There are a wealth of Passover books catering to younger audiences out this spring, including an inventive sports haggadah and brightly illustrated stories for tots.
Jews and baseball go together like matzoh balls and chicken soup. Imagine, then, Rabbi Sharon Forman’s surprise when last Passover, her middle child, Joshua declared that he could not find a baseball-themed haggadah.
To meet the desire of her “baseball-obsessed” Little Leaguers, Forman penned “The Baseball Haggadah: A Festival of Freedom and Springtime in 15 Innings,” illustrated by Lisa Titelbaum and with a forward by Jon “JD” Daniels, president of baseball operations and general manager of the Texas Rangers, and his brother, rabbinical student Ryan Daniels. The self-published book is selling briskly on Amazon.
Baseball, it seems, is the perfect sports vehicle for relating the Passover story and traditions. As is written in the introduction, “On Passover, we celebrate God’s ‘mighty hand and outstretched arm’ (Deuteronomy 26:8). Baseball also celebrates the ability of a good arm to take a team home.”
Home plate with a bit of imagination becomes a Seder plate, there are blessings for wine, grape juice and for sports drinks and even a baseball version of “Who Knows One?” (One is the World Series, two are the teams of the game, three are the outs of an inning and so on.)
“There really are so many connections [between baseball and Passover]. I don’t think I could have made a hockey haggadah,” said Forman. “There’s something kind of religious about [baseball]. The goal is to go home, which really is the point of the Seder.”
There are two teams — the Israelites, headed by team captain Moses, and the Taskmasters, headed by captain Pharaoh — announcers, batters, an umpire and adult coaches (who handle important tasks like lighting candles).
The text is gender-friendly and provides transliteration of Hebrew for the traditional prayers.
Forman cautions that the haggadah, though retaining all of the traditional requirements — albeit with a baseball twist, is meant to be used as a supplement around the Seder table or as a good resource for a mock Seder.
Forman, who was previously the director of education at Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City, said, “I’m somewhat obsessed with Jewish learning in traditional ways and in not so traditional ways. It was important to me not to create a toy for the Seder [but] something that has spiritual and religious values.”
Westchester Reform Temple, where Forman is employed as a part-time rabbi, will host a model Seder for students using “The Baseball Haggadah” later this month.
“And Then Another Sheep Turned Up,” by Laura Gehl of Silver Spring, Md., and illustrated by Amy Adele, is a charming, colorful book about a family of sheep whose guest list for the Seder keeps growing with each page turn.
“Papa poured more wine for Sol. Everybody took a sip,” begins one of the book’s stanzas. “Mama gave karpas to all. Hannah took a piece to dip. And then another sheep turned up!”
With a chorus of “Mama set another place. Papa found an extra seat. Hannah squeezed to make more space, thrilled to have a guest to greet,” the seats surrounding the Seder table grow in number.
The book is appropriate for toddlers through early elementary school age children.
The story is littered with Hebrew phrases, Passover traditions and feel-good lessons about sharing. Over the course of the short story, Ari, the train engineer, rushes to make one last roundtrip from Jaffa to Jerusalem before Passover begins. Along the way he encounters friends and neighbors who help him check off the list of items he needs for his Seder: roasted egg, charoset, parsley, horseradish, shank bone and matzoh.
A brief history lesson on the first train line that ran between the two cities is included in the back of the book.