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Book Review: Seder Stories by Nancy Rips

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Besides Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the Jewish High Holy Days), Passover (Pesach) is the most universally observed religious holiday among Jews in the United States. The cornerstone of Passover is a family celebration/religious/educational experience called “the Seder.” The purpose of the Seder is for Jews to recall the “Exodus” from Egyptian slavery, experienced thousands of years ago and described in the Bible.

In every generation, says the Hagaddah (the book of prayers and readings used to conduct a Seder), it is one’s duty to regard himself (or herself) as though he (or she) had personally gone out from Egypt. In so doing, we not only remember for ourselves the value of freedom, faith and tradition, we also pass these values onto the next generations. Nancy Rips' newly-published collection of stories anecdotes, quotations and questions from Cumberland House called simply Seder Stories is a welcome addition to anyone’s Seder planning strategy. Whether you use a “traditional” Hagaddah or have created your own, the quips, quotes and anecdotes contained in Seder Stories can be inserted here and there to enliven your Seder or used as jumping off points for deeper exploration.

Rips presents both traditional and contemporary takes on the meaning of both the holiday of Passover and its celebration. Contributors span pop culture figures, scholars, contemporary thinkers and normal, every-day people. It is the breadth of the wisdom and warmth (and humor) of the of the 101 Passover tidbits that allow this little book to resonate with anyone who attends, prepares, enjoys or is perplexed by this uniquely Jewish week-long festival.

Celebrities, including Richard Dreyfus, Joan Rivers, Billy Crystal and Rosanne Barr offer their lighter thoughts on the holiday alongside quotations from the Talmud, philosophers and scholars, including Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Rabbi Harold Kushner.

A particularly amusing chapter is called “The Dysfunctional Family Seder Survival Guide.” “Pesach is a time for gathering together around the Seder table and reliving the liberation of our people from Egyptian Bondage with signs and wonders,” says Rips. “Unfortunately this ritual does not free us from enslavement to our extended family. The ‘signs’ of that togetherness included elevated blood pressure, shattered nerves and a churning in the pit of your stomach.”

Rips goes on to provide strategies for dealing with a variety of familial types often unavoidable at the Seder gathering from that annoying aunt, who can’t stop interrupting to your newly self-confessed vegan niece, who scolds (continually) about the hypocrisy of discussing affliction and slavery eating the flesh of exploited animals!

Rips also includes a mini-manual for singles, including a very clever connection between the traditional order of the Seder and the dating game. Seder Stories can help liven up a traditional Seder, or provide source material for those who enjoy creating their own unique Seder experiences. Passover begins with the first Seder on Saturday night, April 19th.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her debut novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse comes out October 11 from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Barbara,

    You (and others) can go to this site for a brief (and slightly abbreviated video about the star of the pessaH show, MATZA!

    Nice review.

  • Hey Ruvy, it’s nice when we can agree on something! I love that video! Glad you liked the review.

    Barbara