By Penny Schwartz
(JTA) – Keep the kids entertained with some of these standouts in this spring’s crop of engaging new children’s books for Passover.
Baby Moses in a Basket
Caryn Yacowitz; illustrated by
Julie Downing; ages 3 to 7
In simple rhyming verse, Yacowitz reimagines the biblical story of baby Moses as his mother sets him adrift in a basket on the Nile to save him from harm from the Egyptian Pharaoh. The river’s creatures protect baby Moses until he is discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter. Downing’s beautifully colored double-page illustrations bring the story to life.
Seder in Motion: A Haggadah to Move Body and Soul
Rabbi Ron Isaacs and Dr. Leora Isaacs; illustrated by Martin Wickstrom;
A lively family Haggadah that encourages Seder participants of any age to feel a personal connection to the Passover story. The Haggadah follows the traditional order of the Seder and features Jewish customs from around the world along with thought-provoking questions. Plus…tips to include Remote guests.
Meet the Matzah: A Passover Story
Alan Silberberg; ages 3 to 5
Award-winning cartoonist Silberberg sets the humorous action in an imaginary classroom where the “students” are types of breads. Alfie Koman, a shy matzah, tries to retell the story of Passover, but the school sourdough, Loaf, takes over and stirs trouble. Expect lots of laughs from Loaf’s made-up version of the Ten Plagues (among them no WiFi and broccoli for dessert!).
Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh; illustrated by Lauren Gallegos; ages 4-9
At Noa’s multicultural school, the kids like to swap what’s in their lunch boxes. But during Passover, when Noa has an unusual looking cracker – her matzah – she explains to her friends that she can’t swap. In this delightful rhyming story, the spunky Noa shares her favorite ways to eat matzah.
The Great Passover Escape
Pamela Moritz; illustrated by Florence Weiser; ages 4-9
It’s the eve of Passover at the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem, Elle the elephant, Kang the kangaroo and Chimp are eager to find a way to escape and find a Seder. Will the trio get past the locked zoo gate and find a ritual meal? Pamela Moritz’s humor-filled story is embellished with Florence Weiser’s brightly colored illustrations.
The Passover Guest
Susan Kusel; illustrated by Sean Rubin; ages 4 to 8
Kusel’s story takes its inspiration from Uri Shulevitz’s version of Peretz’s Yiddish tale “The Magician.” On the eve of Passover 1933, young Muriel wanders around the nation’s capital, in no hurry to go home because her family doesn’t have enough money for a Seder. At the Lincoln Memorial, Muriel is enchanted by a magician dressed in rags. When he turns up at her family’s door and is invited in for Passover, their table miraculously fills with an abundance of food for the Seder. Could the mysterious guest have been Elijah?
The Magician’s Visit
Based on a story by I.L. Peretz; adapted by Barbara Diamond Goldin; illustrations by Eva Sanchez Gomez; ages 4-8
In this retelling of Peretz’s Yiddish tale, Goldin takes readers back to an old world shtetl. In the days before Passover, a stranger dressed in rags mesmerizes the villagers with his spellbinding magic. When he turns up at the door of a couple who have become too poor to make their own Seder, the magician produces a wondrous and full table. Who is the stranger, who has disappeared when they return?
The Four Questions
Illustrated by Ori Sherman; text by Lynne Sharon Schwartz; ages 8 and up
The lavishly illustrated book is a new printing of the original first published in 1989. Schwartz answers the Four Questions with a lyrical narrative of the Passover story and its rituals. Sherman fills the bordered pages with illustrations of whimsical elephants, monkeys, fish, goats and birds. Turn the book upside down for a view of the Four Questions written in Hebrew calligraphy and other illustrations.
New Haggadahs to spice up your Seder
By Gabe Friedman
(JTA) – The pandemic has altered the experience of the Passover Seder, but one thing hasn’t changed: It’s a golden age for creative Haggadahs. Artists, comedy writers, a range of clergy and more have given the ancient text a modern spin in recent years and disseminated them widely online with the help of self-publishing platforms and aggregation hubs such as Haggadot.com, which also allows users to customize their own. Here are a few new notable examples of new Haggodahs to try if you’re attempting to give your Seder a makeover, whether it’s held on Zoom or in person.
For those who want everything
Bari Mitzmann, a Jewish blogger with a sizable Instagram following, for the second year has spearheaded a joint Haggadah project she calls “HaKol B’Seder” – in Hebrew it can mean either “everything in the Seder” or “it’s all good.” She weaves in an array of female voices who either talk about how a specific part of the Seder resonates with them or provide tips on how to fruitfully get through the Passover season. It’s aimed at those feeling overwhelmed by the COVID pandemic, all of the preparations that a Seder entails, the pressure to intellectualize the holiday’s themes – and, several recipes and food ingredient checklists to help with meal prep.
For those who exhaled when Trump left office
Dave Cowen, who in 2018 published “The Trump Passover Haggadah: ‘People All The Time They Come Up And Tell Me This Is The Best Haggadah They’ve Ever Read, They Do, Believe Me,” has now followed that up with “The Biden-Harris Haggadah: Thank G-d!” Cowen imagines how various figures, ranging from those in the White House to others such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and Merrick Garland, Biden’s attorney general nominee, would narrate a Seder, if all brought together in one room. One example: “Last year was tough. Who else needs a drink?!” Fauci says before reciting the blessing for the first cup of wine.
For the kids who can’t wait for the food already
Let’s face it, the Seder can feel a bit long. And so, last year, Rabbi Matt Berkowitz and Dr. Ron Moses conceived a slim, fold-up seven-page pamphlet – aptly named “The Express Haggadah” – not to help families rush through the Seder, but to assist in getting them through the ritual in its entirety. “‘The Express Haggadah’ enables families to ‘get through it’ before food comas and ‘shpilkes’ cut the seder off in the middle,” a press statement explains. True to form, nothing is left out, from the core prayers to the Exodus story, which is told in a series of quick blurbs.
For the artistically inclined
Some Haggadahs of centuries past were illustrated manuscripts – take the Sarajevo and the Golden Haggadot, for example – artist Emily Marbach points out in the introduction to her “Collage Haggadah,” which features her own beautiful pastiche works. Marbach, a London-based collage artist and printmaker, intersperses the pages of prayer and storytelling with dozens of stimulating works, some of them a blend of ancient imagery with a pop art sensibility.
Another artful option that could double as a coffee table book year-round is the Asufa Israeli art collective’s Haggadah, available in Hebrew and English. The group has produced a new version each year since 2013.
For the history buff
“Next year may we be free men in Palestine,” Nissim Ben Shimon wrote in 1943. As World War II began to swing in favor of the Allies, Ben Shimon, a Moroccan Jew in Rabat, wrote what has been deemed “The Hitler Haggadah” – a semi-humorous Seder text heavily influenced by the events of the war. Translated this year into English from the local Judeo-Arabic of the time, it offers a running commentary of sorts about the war’s events, cracks Nazi jokes and infuses the Seder prayers with hope for a better future for Europe’s Jews, all from a rare North African perspective. One passage starts:
“Wicked Hitler enslaved us; And the Allied Forces rescued us; With a great and mighty outstretched arm …”