An inspirational view on a Seder

by | Feb 8, 2013 | Book Reviews

In Every Generation: The JDC Haggadah
Edited by Linda Levi and Ilana Stern Kabak
Devora Publishing, 2010
92 pages, $19.95 (paper)
ISBN 978-1-936068-13

In my youth there was only one kind of haggadah, the kind that was free, distributed by either the Maxwell House Coffee company or a local bank. There were no haggadot for children. There were no haggadot for women, no LGBT haggadah and no vegan Seder plate. There was no “fourth matzo,” no “matzo of hope.” Although my wife’s grandfather, a sewing machine operator in the garment district of Manhattan, claimed that he “took pleats” in the haggadah, the leader of the Seder usually droned every word. By the time it got interesting (plagues, maybe?), the littlest kids were either asleep under the table or in the bedroom where the fur collared coats were piled. (How great it was to sleep amidst that mountain of fur!)

However, the duties of Seder leaders took on a new twist as we began to look upon the Seder as entertainment, as well as education for children, and an opportunity to make a pitch for Jews in need. Then came the haggadot with taped music to accompany the kids as they jumped over frogs that hopped about and sing along renditions of traditional songs (plus a concluding number, usually performed by the host couple, “Next Year At Your House”). There was a bag of Seder symbols (developed by the women of a Jewish federation)— one for each plague. However, lately, adults have begun to push back in an attempt to restructure the Seder as a meaningful family event where adult appreciation and discussion might prevail.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) was created in 1914, during World War I, as a Jewish humanitarian assistance program, based on the principle that all Jews are responsible for one another. Today, JDC works world-wide in rescue and relief, as well as on-going support in Jewish communities in need and in Israel.

In Every Generation: The JDC Haggadah was published in 2010, but just recently came to this reviewer’s attention. It includes the traditional text in Hebrew with English translation, some transliteration, as well as instruction on the order of the service. It begins with an introductory reminder, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, that the Passover Seder is a practice that has impacted not only Jews, but all humanity. The JDC Haggadah is replete with a photographic history of almost 100 years of support for orphaned Jewish children after World War I, 110,000 Jews expelled from Germany and Austria in 1938, 15,000 Jews in Shanghai during WWII, as well as JDC’s lifesaving responses to the needs of Jews in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Cuba, India, Latin America and Israel.

The JDC Haggadah tells the age-old Passover story through modern-day images of deliverance and social responsibility in action. Seder participants will be interested in the photos drawn from JDC’s extensive archives. Certainly, as adults we can see ourselves through JDC’s eyes as having participated in many an exodus of Jews to freedom. There is also food for adult discussion in a year when Danish Jews are being warned not to wear kipot on the way to synagogue lest they be set upon by extremists. As we prepare for this year’s celebration of Passover, a copy of The JDC Haggadah may be just what is needed to add an inspirational punch to the Seder leader’s agenda.

The JDC Haggadah will be used at the Jewish Women’s Outreach Seder, Sunday, March 17, noon–2 pm at the Sandler Family Campus. For more information or to RSVP for the Seder, call Patty Malone at 757-965-6115, or email For other Women’s Cabinet outreach events, visit

—Hal Sacks is a retired Jewish communal worker who has reviewed books for Jewish News for more than 30 years.

The Jewish Women’s Seder will be using the JDC Haggadah