Pastoral education
Bedikat chametz

Passover is coming!

Passover has always been my favorite holiday.

When I was a kid, Passover meant two nights of seder with my extended paternal family. There are fifteen cousins in my generation on my dad's side, so seder was a great big family reunion, complete with food and drink and gossip and teasing -- plus hours of praying, storytelling, singing and schmoozing. I didn't learn to read Hebrew until I was eight, but when I was three my mother started paper-clipping a transliteration of the Four Questions to my haggadah. As I grew older I took pride in participating; I sang lustily and banged the table with my brothers and cousins when we got to the birkat ha-mazon (grace after meals) and the Hallel (songs and psalms of praise)...

The Passover haggadah was the first liturgy I fell in love with. I loved the familiar questions and answers, the stories, the songs, the turns of phrase. I still have a soft spot for the Silverman haggadah (which some branches of my family still use), though I find some of its choices and assumptions a little frustrating now. In college my liturgical pendulum swung in the other direction: I joined the feminist seder committee and worked to put together an alternative haggadah that highlighted the stories of the women in the Pesach narrative while honoring feminine and gender-neutral language for God. These days my ideal is somewhere between the traditional haggadah I grew up with and the mimeographed homegrown one I helped to write in college. But more importantly, I like the themes and ideas at the holiday's heart, regardless of where on the liturgical spectrum any particular haggadah falls.

I love the fact that our central narrative is a story about moving from slavery to freedom, from Mitzrayim (Egypt, though the word literally means "the narrow place") to self-determination and expansiveness. The ritual is full of possibilities, and provides excellent opportunities for identifying both our own constrictions and our obligation to bring liberation to all those who are not yet free. Passover teaches me that the stories we tell about ourselves matter, and that in every generation we must re-embody liberation as though we ourselves went forth from Egypt. Plus, there's singing, and matzah ball soup. What's not to like?

For the last several years I've had a practice of revising my own haggadah each winter, and using it in the spring. This year I am spending Pesach at Elat Chayyim, participating in the Passover Retreat led by Rabbis Arthur Waskow, Phyllis Berman, Marcia Prager, and cantor Jack Kessler. (If any of you will be there, let me know!) In part because I won't be leading a seder of my own this year,  I haven't revised last year's haggadah significantly enough to release a new version. Still, if you're looking for a haggadah which blends traditional and nontraditional, old (familiar prayers and songs in Hebrew and Aramaic) and new (poems by Marge Piercy, Martin Espada, and W.S. Merwin, along with some passages from the excellent Women's Seder Sourcebook), please feel free to use my haggadah, either for your own seder or as a jumping-off-point for the creation of your own liturgy.

Here it is in .pdf format:

The Velveteen Rabbi's Haggadah for Passover

Edited in 2009 to add: I've revised the above link so that it points to the latest version of the haggadah; this post was originally written about an older version of the text. Here's a post about the latest version. The latest version of the haggadah is available at velveteenrabbi.com/VRHaggadah.pdf [pdf]; in future years, new versions will have the same filename and will be located at the same URL.

Many people said kind things about it last year: Rick Richman wrote, "it is a beautiful haggadah. Worth reading and studying and using." Lorelei Feldman reported that "a friend hated breaking from the reading in order to eat!" Sandy Ryan said, "incredibly well-honed and interesting and real." I hope it enriches your Passover, and that you have as much fun with my favorite holiday this year as I know I will!


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