passovers I was in Israel, the second night now seems like religious deja vu, a "Groundhog Day," where I'm setting the table yet again, rereading the haggadah and singing the same songs, thinking that if only I get it right this time, I won't have to relive the night once more.