A new Haggadah for a newly poetic Pesach

We’re barely through Purim, but the holidays seem to come earlier each year — at least for me, as I get later and later into my own life. Is this a phenomenon also common to you who are reading this now?

And I do want you to read this with care, since I’m writing about something that promises to enhance the arrival of the Pesach Seder this year.

Like so much I often find of new value, this “something” is a book. A Jewish book. Actually, a holiday book that deserves to live in the homes of many of our Jewish households soon, before Pesach is truly upon us.

“Night of Beginnings” is a brand-new Passover Haggadah, a substantial and beautiful volume written and illustrated by Marcia Falk, whom you may already know from her well-received “The Book of Blessings and The Days Between.” Not surprisingly, this latest offering also has her feminist emphasis: It tells the entire story of the Exodus, but while doing so, highlights the presence of all its female characters and their actions.

Falk is a poet, so it’s also not a surprise that her Haggadah is the old story as we of course already know it, but with some changes to make this Seder “journey” a newly poetic one as well. And because Falk is also an artist, her own illustrations — so many of them floral — contribute throughout these 232 pages to the atmosphere of springtime that is so truly fitting for Pesach.

Many Haggadot — probably most of today’s most used and most popular — do not begin with the total story of Pesach; this one starts farther back in time, with Pharaoh’s decreed attempt to kill all Jewish male infants, and the saving of Moses by that ruler’s own daughter.

I would not recommend, however, that any family has to purchase this book for all of its members; rather, a single volume may easily and effectively be used to supplement your prior favorites by copying those not-covered sections like the one above. Simply by keeping just one book on your Seder table, pre-read and with selections chosen by its leader, you will have an array of possible additions to enhance the texts of other Haggadot: It is gender-sensitive in both English and Hebrew, includes some private meditation time and introduces many new poems and songs along with some new adaptations of traditional readings.

So here’s all you need to know: March 1 was the book’s formal publication date by the Jewish Publication Society in association with the University of Nebraska Press. Its cover price is $19.95, but single copies may be purchased at a 40% discount if ordered online (JPS webpage, using code 6AS22), or 50% off for 10 or more copies (use code 6FALK50) until April 30.

BTW: What is your favorite memory of Pesachs past? Jewish authors like Philip Roth and Herman Wouk have reported on youngsters crawling between adult legs under the table during the Seder. Mine is my Zeyde testing out the fierce chrayn (horseradish) he’d cooked up for our Seder, and the redness of his face as he swallowed, then pronounced it “Perfect!” But Marcia Falk doesn’t recommend anything humorous, even though the promise of her “Night of Beginnings” is to “open up new Pesach holiday experiences…new relationships to tradition…and new insights into liberation possibilities for today.”

I personally hope your holiday will be joyful, no matter what Haggadah you choose to use for your own Seder table!

Harriet Gross can be reached at

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