The other night, I was reading my daughter a story by British author Julia Donaldson, most famous for her book The Gruffalo.
We were reading The Highway Rat, and, in the story, the rat steals from people along the road until he gets his comeuppance from a clever duck.
Like all of Donaldson’s books, it’s the rhythm more than the story that appeals to me. It’s just fun to read. And, when you’re going to be asked to read a book a half-dozen times in a row, having fun helps.
But it took a read or two before I realized why I was enjoying this one so much. The rhythm reminds me of how Anne Shirley recites the poem “The Highwayman” in the 1985 movie “Anne of Green Gables.”
That book was one of my childhood favourites, and one day I’ll introduce it to my daughter.
Sharing the stories that inspired me as a kid is one of the true delights of motherhood.
The fact I love storytelling is why I’ve also always enjoyed Passover – telling the story of the Exodus is the whole point.
But, like the Donaldson books, what I enjoy isn’t just the story.
It’s about the rhythm of how my family has always told it – my parents and aunts and uncles and cousins going paragraph by paragraph through the Haggadah, paragraphs marked to denote who was responsible for which section year after year.
The way the particular Haggadah we used laid out the story of Passover, well, that wasn’t so engaging.
The fun came not from its words, but how my family chose to say them – the ritual jokes about the simple son, the annual banging on the table for the dayenus, the race to see who could find the afikomen first, and whether our uncle would ever actually pay up.
Yet, while the Passover story itself remains the same, the story of our family is changing.
The responsibility for getting us all together on the holidays is beginning to fall more upon my generation – not that of my parents – and it’s bittersweet. The cousins I hunted for the afikomen with three decades ago, we now all have children of our own.
It’s up to us to figure out which rhythms of the Passover seders from our childhood we wish to repeat and which we will choose to discard, in favour of finding our own.
Speaking personally, I’m quite happy to jettison the part about the rabbis sitting all night in B’nei Brak until their students come to tell them it’s time for morning prayers.
But what to replace it with?
Each year, the Forward, a New York-based Jewish publication, runs a roundup of the latest Haggadahs.
The Forward’s list for 2017 wasn’t out yet as I was writing this column, but, in recent years, it has included mobile phone applications and an interactive website where you can essentially write your own Haggadah. New this year, I’ve read elsewhere, is a Haggadah based on the Harry Potter children’s books.
Maybe I could write a Haggadah based on “Anne of Green Gables.” After all, she does get her braids dipped in ink, and surely I could tie that in with dipping leafy vegetables in salt water, somehow.
Much like I can only hope my daughter will one day love Anne as much I do, I can only hope she’ll come to have the same warm, happy memories of Passover.
As parents, we worry often about making the right choices for our kids. That there are so many versions of the Haggadah is a lesson to us that, sometimes, there is no right way. The more important thing is that we are together doing it at all.
For, in telling the story of Passover, we also get to write a new story – our own.