My Family’s Homemade Haggadah

Seder PlateLike all Jewish holidays in my family, Passover with my family is an entirely interfaith affair. There are Catholic adults and kids, Jewish adults and kids, Christian adults and kids and one 92-year-old Russian Orthodox (Christian) grandma.

But the emphasis is on the kids: Between my brothers and me, we have 10 children. My brothers’ are Catholic and Christian and mine are Jewish, and so, it’s important to me that the Passover seder is interesting and fun and meaningful for them.

For as long as I can remember, our family has used the Maxwell House Hagaddah. The old one…from 1932…which I love and have fond memories of. But I wanted something different, something more accessible for the under-18 crowd and for a group that is mostly not Jewish.

I never thought about creating my own until my friend and colleague, IFF COO Heather Martin, told me about the one she created for her family, and shared it with me. I was hooked. I wanted our own personalized haggadah with silly Passover songs sung to the tune of “My Favorite Things” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame!” You see, while this may not constitute a very traditional haggadah, what’s important to me is creating a seder in which family members who are not Jewish feel comfortable and connected, and in which all of the kids participate and enjoy.

And so, using Haggadot.com and JewishBoston.com and some of Heather’s haggadah as a jumping-off point, we made our own. We cut and pasted and pulled bits and pieces from different sites, including a quiz for the older kids at the end.

It was a big hit—the seder was fun and silly (vital for the under 7 crowd) and accessible and interesting (important for everyone else). Most importantly, it was relevant to our family—it made sense for the people sitting around the table, who mostly weren’t Jewish but were there to celebrate Passover in a way that was meaningful. We left a lot out in order to create an abridged version that worked for my family, and I made sure to include the pieces that were most important for me to share the meaning of the holiday. Yours might look completely different, but you’re welcome to use this as a starting off point, or even to bring into your seder if you wish.

Here it is—take a look. Like it? Hate it? I’d love to hear what you think.

A New Passover Haggadah from Edgar M. Bronfman

Edgar M. Bronfman’s no stranger to intermarriage. The publicity in the lead up to his 2008 book, Hope, Not Fear: A Path To Jewish Renaissance, was full of great quotes:

“Now we have a choice. We can double the amount of Jews that there are, or we can irritate everybody who’s intermarried and lose them all.”

“[T]he rabbi who refuses to marry couples [where only one partner is Jewish] is turning people off.”

“My answer to ‘who is a Jew’ is ‘anybody who wants to be.'”

Actually, I’m having a hard time not just quoting this whole, short article, so just read it now. I’ll wait here.

In his above-mentioned book (read an excerpt here), Bronfman wrote that among Jews and the Jewish community, the

task of building a significant Jewish future requires a newly hopeful attitude. Fear of assimilation and intermarriage should not replace fear of anti-Semitism…. We must open ourselves up to new ideas and new faces and be welcoming to all who choose to participate. Openness may not be the easiest way, but it is our only way.

Excerpt from The Bronfman Haggadah

And speaking of enjoyment — there is nothing more enjoyable than a good story. With that in mind, we move to the Maggid section of our ceremony — a Hebrew word meaning "to tell."

Keeping with the themes of openness, new ideas, and inclusion, Bronfman has written a new Passover Haggadah, the book used as a guide for the ritual dinner, the seder.

His own family seders are large and celebratory affairs and include intermarried family members and friends old and new who are welcomed to enjoy the annual feast together.

Well-chosen readings from luminaries, including abolitionist Frederick Douglass and poet Marge Piercy, highlight the story of slavery and freedom. Bronfman’s creative and interactive approach is a story for all ages, in which readers assume a character in the Exodus journey.

It also diverts from the traditional Haggadah in a way that is extremely welcoming to interfaith families. “I decided to open the door to Elijah at the beginning of the meal instead of at the end. I always found it slightly odd that Elijah was invited to the table after the meal. My wife, Jan, and I both believe it is before this joyous feast begins that we ought to invite the stranger into our homes,” he writes in the Haggadah.

In Bronfman’s view, Elijah represents a redeemed world — a world free of racism, slavery, cruelty, poverty and greed. Elijah also represents the hungry stranger. This gesture reminds us to open the doors of our hearts to those in need during this holiday season and the rest of the year.

Inviting and inclusive, and with illustrations by Bronfman’s wife, Jan Aronson, it looks like a nice new alternative for families who want to share the storytelling and keep the seder to English.

What do you think? Is this a Haggadah your family will try out this Passover?


Trailer for The Bronfman Haggadah.