Two Oklahoma City women who have coordinated countless Passover Seders said there is one thing they couldn't do without: the Haggadah that ties the sacred meal together.
“It would be like having a play with no script,” Helene Harpman said, smiling.
The Haggadah is a compilation of prayers, Bible passages, hymns and rabbinical literature that is read during the Passover Seder, a ceremony held in Jewish homes to commemorate the Israelite liberation from Egypt in biblical times. The eight-day Passover holiday began at sundown Friday.
Traditional family Seders are typically held on the first night of Passover in Jewish homes. Also many Jewish synagogues and temples often host a congregation-
Harpman, 77, a retired University of Oklahoma professor, said some nontraditional Passover Seders are often held at other times during the holiday.
Harpman and her longtime friend Linda Gardner, 74, have collaborated for years to coordinate and cook for the congregational Seder at Emanuel Synagogue. This year, the pair decided they would coordinate a three-family Seder at Harpman's home.
Abby Jacobson, rabbi of Emanuel Synagogue, said the Haggadah guides Jewish families through the sacred meal.
The Jewish leader said the Haggadah provides a teachable moment.
She said most Jewish families have several different copies of the Haggadah, particularly the Maxwell House Haggadah distributed for free at grocery stores in the 1950s as a promotion for the coffee company.
Gardner and Harpman said a Haggadah often holds special significance or family memories.
For instance, Gardner, who attends Emanuel Synagogue, said she recently rediscovered a vintage Haggadah that was presented to her as a Hebrew School award when she was 8 years old. Gardner said she and her family have utilized the treasured Haggadah, published in 1946, for many years after leaving her native England and settling in the United States.
Harpman said she has a Haggadah that was created by family friend and graphic artist Hannah Smotrich to fulfill her master of fine arts degree requirements.
Harpman said a Haggadah may reflect different themes, though the Passover story is the same.
She said she chose “A Family Haggadah II” by author Shoshana Silberman because of its beautiful illustrations and detailed explanations about Passover Seder customs. She said this is particularly helpful at Seders where some non-Jews will be guests, such as the Seder she planned to host.
“I like it because it gets everybody involved,” she said.
Harpman said she also was attracted to Silberman's Haggadah because it includes a concise but thorough history of the Jews before the Passover story begins, while many Haggadot start at the Passover story.
Harpman said her collection also includes “The Open Door,” a Haggadah edited by Sue Levi Elwell that was utilized at a female-themed Seder Harpman attended several years ago. Another Haggadah in Harpman's collection is “The Wolloch Haggadah,” a Holocaust-themed Seder guide named after the couple who commissioned it in 1981. She said the Wolloch Haggadah includes colorful illustrations of such Holocaust-
No matter the theme, the Seder text helps Jewish families keep God's commandment to “Ve'higadetak l'vinca,” a Hebrew phrase which translates to “And you shall tell it to your child.”