Dayenu: The Bronfmans’ Fresh Take on the Haggadah

bronfman haggadah

Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdal, Noah Bermanoff, Abigail Pogrebin, Jan Aronson, Edgar Bronfman, Hannah Bronfman, Jeremy Bronfman (Photo: Observer)

The story of Passover includes four children, one who is wise, one wicked, one foolish, and one who does not even know how to ask questions. Any large family is bound to have a few of each, but a couple weeks ago, the Bronfman family came together to celebrate a truly lovely new Haggadah, the book that tells the story of the exodus from Egypt and is read at seder tables around the world during Passover.

The Bronfman Haggadah, written by Edgar M. Bronfman and lavishly illustrated with watercolors by his wife, Jan Aronson, will be a welcome relief to those who view Passover with resentful memories of mothers giving death stares during four-hour dissertations on a story that may be losing relevance to diaspora Jews raised on Wii and compulsive media portrayal of Israel as the oppressor, not the oppressed. This haggadah, all in English and focused on universal Jewish values, is a big departure from the boring, badly written freebie haggadot handed out at King’s and Shop Rite. But in a weird way, its focus on the ecstasy of being Jewish and celebrating Passover together actually comes closer to the spirit of Passover than the stultifying books it seeks to replace.

A couple weeks ago, the Bronfmans celebrated the release of The Bronfman Haggadah with–what else?–a party at the Four Seasons. Joined by friends like Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky and MC’d by cousins Hannah Bronfman and Jeremy Bronfman, Edgar observed that Passover, the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday, “is the most important holiday because it’s the only time G-d refers to himself, [saying] ‘When I took you out of Egypt.’ That’s when we became a people.” Ms. Aronson was more about the here and now. “How long have you been married?” The Observer asked her. “Twenty-four years. But I call it ‘time served.’”

It’s the kind of banter that’ll be familiar to millions of Jewish families across the globe this week as they break matzo together. Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the executive director of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, put it like this: “What a family. Actually, it’s more of a tribe than a family. I think Edgar at this point in his life has set the bar high for what it means to be a patriarch: reflective, wise, and always looking to convene the membership.”