by Amanda Walgrove
For thousands of years, the Passover Seder has evoked universal themes of personal liberation and religious freedom. Each generation tells and retells the story of Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt. But the annual remembrance also has a history of being a uniquely malleable occasion that can be customized to certain values of an individual or household. From its conception, Passover has been a holiday predominantly based on interpretation of Bible narrative, using an aggadic midrash as its leading text for instruction and discussion during the Seder. While tradition has always been an important aspect of Jewish practice and ancestry, how much wiggle room is there to expand upon and perhaps amend certain traditions?
The adaptation of the Passover Seder is commonly accomplished through the modification of two main tools used during the annual observance: the Haggadah and the Seder plate. New songs and activities to include in Passover celebrations abound on the Internet; Each new year delivers a fresh batch of innovative variations of these iconic objects, and with the development of technology and the continuing exploration of certain core values, 2011 is no exception.
Seder plates, now used as microcosmic edible message boards, have a history of being modified with new foods that represent certain values and causes. Oranges have been known to symbolize the power of Jewish women, olives as a call for peace between Israel and Palestine, and an artichoke for the interfaith-friendly plate. Activists have grabbed onto the plate phenomenon as well. Last year, the Progressive Jewish Alliance put together a “Food Desert Seder Plate” that replaced the traditional items with ones symbolizing lack of access to fresh food in low-income neighborhoods.
Feminists have also latched onto the opportunity to emphasize certain values and key figures in the Passover Seder. “Jewesses with Attitude” (JWA) recently debuted a short video highlighting Miriam’s role in the Passover story, her legacy as a leader, and the contemporary Jewish women who follow in her footsteps. While Miriam may be the only Biblical woman who is “not described as somebody’s wife or mother,” she is absent from the traditional text. But this hasn’t made her famously essential role in the Passover stories any less profound. Now, many observers include Miriam’s cup in their Passover Seders, representing “the recognition of women’s contributions and the commitment to inclusivity more generally, making sure all Jews have a voice.” JWA is teaming up with JewishBoston.com—which has already released a free, downloadable, customizable Haggadah—to produce a Haggadah that celebrates the contributions of women to Jewish life.
In the virtual Haggadah department, DIY Holiday Co. just released their first product, Do-It-Yourself Seder, which allows families to create their own personalized Haggadot. Offering content relating to current events, foodies, kids activities and songs, the new project serves to broaden the Passover tradition with an interactive and creative approach. Similarly, Haggadot.com, winner of the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund award, allows users to cut and paste their own Haggadot. The Forward compares the process to Amazon.com, which has thousands of retail partners from which you can mix and match. Users can add their own photos and stories, pull from those others have shared, paste it all together, print it out, and upload it for others to ponder.
For fans of the most traditional form of Passover capitalization, the overwhelmingly popular Maxwell House Haggadah has been given a makeover to go along with its first new translation since its original printing in 1934. Conforming to contemporary vernacular, “thee” and “thou” have been replaced with “you.” God is also no longer gendered by the proper pronoun, “He.” Along with the new cover design, the text will also be larger, and the layout easier to navigate.
The message of Passover hasn’t changed, but the ways in which we retell the stories will continue to evolve for each individual, family, and generation. If you ever remember acting out the Passover story in Hebrew School, now you can see it all through your Twitter feed as @twitplaymoshe, @twitplaypharaoh, @twitplayammon and friends reenact #exod2011. While some may fear that “watered down” versions of the Haggadah and internet fads can damage the observance of the holiday, a sense of community and accessibility is important during a time when Jews give thanks for religious and personal freedoms. With the internet on board as Moses readies himself to lead the Jews out of Egypt once again and Jake Gyllenhaal preparing to hide the afikomen on “Sesame Street,” all we need now is the iPad and Kindle to consider joining the Seder so we can say, “Passover?” “There’s an app for that!”