Title: The Jewish Journey Haggadah
Edited: Dr. Adena Berkowitz
Publisher: Gefen Publishing House
A few weeks ago, my dear friend Dr. Adena Berkowitz sent me her newly published book, The Jewish Journey Haggadah. The eye-catching cover proved to be a beautiful introduction to what awaited inside: a true “sefer” written with content I was so eagerly waiting for. This haggadah is more than just a haggadah; it is a substance-full and thoughtful manual to navigate Pesach with.
It opens with a color-coated instructional guideline that automatically instills an ease for the reader. Categories such as reflections, questions for discussions, kids corner and humor reflect an inclusiveness and educational approach to the observance of this important holiday. There is an easy to read translation, together with transliteration, which can help Seder guests with limited Judaic backgrounds to be able to comfortably participate. And the beautiful photos by Shira Hecht-Koller make the pages come alive.
The haggadah informed me of a beautiful custom based on the tradition of the 18th century chasidic master Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz: He would pass around Kos Eliyahu to all his guests and have them pour off a bit of their wine into Elijah’s cup. Berkowitz suggests we emulate this custom, as a reminder that in order to bring the geulah, the redemption, we all have to be spiritually engaged and do our hishtadlus.
Through wonderful commentary, we learn about the background to the four cups of wine, the Ma Nishtanah, the four sons. Naming of the ten different plagues opens up a discussion involving current day issues such as anti-Semitism, terrorism, poverty and prejudice. She teaches us a deeper view of charoset. More than just a resemblance of the mortar paste used to make bricks during our slavery in Egypt, she investigates further into the Talmud. In Pesachim 116a, Rabbi Elazar Ben Zadok says that charoset is a religious requirement. Rabbi Levi says that it’s in memory of the apple trees where the Jewish women gave birth to their children hidden from the Egyptians.
This haggadah continues with jewels of references to contemporary thought. You can read the prayer that was composed before Pesach 1944 by rabbis in Bergen-Belsen; due to the absence of matzah and the danger of death by starvation if people refrained from eating, they permitted eating chametz on Pesach and wrote a tefillah to be said before doing so. Read about Rabbi Menachem Kasher who suggested adding a fifth cup of wine in honor of the establishment of Israel, a modern day miracle.
There are also fun parody songs, as well as recipes from chef Amy Rosen, that are truly mouthwatering.
The Jewish Journey Haggadah is exactly what Dr. Adena Berkowitz is as a Jewish woman: Torah scholar, teacher, mother and wife. If you attend her Kol HaNeshamah programs or her Nosh and Drash classes, you are most certain of her vast and academic knowledge of Torah and beyond. Quite extraordinary for a woman. Her home is, was and will always be a beacon for family, friends, leaders and dignitaries. Regularly filled with food, frenzy, humor, adults, children and, of course, Hashem.
The Jewish Journey Haggadah is a perfect addition to your Seder and will keep you and your guests spiritually engaged. It’s available at your local Judaica store or order on Amazon.