By Deb Silverthorn
Once upon a time there were thousands of years of stories to tell. Since 2009, Alyson Ray has had her family’s Haggadah written, and rewritten, from year to year. What started as an assignment during a class preparing her for her bat mitzvah, has turned into a labor of love and lore.
“We’ve had Seders small and large, up to 40 people, and it’s always been a favorite holiday for so many reasons. Bringing everyone together and sharing lots of traditions makes it meaningful. Being able to create ‘our story’ out of our story is something I’ve enjoyed through the years,” said Ray.
Ray was raised in Oklahoma City, the daughter of Elaine and Harrison Levy and sister of Stuart. Her synagogue, Temple B’nai Israel, only began holding bat mitzvahs as she came of age. She was not interested at the time; her true Jewish connection happened in the years that followed when she was a member of TOFTY (Texas Oklahoma Federation of Temple Youth) and a counselor at URJ Greene Family Camp.
Her family’s base was the “Union Haggadah,” then the “30 Minute Seder: The Haggadah That Blends Brevity With Tradition.”
She is married to Joe, whom she met through a JCC singles party. As the couple’s daughters — Katie, Becca and Lexi — and their generation were going through their own bat mitzvah studies and celebrations, Ray decided she wanted to learn, grow and connect in that manner as well.
The family has deep roots at Temple Emanu-El. There she joined the adult bat mitzvah class; one of the leaders suggested using the creation of a Haggadah as a good Hebrew language exercise.
Each year the Ray Family Haggadah has kept the focus and traditions but with new songs, memes, cartoons and more being brought in.
“I included a play one year, ‘Let My People Go,’ and each guest was ‘cast’ in a role. I’ve made up some of the things I put in and I’ve found lots online. There’s so much to be found. It’s fun to have everyone, every age, somehow included,” said Ray.
Ray’s Haggadah is the gift that keeps on giving for her family and guests. Once you hear it, even read it, it’s tough to get “Gilligan’s Exodus” — sung to the theme of “Gilligan’s Island” — out of one’s head.
“Recline right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, that started many years ago in old, ancient Egypt. The Jews were forced to work as slaves, they suffered that ordeal. We celebrate their Exodus with a three-hour meal, a three-hour meal!”
While the matzo ball soup is flowing, and the angst for the afikoman growing, Ray recommends creativity from within each home to make the effort of the holiday worth undergoing.
Sandi Greenberg, whose family shared many Seders with the Rays, says the multigenerational meals were always fun, creative and a good time together.
“For sure there was so much to look at aside from the traditional prayers and story, and that made it lots of fun” she said.
The designs and inclusions come throughout the year; as she’s cleaning the chametz and buying the matzos, copies from Kinko’s are always on her to do list.
“This holiday is about freedom, about leaving slavery behind. For most families it is for sure the time to connect. Giving each other the gift of laughter and some silliness, as we read what really is such an important and serious part of our heritage, is something I love to do,” she said.
This year, she is getting ready to travel to Australia, where her daughter lives and where she will enjoy a “down under” Seder.
More “Gilligan” lyrics to giggle and sing: “The Pharaoh was an evil dude, his wrath would not repent; if not for the effort of the fearless Jews… we’d all be keeping Lent.”