These local families created their own Passover heirlooms.
The Haggadah, read at the Passover seder table to tell the story of the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery in Egypt, describes, in order, each symbolic food placed on a seder plate and when to participate in the rituals of the holiday. It also features traditional songs for everyone to sing.
Introduced as a marketing promotion in 1932, the English-Hebrew Maxwell House Passover Haggadah is still the best known and most popular Haggadah. The book is perfectly fine for many, but not for the people you’ll be meeting here. They make the Passover experience interesting and unique for themselves and their seder guests by adapting traditional Haggadot or compiling their own guides.
The eight-day Festival of Freedom starts at sundown on Wednesday, April 8.
Former Detroiter Talya Amira Woolf of Netanya, Israel, proudly possesses her family’s original Haggadah. Her late mother, Harriet Gaba Drissman, was an artist and teacher who took apart the Haggadah from Maxwell House to include drawings from her children and additional songs.
Drissman got her kids involved in the project. She designed the cover and reworked the entire Haggadah, instructing the kids on what to draw for each page, Woolf said.
Giving her children paper and pen, she “would have us work very carefully on it, sometimes with guiding lines to help,” Woolf said. “I was the best artist of the kids, so I was in charge of the cover, but she still gave direction as to what should go where. Originally, the cover only had four kids included. After my youngest brother was born in 1986, she had me add him.”
Woolf speculated that her mother “decided we needed a Haggadah of our own to make it more interesting and fun for the kids. Passover, in general, is tough, especially the seders, which last for hours. This helped keep us entertained.”
Members of a new, young shul in Kiryat HaSharon named Shevet Achim, the Woolfs plan to add their own children’s drawings to the Haggadah before scanning the book digitally and having copies officially bound.
Ronda Brodsky of West Bloomfield and her mother, Linda Brodsky, compiled their family Haggadah 20 years ago because they wanted something more modern.
The pair, members of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, updated the Haggadah they had been using to include more songs and prayers meaningful to the family.
“We looked through the Haggadahs we already had and took the best of the best,” Ronda Brodsky said. Twenty-five copies of the Haggadah with its cherry-colored covers are used at her mother’s home seder in West Bloomfield.
A Work in Progress
Menachem Roetter of Oak Park, a member of Beis Chabad of North Oak Park, created his first personalized Haggadah in 2017, updating it the following year. Roetter went from a black-and-white book with 60-plus pages to a color copy with more than 160 pages.
The websites Haggadot.com, a shared content platform for Passover material, and Chabad.org helped him come up with a “main Haggadah” in Hebrew and English with transliterations. Then he found layout ideas. Moving the project to the Microsoft Publisher software program made it easy to add material and pages.
A Haggadot collector, Roetter went through them all to pull out items he loved to put into one Haggadah.
He also wanted to include songs — “not just the traditional ones, but the fun school ones or parodies as well,” he said. “I also knew a few things that most Haggadot don’t include but should, like a pre-Pesach cleaning list, reminder to sell chametz (food with leavening), sefirat haOmer (counting the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot) for the second night and the Shema prayer, if you are still awake at dawn. My family actually is at times.”
Then, because he is a devoted uncle, he added pictures of his eight nieces and nephews, scanned from his 10 volumes of photobooks. He plans to add his own children one day.
“At this point [the Haggadah] is fully functional,” Roetter said, before admitting to adding more to this year’s edition. “After all, would it be so terrible if the Haggadah was 500 pages long? Not to me.”
Adding Meaning and a Modern Feel
After using the Maxwell House Haggadah growing up and then children’s Haggadot when she and her husband, Howard, had their two children, Gail (Nachman) Greenberg of Oak Park was interested in searching for something more meaningful.
Greenberg, a member and director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, found what she needed at Haggadot.com.
Greenberg likes that her Haggadah can be changed or updated each year online to reflect new thoughts. One-quarter of the Haggadah is her own creation, and the rest is sourced.
Instead of using a standard Haggadah like most Jewish families, Don Cohen of West Bloomfield (husband of JN Story Development Editor Keri Cohen) decided about 10 years ago to compile his own. He revises it yearly, picking the best parts of several interesting Haggadot, striving to be topical and including original or rewritten song parodies. It was important for Cohen, a member of Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield, to keep the traditional structure of a Haggadah and the Hebrew prayers as well.
“I want a modern feel and interpretation that covers the traditional bases,” Cohen said. He’s proud of his cover art: a reproduction of “The Family at the Seder” from the Haggadah by artist Arthur Szyk. “His work is magnificent,” he said.
For singing — a big part of the Seder — Cohen places a Bluetooth speaker in the middle of the table and plays music to keep people on track or a song for them to join in. The Haggadah songs always include “We’ve Got to Get Out of This Place” by Eric Burdon and The Animals, and “Mi Shebeirach” and “Miriam’s Song” by Debbie Friedman.
“At different points I distribute musical instruments for people to play,” Cohen said.
For more fun, he displays posters in the dining room, such as one for The Prince of Egypt, an animated film about Passover. Cohen once bought 20 copies of The Prince of Egypt Haggadah.
He and Keri welcomed their first grandchild in 2019. “We put Lily Grace in a basket and passed her around the table,” Cohen said. “That likely will happen this year, too.”