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Beyond The Maxwell House Haggadah

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I didn’t grow up in a religiously observant home. As a result, I don’t have too many Passover memories from childhood. My strongest memory is of my mother telling me that if I wanted to eat bread during Passover, I had to go outside.

There is a single family photograph, taken in my grandparents’ narrow Bronx kitchen, of a Passover seder. My father, who passed away almost a quarter century ago, is holding a Maxwell House Haggadah and there is my grandmother’s famous gefilte fish, along with red, red horseradish, on the table. I am seven years old.
 
Taking a picture at a Passover seder would never happen in my Orthodox home today, but I’m grateful for that photo because it’s one of the few I have that show us as a Jewish family. As I got older, my parents and extended family dropped more and more religious observances so that, by the time I was in high school, we were all but indistinguishable from our non-Jewish neighbors and friends.
 
In my mid-20s, when I became more interested in the religion into which I had been born but not educated, I attended a few traditional Passover sedarim with other families. I learned a lot from those experiences, including the rather annoying addictive tune for Dayeinu. I recall being shocked to discover that there was yet more of the seder after the meal.

At those early sedarim, everyone used the same haggadah. I remember with delight getting six copies of the Maxwell House Haggadah at a local grocery store in the weeks leading up to the first seder I ever conducted. I still knew tragically little about Passover, but I remember that I made and served a potato kugel in a round tin. To me, at the time, that was the height of Jewish holiday cuisine.

Today, I live in Israel, where we do only one seder a year. Every one of our guests, including those not so familiar with the seder, uses a different haggadah, and each one has different commentary. In this way, the seder table becomes participatory, and everyone can contribute something no one else has in their book.
 
Over the years, we’ve purchased a couple of hundred haggadot. With so many haggadot on the market, you’d think that people would run out of things to say about the text of the seder. But each year, news ones come to our attention.

This month, Koren Publishers released The Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel, written by Jewish cartoonist Jordan B. Gorfinkel, known in the comic book industry as Gorf, who was responsible for managing the Batman comics franchise during his stint as an editor at DC comics, and illustrated by comic book artists Erez Zadok.

The Passover haggadah has a long history of being illustrated. The Sarajevo Haggadah is one of the oldest and most famous of the illuminated manuscripts. It was created in Barcelona, Spain in the mid-14th century and introduces the traditional text of the haggadah with more than 30 illustrations of Biblical scenes from Bereshit (Genesis) to Devarim (Deuteronomy).
 
The Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel continues this tradition with contemporary cartoon illustrations, intended to help make the story come alive for the current generation. A typical two page spread includes a piece of the haggadah text in large-print Hebrew along with a transliteration on the right and an illustrated translation on the left.

For example, the famous passage of V’hi She’amdah speaks about how, in every generation, there are those who rise up to destroy us. This is illustrated, fittingly enough, with a lineup of representatives of the historic enemies of the Jewish people, from the Egyptians to today’s Islamic jihadists.
 
The Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel is ideal for seder guests who are less familiar with the customs and the story of seder night. The contemporary English translation, prepared by David Olivestone, is brief, accessible and occasionally humorous. A repeating graphic in the far right column of each page helps orient the reader to where they are in the traditional order of the seder.
 
The Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel is a hardcover, large format book.
 
For those who want to personalize their seder even more, I recommend the softcover Hearing Your Own Voice:The Ayeka Haggadah which was written by Jewish educator Aryeh Ben David of Ayeka.

Ayeka, which was God’s call of “Where are you?” to Adam in the Garden of Eden, is a Jewish education and training organization, established in 2008, and focused on training rabbis, Jewish educators and individuals from every Jewish denomination to approach traditional Jewish wisdom from a deeper place.

Ayeka believes that, “The larger goal of learning Jewish wisdom is to affect and change us, to enable us to become better people, living in the image of God. To do this, we need opportunities to acquire Jewish knowledge in such a way that it not only enters our minds, but also reaches our hearts and everyday lives.”

Consistent with their mission, Hearing Your Own Voice:The Ayeka Haggadah aims to help the leader run a personal and meaningful seder, co-created by the participants themselves. Rather than bungee-jumping into the seder without any preparation, Hearing Your Own Voice:The Ayeka Haggadah encourages the leader and participants to set aside an hour of preparation time before the seder begins.

Preparation consists of responding to questions and activities that requre some thought. There are questions and activities for people of all ages, from kids (“If you could only send a ten-word text message about leaving Egypt, what would you say?”) to older adults (“What would you say was the greatest moment for the Jewish people in your lifetime?”).
 
There are also plenty of opportunities for all participants to reflect on their own life journeys and answer questions like, "What are three specific moments of your journey worth singing about?" or "Looking back, what was a bitter experience that ended up being important for your personal journey and growth?"
 
Given the deeply personal nature of some of these questions, participants in a seder led with Hearing Your Own Voice: The Ayeka Haggadah need to be prepared for that level of self-disclosure.
 
The Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel and Hearing Your Own Voice:The Ayeka Haggadah are available at Amazon.com and other online retailers. If you’re reading this while Passover is yet a few weeks away, you have plenty of time to order copies and prepare yourself for your most meaningful seder ever.
 
 
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