Categories
Passover Pesach

Discussion Starters from the Seder Plate

Just in case Miriam hasn’t stopped by to replenish your well lately.

The Two Cooked Dishes

Starter

Pesach 114b of the Babylonian Talmud mandates “two cooked dishes” (in addition to charoset and chazeret) be present on the seder plate. While Rav Huna advocated for the vegan options of cooked beets and rice, Rav Yosef insisted that each should be meat, one as a remembrance of the obligatory paschal sacrifice (usually interpreted as the shankbone) and the other, a voluntary commemoration our festive celebration (usually understood as the egg).[1]

Potential Discussion Directions

  • Out of the sacrifices on your proverbial plate, what is done out of obligation (the shank bone) and what is done out of voluntary joy (the egg)? How do we choose to spend our time and resources? Where is the balance between the two? Where is the integration between obligation and joy?
  • (Using two brave volunteers, or in teams) Debate Rav Huna’s position for a vegan seder plate versus Rav Yosef’s position for a sacrificial seder plate. What are the benefits to each? Why would so much of tradition weigh on the side of the sacrificial seder plate? How does what we know about modern agricultural sustainability inform this debate?
    • Potential supporting text for Rav Huna’s “side”: “For as soon as man ceases to look upon himself as the empowered guardian and administrator of the earth… For him the sun does not shine, nor the thunder roll, the lightning flash, or the earth deck itself in green…” Rabbi Samuel Raphael Hirsch, Nineteen Letters
  • Sherira Gaon (986-1006 CE) recorded that many added a third cooked dish to this list, in memory of Miriam (in reference to Micah 6:4, “I brought you from the Land of Egypt… I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam”) How are we working to include women’s voices today? In our religious practice? In our organizations?
  • It takes energy to cook a dish. As Passover marks the start of spring, let’s take a moment to reflect: where are you directing your energy? Is that direction aligned with your driving values? How is the holiday of Passover meant to help us realign how we spend our energy with our values? 

Matzah

Starter

“This is as the bread of affliction, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt; let all those who are hungry, come and eat; and all who are in need, come and celebrate.” (Ha Lachmanya, Passover Haggadah)

Potential Discussion Directions

  • Many cultures – including our own Western one, especially when you look on social media – often hides any kind of affliction, as a source of shame or embarrassment. Yet here we are, holding it up and naming it honestly, as one of the centerpieces of tonight’s celebration. How can we work to highlight, rather than hide, today’s afflictions? What affliction do you wish was spoken about openly and honestly?
  • What can we do to mitigate affliction?
  • Some require that three matzot be on the table, in order to represent three different parts of ancient Israelite society, the Kohen, the Levi, and Israel. What different kinds of class systems exist in our society today? What can we do to ensure that all of us are able to experience not just sustenance but also celebration?
  • In Mishnah Pesachim 10:5, Rabban Gamliel states that matzah is also a symbol of redemption. When have you seen a failure or affliction be eventually turned into a learning experience and, if especially lucky, redemption?
  • Why do we say the blessing for matzah over the broken piece? Where can we find the holiness in the brokenness?

Maror

Starter

Midrash HaGadol on Exodus 1:14 reads “In four things there is said to be bitterness. The inability to conceive children… bereavement over children… a broken heart… and terrible illness. When the Egyptians enslaved Israel, they caused all of these.”[2]

Potential Discussion Directions

  • Depending on what is happening in your community and the context of your seder, you might want to discuss some deeply personal issues. There are organizations that can help you frame some of these discussions around infertility, child loss, the importance of therapy and other healing practices, and health issues.

D’var Acher: A different Starter

We eat maror, or bitter herbs, while reclining ceremoniously.

Potential Discussion Directions

  • Why is it important that we recline? Why do we express gratitude while reminding ourselves of bitterness?
  • Maror is a symbol of the bitterness of slavery. Modern day slavery exists; and in all its forms, it is still just as bitter. There are organizations that help. Let’s discuss.

Charoset

Starter

Mishnah Pesachim 10:3 lays out the different requirements for a seder plate. It lists matzah, chazeret (lettuce), charoset, and two cooked foods. However, in Pesachim 116a of the Babylonian Talmud, the rabbis debate if eating charoset is truly a commandment, as it is not a symbol found within the Torah. Rabbi Levi connects charoset with remembering the sweetness of love, quoting Song of Songs 8:5. Additionally, Rabbi Yochanan associates charoset with the memory of the mortar used by Jews when they were slaves in Egypt.

Potential Discussion Directions

  • On the importance and beauty of diversity: Why would the rabbis have a single symbol seemingly hold such different meanings?
  • On memory: why would we need so many symbols to remind us of all the different parts of the Passover story? Why wouldn’t one symbol be enough?

Elijah’s Cup

Starter

While the idea of welcoming the prophet Elijah, as the harbinger of a more perfect age, is recorded in the third century, the placing of Elijah’s cup on our seder table cemented into tradition only by the early medieval period.

Potential Discussion Directions

  • Why would the yearning for a more perfect age be so strong as to change tradition in the Middle Ages? What imperfections about today’s age drive you to hope for (and maybe work towards) change?
    • What role does fear play in our lives today? How can we work to strengthen our hearts against the emotional slavery of today’s fears?
  • “‘Come out,’ called God [to Elijah], ‘and stand on the mountain before Adonai.’ And lo, Adonai passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of Adonai; but Adonai was not in the wind. After the wind – an earthquake; but Adonai was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake – fire; but Adonai was not in the fire. And after the fire – a still, small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he covered his face.” (1 Kings 19:9-12) Where do you find the still, small divine voice?

[1] Hoffman and Arnow, ed., My People’s Passover Haggadah, vol 1, p. 38

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan, M.A.R.E., lived in Tel Aviv, Israel until recently, and now resides in Palo Alto, California with her lovely husband and their four energetic and very small children.

Categories
Passover Pesach

The Freedom Seder

Last year, two brave mothers approached me for a meeting. They were looking to find educational opportunities for their children with special needs. Tired of turning to other synagogues where they felt less connected, or Chabad where they felt philosophically or religiously uncomfortable, they wanted Temple Israel to be place of learning and experiencing Judaism for their children, just like it had been for them and the other children we serve. It was such a beautifully authentic need that I could not ignore. Thus begun my first humble steps into Special Needs programming for our synagogue.

I quickly consulted with colleagues and then more seriously applied to the Matan Institute for Educational Directors to help me best serve the needs of this community. Matan educates Jewish leaders, educators and communities to empower them to create learning environments supportive of children with special needs, through training Institutes and consultations across North America. By advocating for the inclusion of diverse learners, Matan enables the Jewish community to realize the gift of every individual and fulfill its obligation to embrace all children regardless of learning challenges in every Jewish educational setting.

And so I set out to create our first holiday program designed for special needs children and their entire family, called the Freedom Seder. The Freedom Seder is designed to look a lot like a camp program. There is music with a song leader, it is interactive and inclusive, it aims to inspire and educate learners on multiple levels (including adults) and it is flexible. We have learned that the space should be a safe one. Children can be who they are – we don’t expect them to “sit still” or do all the activities. We hope they will participate, but we also know that some days are tougher than others and the quiet room, with Passover books and pillows and soft lighting might be a great option for a particular child on that day. We offer tactile activities, but we make sure there are alternatives for those that struggle with sensory processing disorders. Our Freedom Seder is a one hour program that gives these children the “freedom” to explore different aspects of the Seder. They can plant parsley seeds, vote on their favorite part of the story, taste different kinds of matzah and tell us which one they liked the best. They can make an afikoman bag and color in different parts of the Seder. And their parents can meet one another, get to know our clergy (who all volunteer to be present) and watch their children explore with excitement their rich and engaging tradition.

All of our families deserve and so yearn for a place that lacks judgement or places unrealistic demands on their time, energy or child. We need to provide educational opportunities that are stimulating and adjustable. At Temple Israel we are committed to providing more of these opportunities where we educate differently then we have in the past, we assume nothing, we build relationships of care and trust and we provide interactive and tactile activities at the heart of all we do. Most importantly we have reframed our goals – we do care that the content be current, engaging and deeply enriching but we are also supportive of other goals. For some of these new families the goals may be to meet new faces, hear Jewish music, or simply feel comfortable in the building. We have only just begun. This year we provided two family programs (Chanukah and Passover), we will begin to make our family Shabbat services an inclusive and warm setting for all of our families – including those whose children have special needs and we opened our Purim Carnival early for those children who need a more quiet approach to a Purim celebration.  These steps towards an inclusive community for all help us break down the walls that for too long restricted some of our families from participating in Jewish life and learning.

I can say without hesitation that these hour-long programs are the most rewarding hours of my career; the joy of learning is palpable, the enthusiasm contagious and the gratitude overwhelming. Each year we read the Passover story I always find myself lingering on the moment at the sea. As the Israelites crossed between two walls of water, perhaps they found themselves also caught between feelings of gratitude and nervous anticipation of the unknown. Where would this journey lead the people? Did they know enough? Were they strong enough? Would they live up to the expectations of the God who redeemed them from the darkness?  I too face this new path, humbled by what I don’t know, but grateful and eager to provide new ways for each learner to connect powerfully to our beautiful tradition.

Rabbi Melissa Buyer-Witman serves the Temple Israel of the City of New York.

Categories
Books Holiday Passover Pesach

Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family

Passover Seders in my family were always large affairs.  Persons who had no place to go for Seder (“Welcome the stranger…”) and persons of other faiths joined family members in celebrating the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt more than three thousand years ago.  Whether conducted by my grandfather (mostly in Hebrew), my parents (much more in English) or my father-in-law (a Reform Rabbi who used a healthy mix of Hebrew and English), we joyously celebrated together.

Several years ago, I began to attend a series of programs focusing on interfaith issues for Jewish professionals and lay leaders conducted by the Outreach Training Institute (now Reform Jewish Outreach Boston).  After attending panel discussions, workshops and seminars over several years I decided to write a Passover Haggadah for the contemporary Jewish family – which may include members who were born Jewish, those who have chosen to be Jewish, and family members of other faiths.  Looking across the spectrum of knowledge, religious practice, and faith – from the observant to those for whom Judaism and Jewish Festivals and traditions were new – my purpose was to create a text for a joyful and inspirational family Seder.

The result of my efforts is Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis Press (CCAR Press).  It is illustrated with magnificent original art work by the contemporary Jewish artist Mark Podwal.  Sharing the Journey is an inclusive Haggadah that addresses the needs of every family member.  For family members and guests who are attending their first Seder or do not know what questions to ask about the observance of Passover, Sharing the Journey explains the meaning of the symbols and rituals of Passover in language that is clear and understandable.  For family members whose participation in a Seder is an important religious occasion, Sharing the Journey provides an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of God’s teachings through the story of the Exodus and to renew and strengthen commitment to the pursuit of freedom, tolerance, and justice.  For everyone, Sharing the Journey provides the framework for a joyful and meaningful Passover celebration – enabling all family members to truly experience the power of the Seder and the story of the Exodus: A shared Jewish experience that has historical and contemporary significance to persons of all faiths.

This year, the CCAR Press is offering a special 40% discount to “friends of the author” and I am able to extend the discount/offer to all ravblog readers and their families.  If you would like to take advantage of this offer, visit the CCAR Press website.  Add the book(s) to your cart and use promo code PASSOVER40 at checkout to receive your 40% discount.  Please pass along the discount information to members of my “extended family,” that is, your family and friends.

Early Best Wishes from me and the entire Yoffie Family for an inclusive, joyous, and inspirational Passover Seder.

Alan S. Yoffie is a former president of Temple Emanuel in Worcester, MA and an active member of its Jewish community.  He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Worcester Jewish Community Center and The Jewish Healthcare Center and as a member of the Ritual Committee of Congregation B’nai Shalom in Westborough, MA.   In addition to Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family, Mr.Yoffie wrote a Seder Leader’s Guide, also available from the CCAR Press, which includes two CDs (instrumental and vocal) that provide a “musical companion” for the Seder.   

 

 

Categories
Passover Pesach

Seder on the Dining Room Floor

Years ago, unplanned repair work on our house in early spring devastated our kitchen and dining room, ripped up our living room carpet, and threatened to destroy our plans for a comfortable, traditional Passover Seder. Add to it that more than half the guests were under 6 years old and could barely sit still long enough to dip the karpas in the salt water and we quickly realized that our Passover celebration needed to be creatively re-imagined.

We wondered: how were we going to make a Seder experience that taught our multi-generational gathering about the holiday’s central messages? That we journeyed from slavery to freedom, and that we must help others do the same. Sitting around a traditionally set table was just not in the cards.

We discovered that with creative and open minds, a willingness to merge tradition and innovation, and an accessible flexible Haggadah, an engaging Passover Seder can be had.

We threw borrowed gym mats over the living room concrete, placed Seder symbol-laden coffee tables around the room, and let the kids roll around while we told stories, read interesting tidbits from the Haggadah, and experienced the tactile sensations of the rituals. We realized that like for any other meaningful celebration – a birthday party, for example – the key to memorable success was to intermix food, family, songs and stories, ritual and readings in a meaningful way. We discovered that tradition and innovation needed to go hand and hand.

STJCoverWe also realized that our Seder needed a Haggadah that was filled rich and varied readings, colorful interpretations, easily accessible instructions, and enticing visualization from which we could sample. We have become enamored with Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family (written by Alan S. Yoffie, illustrations by Mark Podwal) published by the CCAR Press. This rabbi-approved Haggadah is as accessible and creative as our personally cut-and-pasted booklets of our younger years with a few fantastic differences: Adults and children alike always seem to discover age appropriate material that uplifts and inspires. Teens and college students appreciate its ability to challenge contemporary understandings, while the grandparents like that it has enough traditionalism to recall their Seders of old. We like the fact that we can use it both at one night’s creative and another evening’s more traditional sit down Seder.

Over the years our Seders have changed. Our guests still enjoy the unique touches that invite contemplation: the football on the Seder plate, (suggesting that just as the Angel passed over the Israelites, perhaps we need to ensure that we hit our intended moral target), and history books strewn around the room (sparking a great discussion of whether the Exodus is historical or not and whether that matters). We just schepp nachas (are bursting the pride) that to this day our kids, relatives and friends enjoy these longer and deeper annual opportunities to explore the abiding lessons of Passover.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes is Vice President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and serves Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California. Paul also co-wrote Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness.

Categories
Books Passover Pesach Rabbis Reform Judaism Technology

Pesach Blog: Why is this Haggadah different from all other Haggadot?

VT1Purim is over so Pesach is not far away.  My congregation has the new CCAR Haggadah (Sharing the Journey) set and ready to go for a second night congregational seder.  Choosing a haggadah was the easy part in that the new Yoffie/Podwal is beautifully done and user friendly.  The challenge is creating an experience at a community seder that feels authentic and participatory.  I am planning to use Visual T’filah and group singing to help create community as well as engage participants.  I can also plan some shtick.

Fortunately there is much more that this new haggadah offers.  For instance, one can choose to buy on iTunes an electronic version of Sharing the Journey.  Why bother?  I decided to try it myself.  This is what I discovered:

STJ3First, it is very cool that I can tap on a song in the e-book and the melody is sung.  Think how nervous or musically challenged seder leaders now have support at their very fingers.  There are even choices between different melodies, say, for the four questions.  In addition, there are interactive things to do with the e-book that will make the seder more fun for a child.  If that were not enough, there are also notes for leaders that are accessed by tapping on a leader’s guide icon.  I am sure there is more to discover as I explore the interactive book.  (Btw, I foresee a revamped MT iPad tool that offers instructive tips and spiritual iyonim with a timely click.)

I will definitely use my iPad edition to lead my seder, and model it for others.  I don’t suppose the CCAR will have a Haggadah iPad Case by April so I will most likely go with my official Mishkan T’filah case.  But one can dream!

Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago.

Categories
Books News Passover Pesach Rabbis Reform Judaism

Four Questions about the New Union Haggadah, Revised Edition

In anticipation of the forthcoming publication of The New Union Haggadah, Revised EditionCCAR rabbinic intern Liz Piper-Goldberg interviewed editor Rabbi Howard Berman.

1. In true Passover fashion, why is this haggadah different from all other haggadot? Can you tell us what makes it unique?  Why is this haggadah a good fit for the Jews of 2014?

NUH art sample 1A broad variety of historic minhagim, local traditions and ideologies are reflected in the hundreds of Haggadah versions available today. In the midst of this rich tapestry, the distinctive liturgical and spiritual heritage of American Reform Judaism stands in its own integrity and enduring significance.  Our Movement has always created liturgies to give expression to the special understandings of Jewish belief and life embodied in our liberal spiritual commitment. Characteristically, Reform Judaism – and particularly the Classical Reform understanding – has interpreted the Passover Story from a broad, universalistic perspective- as a paradigm of redemption and liberation for all humanity… to use Rabbi Herbert Bronstein’s wonderful imagery- retained in this new version – “living our story that is told for all people…whose shining conclusion is yet to unfold!”  The traditional Haggadah is far narrower and more particularistic in its vision, and other versions focus on particular ideological themes. Our Reform versions, all of which have built upon the foundation of the original Union Haggadah, embraces a far more inclusive approach, recognizing the enduring inspiration of the Exodus as a model for so many others, while celebrating its unique meaning for us as those who came out of Egypt.

2. What is the history of the original 1923 Union Haggadah? What was unique about that Haggadah at the time?

The 1923 version of the Union Haggadah was in turn a revision of the first edition of 1907. At that point, the pioneer Reformers had shifted the locus of religious life and worship from the home to the synagogue, where the principles of a new, modern, liberal Judaism were proclaimed in the liturgy and expounded from the pulpit. Passover was celebrated in Reform temples with well-attended services on the first and seventh Festival days, highlighted by the majestic liturgy of the Union Prayer Book’s texts expressing the vision of the “universal Passover” of future redemption and liberation of all humanity. However, in the early years of the 20th century, the home Seder had indeed declined in popular observance. The leaders of our Movement were confident that a new version of the Haggadah, which, like the Union Prayer Book itself, would be “at once modern in spirit and rich in traditional elements” would renew the compelling meanings of the Seder and inspire a revival of its celebration.  This goal was indeed fulfilled, and what had been an “anxious” hope was rewarded with the eventual reality today, that the Passover Seder remains the most observed religious tradition among American Reform Jews.

3. What new traditions have been added to this edition?  What did you want to keep the same, and what did you want to change, and why?

NUH art sample 2In the New Union Haggadah, we have attempted to preserve the literary beauty, the direct and accessible text, and the broad, universalistic spirit embodied in the 1923 version. We have rendered the majority of the English text in contemporary, inclusive, gender-neutral language, following the egalitarian values that have guided all of the CCAR’s liturgical developments over the past forty years. In the spirit of Classical Reform, this haggadah is conceived to be used as a forthrightly and primarily English language experience- with all of the major Hebrew texts included in transliteration, and accompanied by versions of the most popular holiday songs and hymns that may be sung in both languages.

We have introduced new elements in the text as well. These include traditional parts of the Haggadah that were consciously eliminated by the editors of the earlier versions. Our predecessors sought to remain true to the vigorously rational spirit of a liberal faith that rejected superstition and parochialism. The original Union Haggadah consequently omitted such well-known dimensions of the ritual as the triumphant enumeration of the Ten Plagues – considered a “vindictive act unworthy of enlightened minds and hearts.” While they provided for the tradition of welcoming of the Prophet Elijah, there was no particular ceremony attached to it – reflecting the ambivalence toward what may have been considered a remnant of ancient myth and fantasy.  We have reinstated the recollection of the plagues, retaining the beautiful and moving interpretation originated by Rabbi Herbert Bronstein in the 1974 A Passover Haggadah. This brilliant and creative rendition links the recitation of the plagues to the symbolism of the ten drops of wine- the diminishing of our joy at our own redemption as we recall the sufferings of our oppressors. We have also been inspired by the concept of echoing the ancient plagues with those of our own time – also a feature of the Bronstein version –offered here in a new form that weaves the two together. Despite the rationalist objections, Elijah remained stubbornly ensconced in the hearts of most Reform Jews. For the ceremony of Opening of the Door for the Prophet, we have reclaimed a little-known supplement created by the Joint Committee on Ceremonies of the CCAR and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1942 – which brilliantly recasts this beloved tradition in the universalistic spirit of Reform Judaism, as an authentic question and answer dialogue between parent and child. In addition, we have incorporated more recent innovations that have broadened the embrace and symbolism of the Seder – the Cup of Miriam and the Orange on the Plate – with explanations that express the heightened awareness and contemporary sensibilities of these popular rituals, in a way that compliments the rest of the text.

4. Which aspects or traditions of the Passover seder are most meaningful to you? How are they expressed in the Union Haggadah?

NUH Page Sample 3Like so many of us, having grown up with the old Union Haggadah, its cadences and distinctive literary style echo in my consciousness as the quintessential sounds and images of Pesach.  The unique phrases of its Magid narrative continue to express the Festival’s timeless, transforming message. Preserving and creatively renewing this tradition for a new generation is the essence of my work with the Society for Classical Reform Judaism, and has guided my efforts in this project.  The Seder’s symbolic progression from remembrance to hope, from oppression to liberation to future redemption, all find profoundly clear and compelling expression for me in the Union Haggadah’s simplicity and flow.

Ultimately, what we “tell our children on this day” encompasses a rich and distinctive heritage that weaves together our identities and experiences as Jews, as Reform Jews, and as American Jews.  The seamless integration of each of these strands of our tradition and faith remain the unique genius of Classical Reform Judaism and the guiding principle of The New Union Haggadah.

Rabbi Howard Berman A. Berman is Founding Rabbi of Central Reform Temple of Boston. He is also Rabbi Emeritus of Chicago Sinai Congregation, and the Executive Director of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism.  

Categories
Books Passover Pesach Prayer Technology

Passover Blog: Using Visual T’filah at Your Seder

Mah Nishtana halaila hazeh?  What makes this seder different from all others? 

For many families and synagogues this year, it will be seeing the haggadah in a new light.  This year, the CCAR Press is excited to offer a Visual Tfilah companion to Sharing the Journey: The  Hagaddah for the Contemporary Family

Dan1Visual Tfilah, grounded in historical Jewish practices and built on modern technologies, mingles text and images on the large screen for all to enjoy. The images help give deeper meaning and connection to the ancient words, and the words up on the screen allow us to lift our eyes, our voices, and our hands. Visual Tfilah has become a popular way to enhance prayer services, and now it can enhance our Pesach seders, as well.

One of my favorite things on Pesach is to open the (printed) haggadah and see wine stains and crumbs from seders past.  It reminds me that in this ever-changing world, some things stay comfortably the same.  Its the same story we retell year after year.  The same rituals.  And yet, Im always excited to see what new materials, readings, and activities the seder leader will bring to the table.  While the story of redemption and freedom never changes, we are always changing, and finding new ways of reconnecting to the same story is essential to keeping the messages relevant and engaging.  The haggadah, after all, at its core, is meant to inspire us to ask questions.

Dan2A few years ago, a number of colleagues and friends participated in Tweet the Exodus.  Not only was it amazing to see the story told in 140 character segments, but some of the tweets contained links to exciting multi-media resources to tell the story.  A particular favorite of mine was a Youtube video of a family caught in their car surrounded by a massive locust swarm. (http://youtu.be/wxHOxCmbs-8). It was terrifying and awe-inspiring, and helped me understand better than anything else what it might have been like to witness this plague.  Can you imagine being able to share some of the other plagues this way? Or what about showing a short clip discussing what scientists have said most recently about the splitting of the Red Sea? You could even show a map tracking the 40 year journey of the Israelites stop by stop. Unfortunately, you cant embed Youtube videos in a printed haggadah.  But you can put them up on a screen.

Dan3And thats what I love about using Visual Tfilah at a seder: you can add new readings, videos, and more to enhance the experience and enrich the story (without creating a handout and adding yet another item to juggle on the table).  You could insert a PollEverywhere (polleverywhere.com) into the Visual Tfilah to ask your participants to vote on their favorite plague or even to pick the closing song.  You could ask participants to record a short skit ahead of time to be shown during the seder.  As long as you have the screen set up, you might even want to Skype in Bubbie who couldnt join you at the seder this year.  In fact, the screen becomes a blank slate for including almost anything you can think of, and the Sharing the Journey Visual Tfilah gives you the framework from which to unleash your creativity.

The nice thing about VT is that it doesnt negate the use of your printed haggadot.  No matter your inclination or comfort level, everyone can be included. Many folks are accustomed to using print haggadot and will be resistant to giving them up.  And anyway, who can deny the fun of being able to flip ahead to count how many pages are left, or even the benefit of being able to linger on a reading or an idea on your own?

Sharing the Journey VT is designed for both large communal seders, as well as smaller in-home seders.  If you dont have your own large built-in screens and projectors, smaller portable ones or even flat screen TVs will work perfectly.  In fact, an iPad and an AppleTV can be the perfect way for the seder leader to lead from her seat.

Sharing the Journey is also available as an ebook for iPads. (ccar.co/journey). One can follow along with the seder, just as in the book, but also find interactive features and embedded audio.  (Please note: we discourage disDan4playing the ebook on a large screen.  It is not designed for this and will be too difficult for seder participants to read.  Conversely, the VT is specifically designed to be projected and read from a distance.)

So while youd never want to spill wine on your iPad, nor get crumbs up on the screen, we hope Visual Tfilah becomes another tradition at your seder table, and a way to help all of us actually return to the table to finish the seder after the meal is served.  Chag sameach!

 
Rabbi Dan Medwin is the
Publishing Technology Manager, CCAR Press.

p.s.: A Seder Leader’s Guide, complete with two CD’s of music, is also available for Sharing the Journey.  In addition, the music can be downloaded from iTunes 

Categories
Books Passover Pesach

Pesach Blog: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Buy a New Haggadah

My history with haggadot is probably typical but certainly multi-layered.  I grew up with the venerable Union Haggadah.  In rabbinical school I was exposed to its successor, the “Baskin” Haggadah.  I then worked for an HUC administrator in researching various haggadot.  Even in the mid-eighties there were countless varieties, including one for vegans: The Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb.  Around this time David Moss was previewing his soon-to-be famous haggadah, Song of David.  I joked to my fiancée that she could have that instead of an engagement ring.  She took me seriously and we use the haggadah (alas, only one copy) every year.

For my family, after many years of experimenting we settled on the Shalom Hartman haggadah, Seder for a Different Night, and its successor.  They are wonderful resources but quite complicated.  For second night seders at the congregation I have used for many years the Eli Gindi Berhman House Family Haggadah.

Art from Sharing the Journey, by Mark Podwal
Art from Sharing the Journey, by Mark Podwal

In my new congregation – Temple Sholom of Chicago – I have decided to use the new CCAR haggadah, Sharing the Journey by Alan Yoffie, with art by Mark Podwal.  We will also try it out with our family on the first night.  The haggadah appeals to me because of its mix of being user-friendly and having some depth.  I am also excited about incorporating the visual t’filah element, having made my own power points for the seder in the past few years.

In the coming weeks I look forward to reporting how my preparation and execution goes.  Like a prayer book, I know that a haggadah does not a seder make.  But it is a sacred and useful tool, if it meets that elusive balance between being complex but not complicated.

Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago.

Categories
General CCAR Rabbis Reform Judaism

Blurred Lines: The Role of a Rabbi

Thanksgiving can be a great time to be with extended family. . . Especially when it isn’t your own.

Even so it’s hard not to long for the familiarity of home, childhood memories, food that mom used to make.  Of course going home can also involve family drama and return us to familiar roles no matter how old we are or how much we have achieved.  This can be even more complicated when it’s you, the rabbi, spending time with family.

When I am with my extended family for holidays, especially Jewish holidays, I find myself in a strange space negotiating my role as relative and rabbi.

Often times I am with my in-laws, in their home for Passover.  When I have a seat at their Seder table, what role should I play?  I have the most Jewish knowledge at the table.  I have ideas that could enliven the Seder.  Yet, I have a different role too; I am a participant and son-in-law.  I’m not the family rabbi, I am not in charge and I admit it’s nice to have the “night off” and enjoy watching my father-in-law lead the Seder.

Rabbi Charles Briskin

Roles at the Seder are easy to negotiate. How do we respond when we are called to help family members or friends in their time of need?  What is our primary role? Rabbi or family member/friend?

A little over a month ago, my uncle died.  He was 86, and had been in declining health for some time. I called to check in with my aunt and cousins.  ‘Hi Terri” I said, when my cousin picked up the phone.  “Rabbi Chuckie,” she said with relief upon hearing my voice. (Only family who have known me since I was 10 or younger can call me that!)  “Rabbi Chuckie” I thought to myself?  I’m not their rabbi, I’m family.  I gently reminded my cousin that I am the family member who happens to be a rabbi.  Even so, I was pulled into that rabbinic role of helping my family in their (really in our) time of grief and loss.

I was then asked by their family rabbi to help officiate at his service and offer a eulogy.   Was this because I was so close to my uncle and could offer special insight?  No.  I was being honored for my title.  It wasn’t easy being the rabbi for so many people who have known me since I was called “Chuckie.” I would’ve preferred to have been sitting next to my mother (my uncle’s sister) rather than on the bimah.  However, those lines were blurred.  That day I was the rabbi more than the nephew.

These two experiences are powerful reminders of how complicated and blurry our roles in private life can be as spouses, parents, children, in-laws and friends who happen to be rabbis.  Where do we draw our boundaries?  How flexible must they be?  Are there times when we can truly step outside of our rabbinic role simply to be the truest essence of who we are, stripped of the vestments that we place on ourselves and that others place on us as well?  I am sure Edwin Friedman and Jack Bloom have written about this already, and I should return to their works to see what they suggest.  My sense is that we simply need to be attuned to the way we project our more public role (as rabbi) even when we are trying to be family or friend first.   Our relationships with those who knew us before we became rabbis are vital and can be quite liberating as well.  Nevertheless, among the many things we are to them, “rabbi” is one of those roles we play.

We should accept the way others view us. We can never turn it off completely.  If our friends or family members need us to provide rabbinic guidance, do it.  That’s what a good friend would do.  And the opportunity to name a friend’s baby or stand under the huppah with a cousin is a unique blessing.  Know, too, that we can offer something even more substantial.  The power of a deeper connection that goes well beyond the rabbi-congregant relationship.  Our primary role is friend or family member.  However, be the best rabbi you can in that time, especially a time of need.  It is the blessing of this role and offers unparalleled opportunities for profound moments of sacred meaning.

 Rabbi Charles Briskin serves Temple Beth El in San Pedro, CA

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Passover Pesach Prayer Rabbis Reform Judaism

A Prayer for Pesach 5773/2013

Israel beachWhat’s it going to take to make the waters part?

That’s a good question to ask tonight, beyond the other four.

The waters of complacency, of ignorance and fear

The waters of intransigence, of bigotry and rage

The waters of hostility, of hopelessness and war

These waters divide one shore from the other:

Israelis from Palestinians

Red States from Blue States

Privileged from Impoverished

Gun lovers from gun haters

Jew from Christian from Muslim

Nation from nation and race from race

What’s it going to take to make the waters part?

The waters that keep us from moving forward

The waters that drown dialogue in demonization

The waters that say, “We resign ourselves to the status quo”

These waters are strong enough to swallow an army.

Will it take a Moses with his staff outstretched?

A miracle? A plague?

A prayer, incantation, silent wish?

Petitioning the waves?

Only this:

People united in their faith that change will come when we truly want it.

People unbending in their demand that peace will come when we are ready to will it.

People willing to enter the sea and with God’s help, to make the waters move.

This is what our Pesach means and this is why we pray.

God, strengthen our steps to do more than dip a tentative toe in the water.

Engage our hearts, our soul and might,

And let Your light shine the way.

 Rabbi Jonathan Blake is the Senior Rabbi of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York