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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

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JDC Haggadah includes historic Passover photos

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The Passover seder can feel like a blessing or a curse, depending on whose table you’re sitting at.

At the best of times it’s an enlightening, relevant, entertaining and meaningful ritual. At its worst, the seder is arduous and too long, with insufficient correlations to modern-day circumstances and many a tummy rumble as dinnertime approaches ever so slowly.

What you need, in the latter circumstance, is a Haggadah that keeps your interest piqued with great images, quality pages and content that’s riveting. If yours is a dull, aged Haggadah with none of the above, consider getting your hands on a copy of one of the following two releases.

The JDC Haggadah (Devora Publishing) is the perfect seder accompaniment, a handsome hardcover whose 88 pages combine the seder service with a series of fascinating photographs derived from the archives of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Open it up and you’ll see one page containing Hebrew and English seder prayers and songs, while the opposite page displays images from the archives and stories relevant to those images.

I paged through The JDC Haggadah with no prior knowledge of the JDCs work and found it a fascinating photograph album that pays tribute to the organization’s many acts of charitable kindness over the years. There are pictures of Yemenite Jews conducting seders in Israel in the 1960s and Ethiopian Jews in Gondar in 1988. The images skip seamlessly between the years, contrasting 1935 scenes from Hungary with pictures from the Dominican Republic in the ’40s, Israel in the ’80s and the Soviet Ukraine in 1925.

Every image contains the faces or figures of Jews, oftentimes engaged in Passover rituals, prayer, Jewish summer camp or family life. The stories behind these pictures, with commentary by journalist and author Ari Goldman, are equally fascinating and give readers a greater depth of understanding about Jewish affliction all over the world, and how the JDC has helped improve lives quietly but steadily over the years.

The Haggadah portion of the book is clearly displayed in a good-size font so it’s easy to follow. The only problem I foresee is that the JDC’s photograph album and anecdotes are so interesting you could easily lose track of the seder service and find yourself engrossed in these stories all night. The good news is dinner will come faster. The bad news is, you might miss the seder all together!

 A second new release is the Passover Haggadah in Another Dimension (Lambda Publishers Inc), which comes with a handy pair of 3D glasses for the reader. Slip on the glasses and the images on each page spring to life, a feature that can add fun to the service for children, especially.

There are pictures of figurines throughout the story of Exodus, including an Egyptian whipping a Jew, a depiction of the Four Sons and the Egyptians drowning in the Red Sea. They are cleverly crafted and certainly make the story more meaningful for the son – or daughter – who is too small to follow the verbal commentary at the table.

This Haggadah contains English, Hebrew and Hebrew transliterations. There’s definitely more English than Hebrew, and much of the Hebrew is in a small font that makes it difficult to read and follow for English speakers.

But that’s OK if you’re a child more interested in the major chapters and songs of the seder sequence than in the tiny details. If you’re a seder warrior for whom every word counts, though, stick to a Haggadah that’s a little more traditional – and a little less gimmicky.

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