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Passover 2017: a personal Haggadah

Published in The Oklahoman, April 7, 2017

by Carla Hinton

Helene Harpman of Oklahoma City leads a Torah Study class about a new Passover Haggadah. [PHoto by Carla Hinton, The Oklahoman]
Helene Harpman of Oklahoma City leads a Torah Study class about a new Passover Haggadah. [PHoto by Carla Hinton, The Oklahoman]

With Passover soon approaching, a group of men and women from the Oklahoma City metro Jewish faith community recently gathered to explore a new Haggadah whose author has Oklahoma ties.

The Haggadah is a compilation of prayers, hymns and rabbinical literature that is read during the Passover Seder, a sacred meal held during the eight-day Jewish holiday of Passover. The holiday begins at sundown Monday and it commemorates the Israelites redemption from Egypt as chronicled in the Book of Exodus. 

Helene Harpman leads a regular Torah Study class at the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City and she wanted her group to read through a portion of the “The Ayeka Haggadah: Hearing Your Own Voice,” because of  uniqueness but also because it was written by Aryeh Ben David, who is married to the daughter of a member of the metro Jewish faith community, Shirley Shanker.

Harpman said Shanker’s daughter Sandra was one of her former students in her Sunday School class at Emanuel Temple.

Harpman said there are many Haggadahs so Jewish families, synagogues and temples often use one for a time and then move on to try another one as they gather for the Passover Seder.

She said her own delight in the Ayeka Haggadah was the way it encourages readers to examine how the themes of Passover relate to their own lives. Harpman said she also liked the fact that the Haggadah incorporated lots of fun and interesting ways to involve children and youths into the Seder.

“It makes it an inclusive Seder,” she said. “It’s the best guide I’ve ever seen for having a memorable Passover.”

Harpman and the Torah Study group talked about the questions found in the  Ayeka Haggadah and tried to anser some of them for themselves.

“What does leaving Egypt mean for me right now?” was one of the book’s queries.

Freedom, opportunity, fear, slavery were some of the group’s answers.

“What is my Promised Land?” was another question.

“For me, it’s enjoying good health,” Harpman told the group.

Another member of the group, retired Gen. Stanley Newman, had another thought.

“For me, I’ve already reached the Promised Land. It’s the United States of America,” he said.

The group had just a bit of fun with one question: “What part of the Exodus story do you love?”

Someone said the parting of the Red Sea, while someone else said they loved the part where Moses met God at the top of Mount Sinai.

And one woman made the group laugh when said the loved the part where the water of the Red Sea swallowed Yul Brynner, referring to the iconic movie “The Ten Commandments” which starred actors Charleston Heston as Moses and Brynner as Pharaoh.

On a more serious note, another woman said she loved it that someone had to step out into the waters of the Red Sea before God parted it for the Israelites.

“I liked that because God requires something of me,” she said.

Harpman agreed.

“Somebody has to take the first step,” she said.

Ellen Metz and her husband Allan were among the group that recently explored the new Haggadah with Harpman. Ellen Metz said she liked the new Passover Seder guide.

“I thought it was fabulous because I have five granddaughters between the ages of 7 and 14. I might buy enough for the whole group next year,” she said.

About the author of the Ayeka Haggadah

Aryeh Ben David was born in the United States and moved to Israel in 1978. He received rabbinical ordination from the Israeli Rabbinate. He was senior staff and director of spiritual education at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem from 1987 to 2003.

From 2003 to 2006 he served as the rabbinical educational consultant for Hillel International. He is the author of “The Godfile, 10 Approaches to Personalizing Prayer” and “Around the Shabbat Table: A Guide to Fulfilling and Meaningful Shabbat Table Conversations.”

In 2006, he founded Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education, a nonprofit which affirms that the goal of learning Jewish wisdom is to affect and evoke our better selves.