Happy Pesach!

On the evening of Friday, March 30th, 2018 Jews of all ages, shapes, sizes, and denominations will gather together to celebrate the first night of the holiday of Pesach (Passover).

Sebastiaen Vrancx - Crossing of the Red Sea
Sebastiaen Vrancx – Crossing the Red Sea, from Wikimedia Commons

This is the holiday that celebrates the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, where they were freed from slavery after what was supposed to be 400 years, but turned out to be 210 or 215 (there are varying opinions as to the timeline!) We hold a seder,” (which means “order” in Hebrew) that commemorates this miraculous event, the bedrock of many laws and customs of Judaism. The seder is an essential part of growing up Jewish, whether you are Orthodox, traditional, or non-denominational. The point of the seder is more than it seems. While we commemorate the miracle of the exodus, we also commemorate the Korban Pesach, or Passover offering, that was done for the first time in Egypt on the night Jewish houses were literally “passed over” by the Angel of Death on his way to kill all the firstborn children of Egypt as the final of the Ten Plagues (read all about the story of Exodus here in Encyclopedia Judaica!) .


Seder plate
Seder plate by Nikola Herweg on Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

A special plate called the Ke’arah is prepared at the beginning of the seder and has a piece of roasted meat on it (among other things) to directly commemorate the Pesach offering.  But wait, we’re not done yet. Sedarim last a very long time, and most of that is due to the recitation of the HaggadahAccording to Encyclopedia Judaica, the Haggadah is “a set form of benedictions, prayers, midrashic comments and psalms recited at the seder ritual on the eve of Passover.” It includes long passages of the Book of Exodus directly relating the story of Pesach as it is written in the Torah and recited as part of the seder.


Ahawah Children's Home, Berlin; Passover Seder Table
Ahawah Children’s Home, Berlin; Passover Seder Table from the Center for Jewish History Flickr Page

Among all these points to the seder there is one that is the most important, the one upon which the entire ritual and reason for the seder is built on: teach the children, as it says in Shemot (Exodus) 13:8 vehegadeta lebincha (translated from Hebrew, “tell your children”). The reason behind many of the unusual things that are done as part of the Pesach seder is to make the children ask questions about it. A popular one is “Why are we doing this differently on this night?” as per the Mah Nishtanah or Four Questions, traditionally asked by the youngest child at the seder. The grown-ups can then answer “We are doing this because we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and G-d took us out.”

Other activities, such as stealing the afikoman, are done to directly involve the children in the seder and keep them occupied and awake to hear the story of Passover recounted in the Haggadah. Remember, the whole process begins late after sundown, long after children would normally go to bed, and takes time. It is important to keep the children involved and occupied during the seder so the whole process can go as smoothly as possible.

To that end, I found something on the Internet as I was perusing my Pesach information and wondering what I could possibly add to the many wonderful blogs about Pesach that were written in previous years. I found this: https://www.haggadot.com/

This year, you can keep yourself, your children, and your guests occupied with their very own custom-made Haggadah! Choose from a template and insert clip art, pictures, and individualized text (you can include your favorite divre torah!). Invite family members to participate! Take a look at any of the featured Haggadot on the page https://www.haggadot.com/ for inspiration, and check out the tutorial on YouTube to see how it all works. There are many, many, many different versions of Haggadot out there (don’t believe me? Here’s a list of 203 from the Judaica Place, a popular Judaica store in Brooklyn) but this year I think I will try making one all my own. Happy Pesach!

The first nights of Pesach begin Friday, March 30th, 2018 at sundown and end Sunday, April 1st at sundown. The second days of Pesach begin Thursday, April 5th at sundown and end Friday, April 6th at sundown.

I used many online resources to create this blog. Among them were the online version of Encyclopedia Judaica, http://www.chabad.org, http://www.thetorah.com, rabbisacks.org, www.haggadot.com, and www.judaicaplace.com.

The Touro Library system has many resources on the holiday of Pesach, including Haggadotavailable at many Touro locations.

Among them are:

The basic Haggadah

The Chassidic Haggadah: an anthology of commentary and stories for the Seder

The Eybeshitz Haggadah: experiencing redemption

The Guidelines Pesach Haggadah = [Hagadah shel Pesaḥ]: a complete step-by-step guide to the laws of the Seder with a new lucid translation of the Haggadah

Haggadah for Passover with commentary: based on the shiurim of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

Contributed by Toby Krausz, Judaica Librarian, Midtown Library

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