Here are some of the best books for guiding your family’s seder this year.
There are what feels like zillions of quizzes online that can divine the supposed secrets of one’s personality. Which Harry Potter house are you? How about characters from an obscure movie from the ’80s? If you like the color orange, that means you are funny, smart, zany, neurotic (please circle one).
Here at the Jewish News, we honor our desire to get to know ourselves, however fast or long it takes. We also know that the Haggadah you choose for your Passover seder says a lot about you. So please enjoy this quick and easy guide for finding the right Haggadah for yourself, family and friends.
Nostalgic — Maxwell House Haggadah
The classic option has been in print since 1932, with an estimated 50 million copies in the world. Launched as a marketing promotion for the historic coffee company, by now it’s considered a cultural icon of Jewish-American life. It has been issued to U.S. military since the ’30s and used during underground seders in the Soviet Union, as well as by President Barack Obama during his White House seders from 2009-2016.
Its look and language have changed somewhat over time: The dull green cover switched to blue in the ’60s; and, since 2011, the book has offered gender-neutral language for its fans, including the Four Sons narrative described as “four different sorts of children.”
For lovers of classic (Jewish-)Americana.
Artsy — The New American Haggadah
This offbeat Haggadah, published in 2012, was translated by novelist Nathan Englander and edited by fellow writer Jonathan Safran Foer. Englander’s translation, like bolder translations of the Hebrew Bible along the lines of the famed Buber-Rosenzweig experiment, attempts to make the ancient text’s language new and strange — “Eloheinu,” for example, is translated as “God-of-Us.” There are also commentaries in the text by well-respected writers, novelists, journalists and professors.
The book’s design takes interesting risks — a timeline at the top, written by a historian, requires turning the book clockwise by 90 degrees; and the text itself, in Hebrew and English, runs in different directions, with the English printed vertically.
For the more adventurous seder plates.
Teenagers and Visual Learners — Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel
A Haggadah graphic novel might seem overly flippant — “thou shall not create graven images” — but this book comes with quite respectable and impressive credentials. Created and written by Jordan B. Gorfinkel, a former editor at DC Comics who managed the Batman franchise, it was published by Koren, the Israeli publisher of Jewish religious texts that has won multiple National Jewish Book Awards. The smart, vivid illustrations are by Erez Zadok, the author of the Israeli comics Tranquillo and Bundle of Joya, and the text is translated by David Olivestone, the editor and translator of the popular NCSY (National Conference for Synagogue Youth) Bencher.
The book contains Hebrew and English; depicts families from various racial and ethnic backgrounds; and is refreshingly brave about getting weird — it’s narrated by a family of human—like goats from “Had Gadya” and contains a full-page spread depicting the crossing of the Red Sea reflected like an iPhone FaceTime.
For lovers of Snapchat, TikTok and … the DIA.
Spiritually Progressive — The Velveteen Rabbi’s Passover Haggadah
This Haggadah was written and edited by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, who was named by the Forward in 2016 as one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis, and ordained by ALEPH, the major arm of the Jewish Renewal movement. Jewish Renewal is a trans-denominational movement, and welcomes Jews of any religious persuasion — from Orthodox to atheist.
Barenblat’s Haggadah takes that lead: It’s reverent toward tradition without being afraid to augment it with poetry, mindfulness and discussions about oppression. Velveteen Rabbi can be downloaded free at https://velveteenrabbi.com/2015/02/03/velveteen-rabbis-haggadah-for-pesach/.
For the devout, the feminists and/or the mystics.
Hip Children: The Kveller Haggadah: A Seder for Curious Kids (and Their Grownups)
This Haggadah, published by Kveller, a Jewish parenting site, was co-created by Elissa Straus, a regular contributor on parenthood for CNN, and Gabrielle Birkner, the co-author of Modern Loss and former managing editor of the JTA news service. There are also lovely illustrations by Hane Grace Yagel.
The book pulls off something rare: It makes the Passover story fun and interesting for children and adults, with compelling sections for all ages on topics like memory and stories, as well as an emphasis on the question raised by curious kids everywhere: “Why?” This is a smart and wonderful Haggadah that be downloaded free at kveller.com/haggadah.
For the young at heart.