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Beyond The Maxwell House Haggadah

Published in Jewish Values Online by Rivkah Lambert Adler
Posted on March 28, 2019
I didn’t grow up in a religiously observant home. As a result, I don’t have too many Passover memories from childhood. My strongest memory is of my mother telling me that if I wanted to eat bread during Passover, I had to go outside.

There is a single family photograph, taken in my grandparents’ narrow Bronx kitchen, of a Passover seder. My father, who passed away almost a quarter century ago, is holding a Maxwell House Haggadah and there is my grandmother’s famous gefilte fish, along with red, red horseradish, on the table. I am seven years old.

Taking a picture at a Passover seder would never happen in my Orthodox home today, but I’m grateful for that photo because it’s one of the few I have that show us as a Jewish family. As I got older, my parents and extended family dropped more and more religious observances so that, by the time I was in high school, we were all but indistinguishable from our non-Jewish neighbors and friends.
In my mid-20s, when I became more interested in the religion into which I had been born but not educated, I attended a few traditional Passover sedarim with other families. I learned a lot from those experiences, including the rather annoying addictive tune for Dayeinu. I recall being shocked to discover that there was yet more of the seder after the meal.

At those early sedarim, everyone used the same haggadah. I remember with delight getting six copies of the Maxwell House Haggadah at a local grocery store in the weeks leading up to the first seder I ever conducted. I still knew tragically little about Passover, but I remember that I made and served a potato kugel in a round tin. To me, at the time, that was the height of Jewish holiday cuisine.

Today, I live in Israel, where we do only one seder a year. Every one of our guests, including those not so familiar with the seder, uses a different haggadah, and each one has different commentary. In this way, the seder table becomes participatory, and everyone can contribute something no one else has in their book.

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