The Lessons of the Not So Marvelous Haggadah

The story of Pesach teaches us about love, deception, faith, hope and freedom. And so it was with our Seder experience this year.

Every year, several weeks before Pesach, I begin my search for a Haggadah and timely readings that will connect with everyone around our Seder table as we retell the story of Our People’s journey from slavery to freedom.

This year, as I pondered which Haggadah to use for our tribe – predominantly college students and young adults – I awoke one morning to find what appeared to be a marvelous opportunity to engage the millennials who would be seated around our Seder table.  Maxwell House Coffee announced the release of a “new limited edition” of its 1958 Haggadah based on the hugely popular television series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  The promotion offered one “limited edition” of Midge’s Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Haggadah with each purchase of select Maxwell House Coffee products.  For those who don’t know, Maxwell House began publishing a Haggadah in 1923 as a way to promote its kosher for Passover coffee and claims it is the most widely used Haggadah in the world.

As a child, I recalled using the Maxwell House Haggadah at the Seder table of my ancestors (grandparents).  Unable to pass up a marvelous opportunity to blend history with pop culture, I placed an order for 25 Maxwell House Coffee products and 25 Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Haggadot.  A week later, 25 boxes arrived filled with coffee and Haggadot.  The excitement came to a crescendo as I opened the boxes and examined their contents.

I was immediately called upon to answer the first question: what to do with several hundred dollars of Maxwell House Coffee certified kosher for Passover?  I thought for a moment and came up with a wise answer; donate it to the local kosher food bank, which provides hundreds of needy Jewish families with their weekly groceries.  I packed the car and delivered the coffee to the food bank.  Mitzvah accomplished!

I was then called upon to answer the second question: to whom should I assign various roles at our Seder based on Midge’s Haggadah?  I sat down to read the new “limited edition” Haggadah and make reading assignments for our guests.  But the wicked answer quickly became apparent; Midge’s Haggadah wasn’t new at all, except for a cute pink cover, “Midge’s” brisket recipe, a few illustrations from the show and faux wine stains sprinkled throughout its pages.  The “limited edition” was anything but marvelous.  Maxwell House had trumpeted the so-called new “limited edition” in an effort to boost sales of its coffee products.

My predicament required that I answer the third question: with just a week left before Pesach, how would I get 25 contemporary Haggadot to engage our millennial Seder guests?  The answer appeared like a burning bush.  After reading a number of Haggadot online, a Facebook post alerted me to a newly-published Haggadah by Team JewBelong.  Unlike Maxwell House – which tied receipt of Midge’s Haggadah to the purchase of its products – Team JewBelong encouraged everyone to download their Haggadah for free.  I quickly read the Team JewBelong Haggadah from cover to cover and concluded it was truly marvelous – it cleverly blended the traditional Pesach story with updated skits and supplemental readings that address issues and questions confronting the millennial generation.  It also included a number of Passover-themed lyrics, which its creators ordained be sung to well-known melodies (we downloaded the melodies so they could be played at Seder).  We were set!

As Passover approached, I didn’t know how to ask the fourth question: should I share with our guests the somewhat embarrassing story of my purchase of hundreds of dollars of Maxwell House coffee in a well-intentioned effort to find a marvelous Haggadah?  After pondering the question, the answer became clear – sharing my search for the ultimate Haggadah would become part of our Seder experience.  Everyone got a good laugh as I retold the story of my purchase of the Maxwell House coffee and the not so marvelous Mrs. Maisel Haggadot, followed by the online revelation of the Team JewBelong Haggadah.

And so it was that, on this night, we retold the story of Our People’s journey from slavery to freedom using a truly marvelous new contemporary Haggadah, thanks to Team JewBelong.  All our guests were fully engaged as we read, laughed and sang together.  Two hours later – with full stomachs and uplifted hearts – everyone agreed it had been among the most marvelous Seders they ever experienced.

This year’s Seder experience reminds me of some timeless lessons:

  • Don’t be fooled by false idols;
  • Be open to trying new sources;
  • Never lose faith in Our People and Our Story; and
  • The love and spirit around the Seder table are as important as retelling the story.
About the Author
Bobby Gilbert is passionate about Jewish life and Israel. An attorney in Miami, Florida, Bobby has devoted much of his life to enriching Jewish life in the Diaspora, advancing the U.S-Israel relationship, and turning friends and colleagues on to the wonders of Israel.
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