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A DIFFERENT NIGHT
       
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New Haggadah earmarked for families

by Rabbi Jack Riemer

BY NOW THERE are who-knows-how-many different editions of the Haggadah. It is probably the most published book in all of Jewish life. There are haggadot for vegetarians, for peaceniks, for secularists, for art lovers and for almost every other category that you can think of. So what do we need another one for?

That was my thought until I opened this one, and then I understood which niche this book is intended to fill. It is for those who may not know much, but who want to learn and who want to have a seder that is user-friendly and interactive and meaningful for both adults and children.

That is a pretty big segment of the market, and so this is a book that deserves to be considered for possible use for at least one, if not both, of the nights of the seder.

The people who put it together are not only good pedagogues, they are master designers. And so they have worked out a number of formats and prompters on each page that make it clear and easy to use.

For example, each section of the Haggadah is listed in faint blue on the right hand side of the page so that the user knows how much has been covered and the section that you are up to is listed in dark blue. For those who don't want to or are unable to stay up till midnight, there is a "bare bones seder" that consists of both text and ideas for discussion and projects for the kids and that can be completed in an hour.

There are thought questions, such as "Was it right for Abraham to break his father's idols?" and "Are we not all Jews by choice today?" that are bound to raise debate and discussion at the seder. And there are quotations from a whole range of people such as Frances Bacon, William Shakespeare and Winston Churchill as well as Maimonides and Rav and Chassidic masters. Shakespeare's thoughts about whether revenge is good or bad are a lovely sendoff to the discussion of why we spill ten drops of wine for the ten plagues.

     

My favorite parts are the cartoons. A teenager named Tanya Zion, who, I suspect, is the daughter of one of the editors, has some marvelous depictions of different parts of the seder, and there is artwork that has been culled from the creations of Marc Chagall, Jakob Steinhart, David Sharir, Shraga Weill, Ben Shahn and others.

The whole idea of the seder is that it should be an experiment in intergenerational communication. And so the editors do something very special with the section about the four children (or "the four sons," as they used to be called before our consciousness was raised by the feminists). They bring us about fifteen pages of different drawings of the four children, so that we can discuss together what constituted wiseness and what constituted badness, and what constituted simpleness and inability to ask in different periods of our people's history and in the imagination of different artists.

They show us one rendition from the Prague Haggadah of 1526 and, right next to it, one that comes from Budapest in 1924. They include Yariv Ben Aharon's warning about the pitfalls of labelling, and his suggestion that the four children are really four facets of each and every child. And they suggest that we might do some role playing or debate whether "the wicked child" may not be an unfair description.

They show us Don Isaac Abrabanel's opinion that "the wise child" may really be a smart ass, wise guy trying to show off his knowledge instead of the good guy that we have always thought him to be.

      Then comes an artistic rendition of the four children from a Haggadah done in Chicago in 1879 (that shows the wicked son smoking at the seder) and one done by Lola in 1920 (which surely gets the prize for the world's worst Haggadah art!) showing the wicked son as a prize fighter.

Tanya Zion chimes in with two marvelous pictures: one of the four versions of the ideal Jewish girl and one of the four children in contemporary Israel. Look at it just to see if you can figure out why the haredi child is the one who does not know how to ask. There are portraits of the four children by Arthur Szyk and David Moss, done in America, and by Zvi Livni and Shraga Weil, done in Israel. There is one, by Dick Codor, that uses the Marx brothers as models (Quick — do you remember which brother never spoke?) And there is a version, from Rony Oren's Animated Haggadah, in which the four children are made of clay.

I bet that you can't get through this section of the seder without a good many laughs and a lively interchange on what constitutes goodness or wisdom or rebelliousness or apathy in our age. But try to save some time for the rest of the Haggadah, for there are a lot of innovations and surprises all through this book.

By the way, one of its most helpful suggestions is to expand the meaning of the karpas that we eat at the beginning of the seder to include dipping and tasting various fresh vegetables and other appetizers so that "When do we eat already?" does not become the kvetch of the evening.

The seder is not supposed to be an endurance contest or a speed race or a rushed-through prelude to the meal. It is supposed to be a holy moment, when parents teach children who we are and what our story is and manufacture the memories that will nourish them for years to come.