I suspect many families have a similar dusty box in some closet somewhere, but this one is mine. Each haggadah is a part of a puzzle I use to reconstruct the story of who my grandparents were in an immediate, practical way. From these books, I know what they were eating and what they believed in, not just during my lifetime, but during the childhood of my parents, and before.
Reading the texts inside, it is also possible to reconstruct something of the social trends my grandparents lived through. Changing artwork reflects upon the era and community that created the Haggadah, from some who depict the Jewish family as wholly American in look, to those that paint smiling, happy Zionists transforming the Holy Land into the modern state of Israel, to the truly fascinating “Haggadah of the Chinese Jews” – part functional Haggadah, part social study on a version of Judaism that came out of Persia to adapt to life in the “Celestial Kingdom.”
This is one of the small, tactile ways I remember those who can no longer be with us. This is important always, but especially now, where social distancing has us isolated even from those who are still living. We are now in the midst of Counting of the Omer – numbering the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot – preparing ourselves to receive the Torah. This is traditionally a period of sadness and mourning, a period where Jews do not get their hair cut or have weddings. The irony is that in 2020, these prohibitions are already placed upon us.
Yet despite the distancing, despite the Omer, we must remember that the week is coming when we will be able to gather together and receive the Torah as a community.