Monday, August 6, 2012

Next Year in Jerusalem

So why, exactly, did I read New American Haggadah?  Because Jonathan Safran Foer edited it.  That's why. 

A Haggadah is a book of readings for the Seder dinner during Passover.  As a Presbyterian, I first learned about a Haggadah when I read People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.  That book is about the very famous Sarajevo Haggadah, which has survived since around the year 1350.  There are many Haggadahs, and my assumption is that most Jewish families probably have one that they bring out year after year. 

At first I was put off by the size of JSF's Haggadah.  It is the same size as my daughter's hard cover middle school yearbook, to give you an idea.  That made it inconvenient for taking with me to read in spare moments.  But then it occurred to me that a Haggadah is really not meant for reading in random minutes, and that the size is probably very suitable for positioning on a Seder table.  Additionally, the art work on the pages is in watercolor, mostly in jewel tones.  After reading just the introduction, I learned that it is common for the pages of a Haggadah to become wine stained, which will blend in perfectly with the art.

New American Haggadah has commentary every few pages, with sections titled "Playground", "Library", "Nation" and "House of Study".  The Playground sections were the best, with wisdom aimed at children.  For instance, here the child is advised how to respond to the four kinds of parents at the Seder table, in parody of the four kinds of children referenced in the reading.  The Simple Parent will say "'. . . stop slouching at the table.' In answer to such statements, the Wise Child will roll his eyes in the direction of the ceiling and declare, 'Let my people go!'  The Parent Who Is Unable to Inquire has had too much wine and should be excused from the table."  The Playground also points out how Elijah has it much better than Santa, since Elijah is welcome to eat anywhere and Santa only gets cookies if he bribes children with presents.

As a new comer to the Haggadah, I learned a lot, though admittedly, I skimmed some of the readings.  The three things that I like about the Haggadah (not just this one, but the Haggadah as a whole) are:

1.  The whole point of the Haggadah is to help Jewish celebrants to remember.  As such, there are step by step instructions as to who should say what, and what should be consumed when.  No one is expected to remember on their own, and the directions are clear. 

2.  The Haggadah changes over time, and for the intended reader.  For example there's Haggadah for Jewish Buddhists, a feminist Haggadah, and an optional orange added to the Seder in recognition of marginalized members of the community.

3.  It is a do-it-yourself project.  The Open Source Haggadah is an online software framework that makes it easy for a person to make their own Haggadah.

So, should you rush out and get New American Haggadah?  If you are in the market for a Haggadah, absolutely!  However, if you, like me, are looking for something Jonathan Safran Foer-ish, you won't find it here. 

Next up:  Three Weeks in December by Audrey Schulman

Still Listening to:  Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

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