Entering a fascinating new world: The Koren Youth Haggada

Never forget why we are free. Rose speaks to all of us, saying we “are a part of that chain (the Passover traditions), linking hands with your parents.”

Entering a fascinating new world: The Koren Youth Haggada (photo credit: Courtesy)
Entering a fascinating new world: The Koren Youth Haggada
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As I opened the new beautifully printed, Koren Youth Haggada, I would never have expected what popped out. There, on the page following the title page was a lovely surprise. I was taken into the artist’s special world, which would fill the Haggada. There was an illustration of a lovely little girl listening closely to her parents under the Hebrew statement, “You shall teach them to your children.”
That is what this Haggada, conceptualized by Dr. Daniel Rose, is all about – teaching your children. Along with a new translation, the Haggada includes passages from Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, Mark Twain, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Prof. Jonas Salk, among others. Each one instructs in its own way.
I am proud of Koren, because in its recent Haggadot there is no fear of placing girls, women and even bubbies (grandmothers) in a prominent place emphasizing that the Jewish woman is so important. For me that is natural because my grandmother, Sara Hene Geffen, was a vital part of the 10 Sedarim I was privileged to attend with her.
The search for the hametz focuses on the “girl” as well. We can only slightly see her because she has carefully hidden the tiny pieces of bread for her father, a tall imposing figure, to find. I would imagine that few adults have ever seen a bedikat hametz like this.
Even in the blessing of the children, it is a mother and her son who are captured in the quote from Sacks. “Through the Haggada more than a hundred generations of Jews have handed on their story to their children... By reciting the Haggada, Jews give their children a sense of connectedness to Jews throughout the world and to the Jewish people through time.”
On many of the pages, a question appears to help the youth reading the text better understand what this annual ritual portrays. The most important one is: “how will you pass these traditions on to your children?” We all search for ways to help the youth at the Seder be sensitive to what we, the parents and elders, are trying to instill in them.
During the 1960s, possibly for the first time, a variety of different venues were employed to observe the Seder. One of the best known was at the shore next to Malibu, California. A participant, who I came to know, told me that the children sat there in rapt attention as the traditional Haggada was read. From the Apache Native American reservation in Arizona, I owned a Haggada, now in the archives of the library of the Candler School of theology at Emory University, in which the leader of the Seder, a Brooklyn girl, illustrated the Haggada with appropriate figures. I can only imagine how that Seder was conducted.
In the past two decades, numerous Haggadot telling the Passover story were especially illustrated for the Ethiopians. I am reminded of the Koren one, which was prepared by a scholar who had worked closely with our brothers and sisters both in their homeland and here.
Rose, who works closely with Sacks, has successfully developed this Koren Youth Haggada so it will make the Seder both informative and lively. In the section on the “Four Children,” the illustrator, an Israeli, Rinat Gilboa, provides the reader with an artistic statement about both sexes. In a fully opened Russian doll, we see four girls, each representing one of the children with the Hebrew statement from the Haggada.
Next, page by page, the Russian doll opens piece by piece with a young man and the traditional question asked by each of them flowing from his hands. Parents should prepare themselves to explain why both young women and young men are entitled to ask these questions. Clearly, this Haggada chooses to make the youth of all of the Jewish people a part of the Passover experience.
After the dripping of the wine ceremony for the 10 plagues, they are graphically presented in a two-page spread. Young and old can see and feel the power of these “catastrophes” the Egyptians must endure. You see the boils on the Egyptians, and you know what they are, because every one of us at one time has been afflicted with this disease, even in a milder version. Whereas in most Haggadot, when you are provided with an illustration of the death of the first born, you feel the terrible anguish of Pharaoh. In this Haggada, you view the serenity of the mother, the queen, standing silently with her son dead before her. I found that a very touching image because youth need to know the quietness and sadness of death, even that of our “enemies.”
The second two-page spread is the depiction of the crossing of the Red Sea. I was struck by the two children not holding the hands of the parents but striding next to their father in one image and next to their mother in the other image. My interpretation of this is that the youth of today should recognize that the youth in that ancient miracle had to march forward not grasping their elders’ hands. To be a practicing Jew, you have to act on your own.
In the third two-page image, we are shown “Shulhan Aruch – Set Table,” with which most of us are familiar. In 1859 in the US, I found the first newly drawn image of a child in a high chair. In this Haggada, as in the one in the 19th century, that youngster in the chair is listening to the words of the leader of the Seder. He may not understand them but feels he is an individual, a part of the group at the Seder.
Members of every age group are at the table. The child, just mentioned, is the youngest. Among those present is a teenage girl holding the kiddush cup. One of the girls, possibly an Ethiopian, is on the ground playing the game of “chestnuts” with a boy her age. There are three young men, two are in a discussion with an elder; one is serving. I am not certain why one is not seated at the table, but I am sure that parents can explain that to their children.
In order to make the Seder as wide-ranging in age as possible, and certainly it should be, there is one balding man and one with a beard. They are our elders, and the youth must learn to respect them fully. Then there are two adults. One is the gentleman leading the Seder, the other is listening intently to what is being discussed.
For me the three women pose the most significant teaching component. The younger one, sitting at the other end of the table from the leader, appears to be an Ethiopian. She is holding a brightly colored kiddush cup, the only one at the table doing so. The other two women speaking intently to each other are an Ethiopian grandmother and the wife of the Seder leader. Youth should feel here that “all Jews are responsible for other Jews,” no matter what their color might be.
Having lived in Jerusalem for more than four decades, I was able to enjoy, personally, the two-page spread of “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Six figures are in front of recognizable architectural sites of the city. Once again the diversity of the Jewish people, in the past and in the present, catches our eye. Jerusalem became the destination of the Jewish journey,” are Sacks’s words here. “There is no story like it, and the journey is not complete.”
The men and women of the past and the present with their hands uplifted make us feel joyful. The boy is from the past with such a happy face. The girl is an Ethiopian dancing in happiness. Every child using this Haggada at the Seder will find it so important to imbibe the spirit of Jerusalem because it is the major center of the Jewish people. Over and over again throughout the centuries, the Jewish people has used the Haggada to relate, on Passover, to the moving story of the exodus from Egypt.
Children and youth must become cognizant of the meaning of our freedom, which we obtained through the leadership of Moses and the intervention of God. At the Seder, we read the description of our ancient Exodus as the rabbis of old shaped it. They wanted each of us to feel very much a part of that powerful and spiritual experience.
Never forget why we are free. Rose speaks to all of us, saying we “are a part of that chain (the Passover traditions), linking hands with your parents.” Then, Rose stresses,  “your children will be the next link in the chain.”
The writer is a veteran immigrant from the US, a former rabbi and author.
The Koren Youth Haggada
Koren Publishers Jerusalem, 2020
Developed by Dr. Daniel Rose
169 pages, $19.95
(Free Parent-Educator Companion at www.korenpub.com)