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Creating Lively Passover Seders 2/E

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About the Author

David Arnow, PhD, a psychologist by training, is widely recognized for his innovative work to make the Passover Seder a truly exciting encounter each year with Judaism's most central ideas. He has been deeply involved with many organizations in the American Jewish community and Israel and is a respected lecturer, writer, and scholar of the Passover Haggadah.


This book looks at the Seder from 25 different angles, drawing from the Haggadah, the Torah and the Mishnah. The author goes into great detail about the history of the Seder, detailing many of the changes that have taken place throughout history. Included are sections on the four questions, the four children, the sages, Pesach as a spring holiday, slavery, Pesach and Israel, the plagues, redemption, Elijah and the music of the Seder. There is a section from Mishnah Pesachim, a bibliography and an index. The preface notes that this new edition contains a new chapter on music, as well as chapters on the Seder plate and on Moses. The author has obviously studied Pesach in depth, but despite the title, this book is more of a study of the Seder as a historic tradition than an actual guide to conducting a Seder. There are suggestions for using the book that involve printing copies of readings, contacting guests ahead of time and organizing discussions in different rooms before the Seder even begins. This approach will probably be impractical for most readers. Most of the sections do provide questions that may trigger discussion among the right mix of guests. The book has an accompanying website,, that offers more activities, articles about Pesach and a downloadable Haggadah text for users to cut and paste in the process of creating their own Haggadahs. This book is recommended for synagogue libraries, but a better choice for those that don't own it yet is The Family Participation Haggadah: A Different Night, by Noam Zion and David Dishon. --Beth Dwoskin "Association of Jewish Libraries " "David Arnow has written the afikomen of Seder books: An ingenious synthesis of history, legend, law and spirituality (un)leavened with practically helpful, politically important and psychologically sophisticated suggestions on how to transform your meal into a true celebration of asking and learning. This book belongs next to every seder plate." Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, Emanu-El Scholar at Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco; author, The Way Into Jewish Mystical Tradition "This richly informative and inspiring book is a treasure for all those seeking to create a Seder that is alive with questions that matter." Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, coeditor, The Women's Passover Companion "A wonderful collection of readings, stories and activities to enhance your Passover celebration." Dr. Ron Wolfson, vice president, University of Judaism; author, Passover: The Family Guide to Spiritual Celebration What is most enjoyable is the connection between the ancient and the contemporary, the timely and timeless quality of our eternal texts which David Arnow has masterfully managed to bring to our attention. Will serve as a marvelous companion piece to the Passover Haggadah and can be referred to year after year. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chancellor, Ohr Torah Stone Institutions of Israel A deeply enriched and enriching Seder awaits those who use [this] comprehensive sourcebook. [Its] chapter on women of the Exodus is alone worth the cover price. Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author, Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America The book everyone who has to lead or attend a Seder has been waiting for. Simply put: This book will ensure that Seders will be intellectually challenging, emotionally engaging and spiritually uplifting for years to come. If we only have David Arnow's new book to guide us to creating lively Passover Seders, Dayyenu it would be enough! Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership; coeditor, The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL's Guide to Everyday & Holiday Rituals & Blessings A gift to Jewish parents and teachers who want to explore the many layers of history and interpretation in our celebration of freedom. Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, editor, The Open Door, the Reform Haggadah A treasure trove of lore and scholarship, insight and activities that will fascinate and enlighten readers and enrich their Seders for decades. An extraordinary array of strategies for reaching the diverse groups who gather to share the Seder experience. Rabbi David A. Teutsch, past president, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College A welcome support for Seder leaders everywhere. As Jewish life continues to evolve, the Seder remains a pivotal moment to transmit values, stories and the culture of our people. This book is full of ideas, texts and information on how to enrich the experience for all gathered at the table! Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael, rabbinic director, Jewish Women s Spirituality Institute, JCCs of Greater Philadelphia " SCARSDALE, N.Y. You can find the secret to creating lively Passover seders in a surprising place an 1,800-year-old law code called the Mishnah. For starters, the Mishnah did not envision reciting a Haggadah at the seder. Instead, it designed a careful balance between aspects of the evening that should be fixed and others that left room for spontaneity. Fixed elements included drinking four cups of wine, eating matzah, explaining the meaning of the Passover sacrifice, eating matzah and bitter herbs and reciting the six psalms of Hallel. These would bind us together as a people wherever and whenever we live. But when it came to telling the Passover story, the Mishnah encouraged creativity. This would prevent seders from becoming lifeless clones of one another. Brilliant! For example, the Mishnah envisioned a night that should be so different from other nights that children would naturally ask, "Why?" Only if a child were unable or failed to ask spontaneous questions should a parent offer the prompt, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" Then a parent might point out things like on all other nights we eat leavened bread or unleavened bread, on this night only unleavened bread. Just as the child's questions were not prescribed, neither were the answers. As to a response, the Mishnah says, According to the understanding of the son his father teaches him. He begins with disgrace and ends with glory; and he expounds from My father was a wandering Aramean (Deuteronomy 26:5) until he finishes the whole section. Using a succinct version of the Passover story in Deuteronomy 26:5 8 as a frame, the story was to be told through the process of expounding, drasha literally drawing out meaning or making midrash. There was no expectation to create the same midrash every year. The story was to be geared to the level of the child's understanding, which would develop from one year to the next. The story becomes meaningful to those gathered around the table through an interactive, creative process. The Mishnah thus implies that the seder should change from year to year and that no two seders should be exactly the same. In lieu of slavishly reading a prescribed text, the Mishnah encouraged us to take liberties, using its example as a core and a guide. Alas, over the centuries, the balance between the fixed and spontaneous elements of the seder disappeared. Rather than asking their own questions, children read or memorized a mandated set of questions. And in place of an answer aimed at the level of the child s understanding, the Haggadah incorporated a written midrash on "My father was a wandering Aramean." The goal of an ideal seder became reading the Haggadah from beginning to end, skipping not a word. The result? Instead of seders feeling like a celebration of freedom, they began to feel more like a chore. Generation after generation we recited these words from the Haggadah: Whoever elaborates on the story of the Exodus from Egypt deserves praise. But rather than prying open a little room for creativity, they remained just words on the page. In the liberty with which we elaborate on the Exodus, we taste and celebrate freedom. We experience ourselves as free, independent creators, the very antithesis of our ancestors mired in the mind-numbing pits of slavery. In so doing we renew the divine sparks within us that mark us each as images of God, the paradigmatic free creator. In the spirit of the Mishnah, here are two simple suggestions that will help breathe life into your seder. A few weeks before Passover, ask each of your guests to respond to the following question: What do you think would be a particularly important question to discuss at the seder this year? If you do this by e-mail, paste the responses into a document without identifying who asked which question. Make a copy for each of your guests. Take turns reading the questions aloud. This is an easy, non-threatening way to let the group know what s on everyone s mind. Choose a few questions for discussion throughout the seder. You ll probably find that questions cluster around particular issues, which can guide you in choosing which questions to discuss. The second suggestion involves deciding where and when to hold this discussion. Instead of doing it at the seder table, if possible gather in a different room beforehand. You ll find that shifting the location to the living room, for example, sets the tone for an entirely different conversation. Countless readers of Creating Lively Passover Seders have confirmed that holding some of your Passover discussions before you sit down at the table is the simplest, most powerful way to create a more engaging evening. If either of these suggestions helps you to experiment with your Seder this year, Dayyenu! It would suffice! David Arnow is the author of Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, d104s & Activities (2nd Edition, Jewish Lights, 2011) and coeditor of My People s Passover Haggadah: Traditional d104s, Modern Commentaries. --JTA"The Jewish Chronicle" (03/04/2011)" "Whoever elaborates on the story of the Exodus deserves praise." David Arnow, psychologist and coeditor of My People's Haggadah, deserves much praise for compiling a treasury of Passover material to enrich any seder. The first edition, published in 2004, grew out of supplements Arnow composed for his family's seders. This expanded edition, with new chapters, continues Arnow s exploration of every aspect of the seder. The chapter on Dayenu lifts it from a rousing song to a summary of the Exodus, built around the number fifteen and its significance in Jewish tradition. Similarly, Arnow brings both medieval scholars and Shmuel Agnon and Yehuda Amichai to comment on Chad Gadya. A chapter on the seder plate opens up the question of where to place what, and Arnow finds Moses in the Haggadah despite the fact that he is not named. The chapters from the first edition are equally expansive, notably the controversial "pour out your wrath" and the figure of Elijah; the archeologic evidence for the Exodus and how it could have entered Jewish tradition and midrashim that bring women into the story. This is a book to be consulted, not read from cover to cover. Taking his directions from the Mishnah s brief chapter on the sparse ritual requirements of the seder and its stress on instructing children, Arnow encourages discussion as a means to better understand the festival. He suggests elaborating on one topic a year and outlines formats that encourage discussion, such as distributing passages to participants ahead of time and gathering before the seder for an activity or a conversation about a passage. However readers choose to use the material, there is enough here for a lifetime of thought-filled seders. As I read the book, I found myself marking passages that I might insert into a seder or that were personally valuable and informative. The great range of material, from the rabbis through medieval scholars to contemporary commentators, not only provides these opportunities but also underlines the remolding of the Exodus story to fit the time and place of its retelling. If you do not have the first edition, you will be rewarded with this expanded version; if you own the earlier edition, you know the possibilities that Arnow s research provides. Appendixes, index, notes, select bibliography. --Maron L Waxman"The Jewish Book Council" (01/20/2012)"

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