The Poetry of Leaving Egypt


At the center of Passover is the seder. And at the center of the seder is a story: Maggid, just one of 14 steps to the seder, but the one that takes up the majority of the seder’s time. It’s either the most boring part, or the most exciting, depending on the teller…and depending on the story. 

The new Poet’s Haggadah is an anthology of writings about the seder. The collection focuses on contemporary Jewish poets, for the most part–but it also samples both historical poets (Stanisław Lec, a Polish-Jewish luminary) and Pedro Almodovar (a non-Jewish film director).

“Broken matzah has a new name,” writes Robert Klein Engler in the section for Yahatz, the breaking of the matzah. “So does a broken man.” And Ellyn Maybe, in her version of the Four Questions, invites all of Jewish history, from Fiddler on the Roof to Kafka, to comment on her Jewish ethnic identity. But there are also less abstract parts. During handwashing, for instance: “All is in the hands of man. Therefore wash them often,” writes Lec.

The Poet’s Haggadah is not a literal haggadah–though it involves all the actions of the seder, it doesn’t include the traditional text. Instead of a script for your seder, think of the book as a really interesting guest, a companion that will make your Passover evening that much more meaningful and thought-provoking.

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