The Falcon family celebrate their seder with the Maxwell House Haggadah.
The Falcon family celebrate their seder with the Maxwell House Haggadah. (Courtesy of the Falcon Family)

Teri Falcon of Oak Park treasures the 25 or so Maxwell House Haggadot she and her family consistently use.

If coffee is made from beans, and beans are prohibited during Passover, does that mean we would have to go uncaffinated during the week-long holiday?

In the 1920s, this was a serious question because some mistakenly thought coffee beans were legumes. They are not. Still, this created a problem for Maxwell House because Jewish customers weren’t buying coffee during Passover. 

To help sales, the company enlisted the help of Joseph Jacobs, an advertising executive known for marketing to the Jewish community. Jacobs consulted with a rabbi who certified the coffee kosher for Passover, thus launching Maxwell House into one of the longest and arguably one of the most effective direct marketing campaigns ever.  

At the time, ads in Jewish newspapers stated, “It is a mitzvah to tell you that this Passover you won’t have to turn down the pleasure of your favorite drink. For Maxwell House Coffee is kosher for Passover.”

Jacobs convinced the coffee maker to publish a branded Haggadah based on the initial success. First printed 90 years ago, the book became one of the most widely used Haggadot in America. There are more than 60 million copies in print, and a half-million more published each year. 

Teri Falcon of Oak Park treasures the 25 or so Maxwell House Haggadot she and her family consistently use. The booklets belonged to her grandparents. When they stopped hosting seders, she inherited them. Her grandparents have since passed away, but the Haggadot that probably came from what was once a Farmer Jack grocery store at 10 Mile and Coolidge will forever grace her Passover table. 

Some are missing pages; others are held together with duct tape. Familiarity with the text and fond memories evoked from reading the wine-stained pages are some of the reasons Falcon won’t give them up. When she was gifted a set of Haggadot not published by the coffee maker, set a set Haggadot not published by the coffee maker, she donated them.

Elie Rosenfeld, CEO of Joseph Jacobs Advertising, said comfort and nostalgia are a few reasons the Haggadot are still widely used. 

“It allows a family to do Passover in a way that they are comfortable. It doesn’t preach. It’s simplistic and lets the family make the seder their own. It doesn’t bring in anything extra. It just gives you the most basic aspects of what the seder needs to be. People have been using them for decades, so it connects them to their family. 

“The fact that it’s free at a supermarket — right there where you’re buying your brisket, your matzah and your wine — has helped keep up the tradition. If the ease in getting them wasn’t there, people might buy a box of matzah and invite some friends and family over, but they may not have the actual text. So, (for example) they may not know when to drink the four cups of wine.”

The accessibility of the coffee maker’s Haggadah led it to become the official Haggadah of the Margolis family. Paul Margolis, a Chicago native and Bloomfield Hills resident, said that when his dad was in the military, the Haggadah was easily accessible. Plus, reading from the same book year after year led to some fun family traditions. 

“It’s bound to happen, somebody is going to do something funny, or there’s something that gets said that makes everybody laugh, and then it becomes something you remember going forward,” Margolis said. 

One of their traditions is a game they call “pick the viz.” Based loosely on predictions made by a Chicago sports broadcaster, they guess which family member will get one of the two paragraphs with the abbreviation “viz.” (meaning “namely”) in it as they go around the table reading passages from the Haggadah.  

“If you read that section, there was this big cheer at the table because you got the ‘viz.’ paragraph,” he said about the word, which is used right before talking about the four sons (updated to children in the 2011 edition) and listing the 10 plagues. 

A 2019 limited edition of the Maxwell House Haggadah with a shout-out to the Amazon Prime TV show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
A 2019 limited edition of the Maxwell House Haggadah with a shout-out to the Amazon Prime TV show, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Nathan Vicar | Detroit Jewish News

Although his wife, Caroline, remembers using a variety of Haggadot, the couple is partial to the Maxwell House version. 

Natalie Finerty of West Bloomfield also grew up reading from the Maxwell House Haggadah. It wasn’t until she had kids that she learned there were alternatives and swapped out the ubiquitous Haggadah for a more kid-friendly one.

Still, she has fond memories of reading from the pages of the Maxwell House Haggadah and could always tell which pages were skipped versus the ones they read, based on whether the pages were crisp and clean or worn and stained.  

“We definitely skipped a lot,” she said.  

With six editions printed, not everyone seated at Finerty’s Seder table had the same version. Often, it became a case of frantic page-flipping to find the text that matched what was being read out loud, she recalled. 

The most recent overhaul occurred with the 2011 edition. Updates included separating the Hebrew and English on opposite pages and revising some images and English translations. Outdated words like “thee” and “thou” were dropped. 

According to Rosenfeld, consumers frequently contact the New Jersey-based advertising agency to ask for previous editions of the Haggadah to replace damaged books from their collection. 

They don’t have previous editions. But they do have copies of the 2011 version that can be shipped to those who can’t get them at the local grocery store. 

The books are still free but cost $3 each for shipping. Grocery stores in Metro Detroit do not appear to have copies with this year’s Passover food selection.  

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