When I was a kid growing up, our Passover seder was led by my grandfather, who used the Maxwell House haggadah and zoomed through the Aramaic so we could get to the eating as quickly as possible. It was still a great time for kids because we enjoyed playing with our cousins, getting to stay up late, hunting for the Afikomen, and eating lots of good food.
Ever since I started conducting my own seders, my focus has always been on trying to fulfill the mitzvah to make the seder come alive — we are supposed to tell the story so vividly, and have such an animated discussion, that it feels as if we, today, are leaving Egypt. We're supposed to do more than tell the story, we are supposed to re-experience it.
But how do we do that when we tell the same story every year? How do we keep it fresh?
There are many answers, and many things you can do, depending on the age of the participants at your seder and the level of Jewish knowledge they possess. Serious philosophical discussion, props for plagues and skits can all have a place.
One of the things I find most helpful in my personal preparations for Pesach is studying different haggadot. So I have a large collection — from the very basic, like the Maxwell House haggadah of my grandparents, to the chasidic, such as the Breslov Haggadah, the Chasidic Haggadah, the Carlebach Haggadah and "At Our Rebbe's Seder Table," a haggadah with Lubavitch commentary. I have ones with commentary from rabbis of long ago, like "The Commentators Pesach Seder Haggadah" and the haggadah of the Ben Ish Chai (chief rabbi of Baghdad in the mid-19th century, and I have ones that are very contemporary, like Elie Wiesel's, "A Different Night – The Family Participation Haggada" from the Hartman Institute, and the Valley Beth Shalom Haggadah, which may be the first modern haggadah available for free, online, with license to print as many copies as you need for your seder. I even have some unusual haggadot, such as "The Prisoner's Haggadah," written by Jewish inmates of the California State Penitentiary system (with the help of a rabbi who served as chaplain).
So when I heard the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem was coming out with a new haggadah, I have to admit that at first I wasn't so excited. What's one more haggadah to the thousands that are out there?
That is until I saw it. It is a truly fascinating piece of work (authored by two rabbis I have had the pleasure of studying with, David Golinkin and Joshua Kulp). It includes beautiful illustrations and a fascinating commentary, especially on the sources of some of the mysterious rituals associated with the seder — like the Sefardi custom to hold the seder plate over the head of participants.
It is pretty rare that the publication of a new book merits an article in the newspaper — and with as many haggadot as are published, the publication of a new haggadah in particular is not generally newsworthy. Yet YNET ran an article about it, which you can read here.
The Schechter Haggadah is available on Amazon. Here in Jerusalem at least it is also widely available in bookstores. Highly recommended.