Reframing Pesach (Passover)

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Many years ago, my husband Sam and I began collecting haggadot to enrich our Passover seders.  We invited participants to chose one of the haggadot to look at in addition to the universal haggadah that each person had.  We wove together the interesting things people found and our main seder, calling the extra material the “color commentary.”

This practice went on hiatus when our children were young, along with building the collection.  As our children are now pre-teen ans teens, I decided this was the year to revive it. To that end, I went to the Israel Bookstore and Kolbo in Brookline and chose several books.  The book that spoke most to me is not a haggadah but a book about creating meaningful seders: Pesach for the Rest of Us by Marge Piercy. I grew up in the Reform movement, crafting creative services that evoked the themes of the liturgy with poems, readings, and songs; so this book appealed to me.

As the holiday approached, it was unclear whether my daughter, who has been alienated from much of Judaism for several years, would join us for seder. Further, what attitude would she bring even if she came? The days before the holidays contained many sarcastic comments and much sotto voce muttering about the holiday. In the end, she came.

When we came to the table, I put out the choices of haggadot and A Night of Questions caught her eye. With this Reconstructionist haggadah for her ” color commentary,” her sarcasm and hostility evaporated. She was drawn to the gender-neutral Gd language and the modern understanding of the seder’s themes. This haggadah helped her re-frame the seder and its symbolism in a way that was close to her world view.

How wonderful that she and I were able to re-frame these ancient traditions to keep them relevant to us!

Have you had similar experiences with your traditions? I’d love to hear about them.

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One response »

  1. We’ve been using a haggadah that I put together starting in 1991. I’ve modified it (sometimes more, sometimes less) each year since then.

    I hosted my first seder in 1987 (I think). We picked up some haggadot for a very small crew. That was the beginning of my collection. I now have a boxful of haggadot.

    I tend toward reconstructionist, and was always looking for something that spoke to me (and now) without being so far out that it fell off a ledge. I found us reading a passage in 1990 about someone patting a little lamb “on the tuches” and decided I had had enough. Some months before Pesach the next year, I starting putting together my first Haggadah.

    The 1991 version was short, with not much to it. But it had English and transliterations that let the non-Hebrew readers keep up.

    I kept buying haggadot and piecing together things I liked; things that inspired me. And then I found “Keeping Passover” by Ira Steingroot. It is subtitled, “Everything You Need to Know to Bring the Ancient Tradition to Life and to Create Your Own Passover Celebration.” It was a gateway for me.

    I loved the approach he takes to breaking down the holiday. One chapter is called, “Mutus Liber: The Mute Book.” It describes the actions taken over the course of the traditional seder observance, without any of the texts. He describes it as a choreography. Subsequent chapters layer on top of those actions.

    Another inspiration for me is the haggadah from the Velveteen Rabbi (which can be found at the blog by the same name). Rabbi Rachel Barenblat writes the blog (started when she was still a rabbinic student). I was introduced to her blog through our shared love of writing poetry. Her haggadah is, of course, filled with poetry, some of which I find very moving. She graciously shares her haggadah through the blog, downloadable as a PDF.

    I hadn’t come across Marge Piercy’s book, but will definitely look it up now. In all likelihood it will be added to my box of haggadot, that contains everything from books my father used when he was a boy, to a copy of the Maxwell House, to a pop-up version, to some that may only be in the box as a warning to know when to stop.

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