A Haggada for the ages

‘Hakol Baseder’ provides tools to keep adults and children involved in the Seder

Pessah Illustration521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Pessah Illustration521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If keeping participants engaged is the ABC of learning, then the Hakol Baseder Passover Haggadah is certainly on the right track. Along with the traditional text, this easy-to-use, innovative Haggada provides a volume of dozens of activities, each labeled A, B or C – or a combination thereof – denoting whether the activity is geared toward adults, adolescents or children.
The longest section of the Haggada, Maggid, fulfills the commandment vehigadeta levincha (And you should tell your sons), but in reality it is often difficult to keep children engaged at the Seder.
And for adults, the texts they have read each year can become routine and lacking in freshness.
Realizing this, Dr. Michael Toben and the late Rabbi Mitch Heifetz decided to create a Haggada that would provide activities for children and recreate the experience of Egypt through interactive learning for participants of all ages. Their Haggada is supported by the Jewish National Fund UK and World Bnei Akiva.
Also included in the set, which comes in a handy plastic folder, is a CD containing the materials needed to carry out the activities on the night. The activities are marked with a Hebrew letter and a number, such as Gimmel-3 to allow users to find them on the CD.
There are suggestions for which activities are recommended at each point in the Haggada.
“The idea is that people can get around the Haggada quickly and easily,” says Toben in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Recognizing that participants can’t include all the activities in a single evening, the authors have listed 10 suggested programs at the end of the booklet.
“So you can do them all in 10 years.
If you live in hutz la’aretz [abroad], you need five years,” he quips.
Another thoughtful touch is the Grace After Meals booklets provided for the other Passover meals.
Toben is a retired Bar-Ilan University lecturer, while Heifetz, who died in 2007, ran the Midrash v’Maaseh program at the Religious Kibbutz Movement’s yeshiva in Ein Tzurim for 20 years.
They began working on the Haggada about two years before Heifetz died.
“We were soul mates for years. We were very close and we thought very differently, but we understood each other very deeply,” says Toben.
After Heifetz was diagnosed with cancer for the third time, he was very low, he explains. But when he came to terms with his condition, they began to work on the project, meeting every week or two to discuss their ideas.
“Slowly the activity ran down as he was less able and eventually he died, and I carried on,” says Toben. “We had done the planning, but very little was written.”
Toben says he has never seen a Haggada that included more than a few activities to keep people involved.
“The Haggada itself uses two or three techniques in arousing interest [and] getting the kids to ask questions,” notably the afikoman, he explains. “I don’t think anyone has anything quite so developed and sophisticated [as Hakol Baseder], and we are trying to make our experience alive and relevant.”
The translation accompanying the Haggada text is one owned by Gefen Publishing, but “we went through the translation pretty carefully. When we weren’t happy with the translation, we rewrote it,” Toben notes.
Along with the traditional instructions before each stage, the authors have added commentary “drawn from the great commentators but written by us,” he says.
Toben has tried most of the activities listed in his Haggada at his own Seder, except some of the ones for young children, such as a picture Sudoku and a maze.
He drew on his 10 years as a lecturer on innovative teaching for the methods used.
There are three activities he particularly recommends.
The first, called Letters from Eliyahu, is carried out immediately after kiddush.
It is intended for children and involves preparing two letters from Elijah the Prophet. The first explains why Elijah may not be able to come to your house, encouraging participants to think of reasons why he should choose them. The second, which is read out loud before the wine is poured into Elijah’s cup in the second part of the Seder, reveals why Elijah has chosen your house after all.
“I kindly request that you pour only grape juice into my cup,” the postscript reads.
“Then you have a discussion, and that discussion is a very serious discussion of self-examination,” says Toben.
“While we’re playing a game and laughing, there’s a broad awareness of who we are.”
Another activity he likes, the Women of Valor competition, is suitable for all ages and asks participants to rate four Egyptian Hebrew women according to their skills.
“It’s a kind of beauty contest,” says Toben. “And, in fact, it is teaching us the role of the women on the most basic levels to help Am Yisrael [the Jewish nation] survive.”
The third activity is very simple.
“Imagine you were coming out of Egypt now. What do you feel? What do you see?” he describes. “The idea there is to concretize the experience. According to the tradition of Yetziat Mitzrayim [the Exodus from Egypt], we were all there.”
It is this attempt by Seder participants to reimagine the Exodus as if they were there that explains the ritual’s popularity, even among secular Jews. The ability to reexperience our history “plays a very important part in the formulation of our Jewish character,” notes Toben. ■