Book Reviews of A Passover Companion: Wonders and Miracles, illustrated with art spanning three thousand years, by Eric A. Kimmel (Scholastic Press; 2004); ISBN 0-439-07175-5; $18.95 and Make Your Own Passover Seder: A New Approach to Creating a Personal Family Celebration by Rabbi Alan Kay and Jo Kay (Jossey-Bass; 2004); ISBN 0-7878-6766-1; $19.95
Imagine a gloriously illustrated addition for your Passover table--or it could serve as your first introduction to Passover--that includes stories, songs, poems, prayers and simple, easy-to-follow explanations. As a collector of materials for our family seder (ceremonial meal), I am always skeptical of claims that I must own yet another book. But nothing in our family collection rivals Eric Kimmel's effort--a beautiful hardcover book that is certain to become a family favorite. It's easy to imagine sharing this book at the table, passing it around from person to person to read aloud. The quality and color of the reproductions of ancient matzoh covers, illuminated manuscripts and early 20th century hagaddahs will fascinate your family and enhance their Passover experience.
Kimmel guides readers through the traditional fourteen parts of the seder, using both explanations and illustrations to make the seder easy to follow. He obviously understands that his audience ranges from those quite familiar with the holiday to those who may be experiencing it for the first time. There's something special in this book for everyone, whether it's learning that each hagaddah is a reflection of its own time (for example, pre-World War II hagaddahs portrayed the son who cannot ask the question as a worker trying to choose the right path) or learning a simple rhyme to remember the order of the service. The rhyme, by the way, is simple enough for a child to follow, yet, as Kimmel explains, if a family follows the steps of the poem, "their seder would surely be complete."
A Passover Companion is a resource well suited to both interfaith families interested in observing Passover and its traditions and actively practicing families seeking another resource for their holiday service. In keeping with the theme of "order," the layout of A Passover Companion is logical and easy to use, and there is an attractive gold ribbon embedded in the book for keeping one's place that brings to mind a prayer book. A Passover Companion contains a well-organized index that makes it easy to find specific topics of interest.
Interfaith families will also find Make Your Own Passover Seder a valuable and helpful addition to their home libraries. A simple hardcover book written in straightforward, accessible language, it is a soup-to-nuts guide explicitly designed for interfaith families, Jews-by-choice, adoptive families, gays and lesbians and others who may be on the periphery of Jewish life. The tone and organization make it easy to follow and the Glossary and Resources will answer many questions families may have been hesitant to ask.
This useful resource is organized to enable families to decide for themselves how they choose to celebrate Passover, even to the choice of appropriate hagaddah. If your family is like mine, you haven't questioned whether the familiar hagaddah is really best suited for your family. With Make Your Own Passover Seder you can select a hagaddah that reflects your family's values and beliefs, such as a hagaddah that offers "meaningful options . . . with its focus on liberation, ecology and peace between and among the peoples of the world."
Both of these books, although very different, will enhance your family's enjoyment of the Passover holiday and contribute to your understanding of the diverse ways in which Passover may be celebrated.