Like many of us, I grew up with the Maxwell House coffee haggadah at our Passover seders. While the picture of the cow lying upside down like a dead fly helped to explain “murrain,” I was frankly stumped by the rabbinic conversation about 50 or 200 or 250 plagues, when we all knew perfectly well that there were TEN plagues.
My parents then became dedicated enthusiasts of the New Union Haggadah, edited by our senior rabbi at North Shore Congregation Israel, Herbert Bronstein, and beautifully illustrated by Leonard Baskin. While this was certainly more modern, it was also quite philosophical, although it also had some alternate readings that allowed the seder leader to mix things up a bit.
In college, I began to see examples of haggadot that people wrote or assembled themselves, such as a women’s haggadah. But it was only after moving to Milwaukee that I found the twin inspirations to put together my own. The first came from my uncle-in-law Jerry, who collected timely writings to include in each year’s annual haggadah. The second was from my young sons— I wanted a haggadah that would convey this core story of our tradition on their level, while also getting to shulchan orech, the festive meal, in a timely fashion.
So, I cribbed together bits from a few different haggadot I had collected over the years and threw in pictures from Finding Nemo to illustrate the four children. I included songs like “Let My People Go” and “Bang, Bang, Bang” to get everyone singing, and “Miriam’s Song” to get everyone dancing. I was careful to include all 15 of the traditional steps of the seder, but I also included newer traditions, like Miriam’s cup, and an orange.
I think it worked well—no one fell asleep or crawled under the table, and the kids stayed reasonably engaged, no doubt helped by finger puppets of the plagues and four questions, frog stuffed animals, musical instruments to accompany Miriam’s Song, and veggies to munch on between the parsley and the matzah.
If you are hosting a seder, I recommend putting together your own haggadah. One that speaks to your family and friends, that connects our ancient story to the plagues of modern society. And even if you are not leading a seder, I think it can be very meaningful to bring along a reading that ties the themes of the seder to our modern world.
If you need help getting started there are options, Haggadot.comlets you assemble your own haggadah, reformjudaism. org has seders for young children, and AJWS has a global justice haggadah. Another option would be to just insert some timely opinion pieces into your traditional haggadah—each year seems to bring with it issues that speak directly to the Pesach story. Our journey from slavery to freedom, from Mitzrayim (“the narrow place”) to the Promised Land continues to this day.
Next year in Jerusalem!