A Haggadah for Every Table

Growing up, we spent Passover in one of two places.

At my Grandma Sylvia’s in North Miami Beach her father, my great-grandpa Victor, reigned over a seder table that stretched across three rooms.  While the youngest person recited the four questions according to tradition, it was Victor’s custom to have every person past bar or bat mitzvah sing the full kiddush (blessing over wine).  I can’t remember if we were allowed to sip from our glasses after each recitation or not until the end of the last person’s turn.  Either way, it made for a VERY long introduction to an already long service centered on the cover-to-cover reading of a traditional, rabbinically-published Haggadah.  Victor came to the U.S. from Poland and everything about the way he ran the seder, starting with his atonal Hebrew chanting, felt like “the old country.”

At my Grandma Sarah’s in Queens, we tended to have smaller gatherings.  My Grandpa Paul grew up in a more secular family and his seders reflected that.  There was more joking around as we plodded through the seder service to earn my Grandma Sarah’s legendary chicken broth with matzoh balls.  Paul was an engineer, a proponent of innovation.  He also loved to find a bargain.  His son, my uncle, was a Mad Man.   As such, it was perhaps no wonder that we used the Maxwell House Haggadah – free with a canister of coffee – when we were together.

Growing up, I was aware that the covers of the haggadot we used with my mom’s and dad’s families were different.  Afterall, I helped place them around the tables.  I knew that these seders had a different feel to them.  But I didn’t think much about how much those differences were reflected in those booklets.  Articles out this week about the history and revisions of the Maxwell House Haggadah have offered me space and time to ponder those differences.

Since its first printing as a marketing ploy in 1932, the Maxwell House Haggadah has remained relatively unchanged.  This year, one million copies of a new version, for a new generation, will hit seder tables across the globe.  This generation, my generation, tends to be less comfortable with the personification of God as King (though I’m not sure Monarch offers as much of a change as something like ruach or spirit might have) than our parents and grandparents.  We also prefer our role models to be gender neutral as in the case of the four children, previously the four sons.

I created my own Haggadah a few years ago.  I organized it to cover the requirements (explanation of exodus, matzah, and maror) and hit some traditional highnotes like the four questions, ten plaques, and eating Hillel sandwiches (matzah, charoset, and maror together).  I made it with particular attention to the fact that at my seders, I am often the only Jew.  I use the Passover seder as an opportunity to share my heritage and traditions with friends and my husband’s family, and I want them to feel like they are experiencing an authentic seder without feeling alienated by too much new language or concepts.  I ask them to stretch their minds a bit, but not too far all at once.  Then I feed them a delicious meal complete with my Grandma’s chicken soup that has now become legend in central Ohio.  (NPR aired a similar story, “Our Haggadah: A Guide for Interfaith Families,” this week).

What do you remember most about your family’s seders?  If you were creating your own Haggadah, what would you include?  What would you leave out?

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