Making Sense of the Holiday Season's Onslaught of New Haggadahs

A Roundup of This Year's Passover Literature

A Passover Offering: The Bronfman Haggadah is the brainchild of prominent philanthropist Edgar Bronfman and his wife, artist Jan Aronson.
Courtesy of Bronfman Associates
A Passover Offering: The Bronfman Haggadah is the brainchild of prominent philanthropist Edgar Bronfman and his wife, artist Jan Aronson.

By Jay Michaelson

Published March 14, 2013, issue of March 22, 2013.
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● The Bronfman Haggadah
By Edgar Bronfman
Illustrated by Jan Aronson
Rizzoli, 128 pages, $29.95

● The Artist’s Haggadah
By Jane Kessler Petitjean
Self-published, 48 pages, $20

● The Haggadah App
David Kraemer, et al
Melcher Media, $4.99 on iTunes

● Hakol Baseder
By Mitch Heifetz and Michael Toben
Gefen Books, 110 pages, $7.95 (Haggadah), $39.95 (booklet, CD, and interactive packet)

● More Than Four Questions
By Sharon Marson,
Ben Yehuda Press, 140 pages, $12.95

● Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family
By Alan Yoffie
Illustrated by Mark Podwal
CCAR, 120 pages, $18

America is changing, as the last election made quite clear. We are more diverse, more wired and more demanding of interactive experiences, whether it’s Tweeting back to Nicki Minaj or talking back to the president on Facebook. And indeed, this year’s crop of Haggadot (including a couple that came out too late for last year’s review) reflects those changes in the prism of Jewish experience.

The most traditional of this year’s new entries would at first seem to be The Bronfman Haggadah, written by Edgar Bronfman and illustrated by his wife, Jan Aronson. At first glance, it’s old school: a big, handsome volume, with prescriptive, celebrant/unison/leader instructions.

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And yet, under the hood, so to speak, The Bronfman Haggadah is a sign of the times. Its text is wildly idiosyncratic, completely in English and out of the traditional order (which is what the word “seder” means). Its theology is daring, and, may I say, nondual: It refers to God as an “energy” that animates all life. As the unique product of the two creators’ imaginations, it is the ultimate in DIY Judaism, if Y happens to be a billionaire who can have books published by Rizzoli.

Really, if you take away the high production values, The Bronfman Haggadah is not dissimilar to The Todd Haggadah, The David Haggadah and the various quirky, self-executed projects my friends have made for years. I’m not sure that it is useful for ordinary family Seders, given its many quirks, but then again, neither are most DIY projects; they’re meant to be personal, customized, engaged. They’re My Haggadah, not Ours.

Indeed, among the other Haggadot this year, its closest relative is not a big-ticket entry but rather Jane Kessler Petitjean’s The Artist’s Haggadah, which is, like Bronfman’s, a nontraditional, personal and lavishly illustrated volume that reflects one person’s vision. As such, The Bronfman Haggadah is new-school iSpirituality in old-school clothing — in this case, a bespoke suit. It’s of a piece with Bronfman’s and his fellow mega-donors’ brand of donor-driven philanthropy; this Haggadah is not a federation or community project, but the personal vision of someone with the means to execute it. Like Petitjean’s, it’s worth a look for its own sake, but even more for inspiration on how you, too, can create your own Seder ritual — though perhaps printed out from haggadot.com rather than by an art press.

The generation of iSpirituality is also wired — and plugged into an interactive Web 2.0 universe in which “Choose Your Own Adventure” is the norm. Enter The Haggadah App, released last year (but, perhaps like the Exodus itself, a little late) by Melcher Media, with contributions by David Kraemer, Irwin Kula, Amichai Lau-Lavie and others. The Haggadah App is exactly what you’d expect it to be — except better. It contains the traditional Haggadah, plenty of how-to’s, an alternative “Sayder” by Lau-Lavie, kids’ games (my first experience coloring on an iPad) and more.


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