The Koren Youth Haggada: Much, much more than the Four Questions

Every family needs a Haggada that will get the youngsters involved, contemplating, participating and interested in going on to the next page, not just to get closer to the meal. And this has to be accomplished without the help of a smartphone.

Rochel Sylvetsky

OpEds the Koren Youth Haggada
the Koren Youth Haggada
]Yonatan Zindel Flash 90

Am I actually recommending that you purchase yet another Haggadah (purchasing online at this point)? – well, yes I am, absolutely. Not for you because If you are like me, you already have your favorites, but because you need one that speaks to the young people in our midst. That means those who are being introduced to the Seder as well as those who have not yet become totally familiar with it, but even more those youngsters who are very familiar with the occasion and therefore need something to keep them on their toes, alert, thinking and identifying throughout the long ceremonial night.  

  • After all, the entire Seder revolves about young people; it is a handbook for Jewish continuity and for expressing our trust and gratitude to G-d for watching over the Chosen People. That theme is a thread running from the Vehi She'amda (And it is that promise...) near the beginning to the Chad Gadya summation at the end.
  • After all, the Seder table, the Afiikoman, the laws, songs and choice of language are meant to arouse children's curiosity, as the Four Questions symbolize.
  • And after all, no generation's  youngsters are quite the same as the previous ones' in many of their experiences, interests and challenges.
  • And most crucial, the young people are the ones charged with ensuring that their generation and the next feel as though they have been freed from Egypt  That means we have to invest time and preparation in getting them and ourselves into that mindset.

(Aside|: Ifwith G-d's help, we are out of social distancing isolation by Pesach by some miracle, we will all really feel the Exodus. If not, our kids will sigh and pray for it as if they were the Jews enslaved in Egypt!!) 

Every family  needs a  Haggada or several  that will get the youngsters involved, contemplating, participating and interested in going on to the next page, not waiting for the food. And this has to be accomplished without the help of a smartphone and Google.

That is why I highly recomment the Magerman Edition of the Koren Youh Haggadah For Reflecting, Questioning, and Experiencing  because that is exactly what it does.  And it is so unusual and creative that you might unwittingly find yourself looking over the kids' shoulders to  see what comes next. But don't worry – there is a page by page parent guide to accompany the reading.

the Koren Youth Haggada
INN:RS

Sometimes, perhaps too often, we, and not only our children, don't think much about some of the repeated aspects of our religious observance. The Koren Youth Haggada, however, works to raise awareness in various creative ways, one of them by suggesting  you ask your family to think of all the things that had to have occurred for them to be at this Seder Table (not the cleaning, shopping and cooking which for those who normally go away for Passover, is a big change this year). but the fact that they had to remember they were Jewish all through the ages and not give in to persecution, and that their own family had to be brought into being.

The reader reaches this conclusion experientially, and the discussion concludes with:

"Your existence is a miracle. Your loved ones' existence is a miracle. So is the existence of the Jewish people.

"And God kept his promises to us, from the Exodus from Egypt to our return to Israel today.  So we recite: Blessed is He Who has kept His promise to Israel. That is the meaning of saying the Shehecheyanu blessing."

On the trip through the Koren Youth Haggada, a lot of other things happen, some which bring that idea home and others that offer the youngsters an experience that they will want to be part of. Nothing is by rote. There are questions, challenges, activities galore.

Here are several samples of different stimuli to be found there, just for starters:

-Feelings: Do you feel relaxed when you lean and drink?

-Relating to the customs:  Close your eyes and remember the last time you cried so much that could taste your tears.

-With the Jews at  the Red Sea: An unusual hassidic custom is suggested for them to try, showing the hassidim's desire to feel that they were there

-Imparting knowledge: Why don't we make a bracha when we wash our hands after Kiddush at the Seder?

-Understanding: What makes the second son wicked?  The wicked son is called the rebellious son in this Haggada, and youngsters are asked to realize his problem by telling the story of the Exodus in two minutes in a cynical, disbelieving style. (For "Tam" they are told to tell the story in two minutes to a baby on his or her level.)

-Reflective Thinking: Why did G-d think Moses was the right person to lead? Why the ten plagues, why not just take out the Jews? On the other hand, why did it take Pharaoh so long to let them go?

-Encouraging proactive Judaism, feeling part of a collective: How many people around the table know the Shema prayer? What does that say about us? What does putting a mezuzah on your door say?

-Encouraging Jewish identity as a people: Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, foremost leader and  icon of Religious Zionism, is quoted, saying famously that while Passover is the Spring of the entire world (because the Exodus gave the world the ideals of freedom and liberty)  it was also the birth of the Jews as a People and "it is "through the Korban Pesach that the Jewish people became a nation".

On another page, Rabbi  Lord Jonathan Sacks, in that vein, is quoted saying:: "Tell the story while you are doing the deed, because values are caught, not taught."

Another important point to stress is that this is a totally traditional Haggada, promoting the treasure to be found in keeping tradition unaltered. Even the layout was chosen with that message in mind. The text, with an excellent translation and instructions, is always on the left page when the book is opened, while the right hand page is for enrichment, including an inspiring au courant version of  modern Jewish history's Dayenu - not meant to replace the original.

The timelessness and universality of the ideas in the Haggada is portrayed by bringing intellectual stimuli to the young reader as well, with well chosen quotes from the Midrash, Rabbi Lord Sacks, Rabbi Avraham Kook, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Rabbi Shlomo Teichtal Hy"d, etc. and appropriate pearls of universal wisdom from Charles Dickens, Anna Frank, and others.

You simply can't be apathetic to the Seder night with this Haggada. A youngster will either find himself reading and contemplating what he is reading or sharing it with others– or even lose himself in the beautifully designed graphics by Tani Bayer and gorgeous illustrations by Rinat Gilboa.

Many of us have used favorite Haggadas with commentaries for decades – I have four battered beloved ones (no, I won't tell you which ones they are out of our large selection) – but that  is an indication of our comfortable familiarity and identifiication with the Seder, its words and traditions, and the fact that there are always interpretations we have not managed to read in previous years, written by our favorite commentaries.

That is not enough for our children and grandchildren today. Let us get them involved. It is our responsibility.




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