'Our Haggadah' A Guide For Interfaith Families

Haggadah Section: -- Exodus Story

Our Haggadah has also been something of a mishmash where we go back and forth from our homemade sheets to what we call the "blue book," a Haggadah published by the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation that we've used for decades as a supplement to the typewritten pages. Every year Steve and I argue about exactly where in the service we first move to the book, causing hoots and hollers from our longtime Seder buddies who have come to see this dispute as a Passover tradition. It's just one of the many Passover traditions — some silly, some special — that we and our friends, old and new, have come to anticipate annually as we celebrate the festival of freedom that is at the same time universal and unique. People from all countries and cultures can relate to the theme of breaking out of bondage, but it is the Jewish people who have kept alive this celebration, often risking their lives to do it, over thousands of years. 

One of the most meaningful stories I've read about Passover is in Yaffa Eliach's Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust. She tells about a group of Jews at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp who signed a petition asking the commandant to give them flour to bake the matzo in exchange for their daily bread ration. After they submitted the petition, when they heard nothing from their captors, the Jews were convinced that they had signed their death warrants — that they would become the sacrificial lambs. But then the word came that they could have their flour and build an oven to bake it in and they were able to produce three misshapen black matzo. They put them on a turned-over bunk bed used as a table, along with a broken pot substituting for a Seder plate. "On it there were no roasted shankbone, no egg, no haroset, no traditional greens, only a boiled potato given by a kind old German who worked in the showers." As the prisoners wept, the rabbi leading the Seder recited the Haggadah from memory. And with children surrounding him, he proclaimed the promise of Passover: "We who are witnessing the darkest night in history, the lowest moment of civilization, will also witness the great light of redemption." Even in Bergen-Belsen the rabbi insisted that his people would go from darkness to light, from slavery to freedom. That is the faith and hope that Jews all over the world and in many different languages bring to the Passover table as they ask on the same night the same question: Why is this night different from all others?

But I am not one of those Jews. I am a Catholic who feels privileged to be included in this communion. No one invited me, I pretty much wangled myself in, and that, to me, is the point of transforming our Haggadah into something a little less homespun. There are many non-Jews who want to sit at the Passover table, and many do in churches around America. That's different, however, from serving up your own Seder, which often seems intimidating at best, intrusive at worst. So this is our story of our Haggadah, and, more important, our Passover.

There's so much in the Seder service that should seem familiar to someone raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition that there's no reason for first-timers to feel uncomfortable. Anyone who's been taught Bible stories as a child, much less reconsidered them as an adult, knows what Passover is about. Baby Moses in the bulrushes is one of the most common pictures decorating Sunday school classrooms, serving as a prelude to the dramatic story of the Plagues, the Exodus from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and the Jewish flight to freedom. Watching the "Red Sea" part is one of the regular attractions at the Universal City theme park in California, so people who didn't learn the story in the Bible could learn it from the movies. Beyond that, Christian teaching tells us of Jesus's observance of Passover — first as a boy with his family and then as a man with his disciples, who continued to commemorate the festival in their years establishing the church.

This is very much a Jewish ceremony that we celebrate." Even so, Christians will find plenty to relate to in Our Haggadah, Steve says. "It's a Jewish holiday, but it's a universal message."

"The Last Supper that is so celebrated in art was a Seder," Cokie says. "The meaning of ... going from slavery to freedom, from death to life are the same. ... There are many things that make you feel more together than apart."

Cokie & Steve Roberts, 'Our Haggadah'

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Passover Guide

Hosting your first Passover Seder? Not sure what food to serve? Curious to
know more about the holiday? Explore our Passover 101 Guide for answers
to all of your questions.


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