Press Speak

by Jonathan Mark
NEW YORK JEWISH WEEK - March 22-28, 1991

Most new liberal haggadahs, aiming to broaden the appeal of the seder, usually narrow the appeal instead. A feminist haggadah will in all likelihood not be used except by a seder of only women; a gay haggadah will be left to the gays; and no one in the past 30 years has ever suggested " a fifth cup of wine" for anything that really caught on.

One new entry, "The Santa Cruz Haggadah," has defied these problems, and offers the possibility for an old-fashioned, everyone invited, good-time seder, even as it is cognizant of all New Age and 'oppressed' sensibilities. The Santa Cruz - named for the community where this haggadah evolved - includes not only the basic seder, but mystical commentaries side-by-side with hypermodern psychological workouts to aid a non-traditional person gain access to the core of the seder's liberation theology.

This haggadah reorients the seder from national liberation to self-liberation. At numerous points in the seder, the participant is asked questions pertaining to the text. For example, regarding the saying of Hallel: "Am I better at giving praise (Hallel), or giving criticism? Is there anyone to whom I have to make amends either for having withheld praise or for having extended criticism?" Or, "What are the areas of 'Dayeanu,' of 'enoughness' in my life right now...What do I really want right now?"

This sort of seder could easily deteriorate into thumbsucking, noticing that God made the clouds in the sky look like little bunnies, but the delightful, humorous illustrations and commentaries keep this seder from getting far less obvious, self-important and pompous than most radical haggadahs. Each of the Santa Cruz questions leave room for as personal and painful answers as are given in any 'minority' haggadah, while still admitting the traditional Chassidic and yeshiva voices.

The result is a messianic melange, as if the "wise son" and "the wicked son" (or daughters, of course) were making a seder together, and understanding each other by the evening's end more than they ever did before. Maybe they'll even hug.

If this combination of Old Age and New Age seems unique, it reflects the author-editor of this haggadah. Karen G.R. Roekard, who attended the Yeshivah of Flatbush before finding spiritual solace in the New Age Santa Cruz community. She guides her readers into sources, the Artscroll Haggadah and her Brooklyn past, as well as her traditional readers into greater sympathy for the non-traditional.

This haggadah is a joyful introduction - or reintroduction - to the seder for those who need to go outside the classic tradition and don't know where to start. Start here.

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