BOSTON, March 9 (JTA) — The cover of “Wonders and Miracles: A Passover Companion” is so glorious, readers of all ages might be tempted to enjoy its splendor and forget the pages that follow. That would be a mistake. Eric A. Kimmel’s bold entrance into the world of Passover offers rewards well beyond the golden-haired cherubs and brightly adorned figurine-like images of Moses and his brother, Aaron, which grace the cover. The illustration is a 21st-century adaptation of an 18th-century Haggadah patterned on even earlier Haggadot. “Wonders and Miracles” (Scholastic Press), illustrated with art spanning 3,000 years, is a Passover companion, not a Haggadah, Kimmel recently explained in a conversation at the enclosed rooftop greenhouse of Scholastic’s lower Manhattan office. Kimmel said he intended it to be read before the holiday begins, in preparation for Passover, and to be used during the Seder, as a supplement to the Haggadah, which has been evolving more than 2,000 years. “This is a book for people who are putting on a seder who may not know exactly why we do the things we do or what’s a seder all about,” Kimmel explained. “I wanted to have something for every member of the family.” The family-oriented book follows the order of the Haggadah and explains all the elements of the seder — from setting the seder plate to the four cups of wine and the full story of Passover. But Kimmel’s companion is a rare combination of scholarly and popular material, of interest to the learned and accessible to beginners. Readers are treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the rituals embedded in generations of traditional Seders with smooth-as-silk storytelling and writing. Kimmel also fills in historical background, giving context and meaning to Haggadah passages which may be unexplained or glossed over in the years of repetitive reading. Kimmel, the highly acclaimed, award-winning writer and storyteller best known for “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins,” said he wanted to add his voice to the abundance of Passover literature. “I have a hearty respect for tradition and I have a hearty disrespect for it. I think a lot of things we do are funny. A lot of the things people tell children or explain to gentile visitors to the seder are often total nonsense.” Kimmel aims to set the record straight. Youngsters in particular might enjoy learning that there was once a different fourth question in the “Mah Nishtanah.” An explanation of the acronyms for the Ten Plagues will also intrigue children and his original play, “How Many Plagues?” enlivens the seder with a touch of Jewish humor and talmudic lore. There are unfamiliar morsels such as the Greek origins of the word “afikomen,” the “hidden” matzah that is eaten as dessert. Kimmel’s treatment of food which is “kosher” for Passover offers a humorous explanation for the reason some people avoid eating chick peas. The word for chickpeas in Hebrew is hummus, which sounds like the word, chametz, the leavened food not allowed on Passover. “Wonders and Miracles” is equally outstanding for Kimmel’s adept explanation of the powerful story of the Exodus, which Kimmel noted, is not told fully in the traditional Haggadah. Kimmel also devotes three pages to the Prophet Miriam, Moses’ sister, who played a large role in the story of Exodus but isn’t included in the Haggadah. Three reproductions of Miriam’s Cups by American artists display the range of expression in Judaic contemporary art. It is one example of the abundance of unusual artwork culled from museum collections around the world, which Kimmel is quick to credit as a labor of love by his editor. One of Kimmel’s favorite Passover stories, a personal recollection, didn’t make it in to the book. “In our house in Brooklyn, the Passover stuff belonged to our Grandma, who lived with us,” Kimmel recalled of his childhood. “She kept it in a barrel in the basement. All the Passover silverware, very heavy stuff, had the word ‘willow’ engraved on the handle. For years I wondered ‘what’s the connection between Passover and willow?’” The young Kimmel’s mind wandered to hidden Jewish interpretations of various trees. “I finally asked my father, who laughed when he explained that Grandma and Grandpa lived on Christie Street in Brooklyn across the street from the Willow Cafeteria.” Kimmel has also included the works of others — stories by well-known Jewish children’s writers such as Peninnah Schram, Nina Jaffe and a well-adored classic Passover K’tonton story by Sadie Rose Weilerstein. The first recipe Kimmel includes is for Huevos Haminados, long-cooked eggs which turn brown from onion skins. It is one of Kimmel’s favorites which he said he learned from his wife, Doris, to whom the book is dedicated. “Wonders and Miracles” concludes with the words to Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. “I wanted a book that was alive, not a lesson,” Kimmel said. “I wanted a book to keep you awake, after four glasses of wine, and something interesting to look at.”
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