My Haggadah: Made It Myself was the product of the perfect cultural storm: the Maker Movement, a Judaism by choice and not post WWII anxiety, a culinary chasm (food and Jews are inextricably linked after all) and the increased value of good design.
Author Francine has pretty traditional seder memories: wafting chicken soup, matzah balls, hard-boiled eggs, walnut and wine filled charoset and singing every Hebrew word well into the night. Atypical aspects include a family and friend gathering of over 100 and rounds of shlivovitz drunk to yiddish toasting songs. The sum total of a deep and joyous cultural imprint. By contrast, her film director, designer husband, Adam, grew up with little to no Jewish connection--a cultural cocktail of assimilation and secularization with a healthy splash of religious cynicism. Add to their dichotomy a first child born deathly allergic to practically any Jewish meal: wheat, eggs, chicken, nuts, etc. Jewish holidays--all intrinsically linked to wheat, eggs, and chicken--were marked by one emergency room visit after the next.
If Francine and family were going to practice Judaism it was going to have to speak to their new family unit and therefore be crafted by them through conversation and contemporary meaning. Food would follow, not lead. For example, Shabbat bread-breaking was made not by two soul-satisfyingly crispy yet chewy challahs, but by equally delicious french fry pairs.
The Passover seder though was the big starting point. The entire ritual is grounded in empathy, curiosity and conversation--family participatory question asking, answer seeking and thoughtful listening. But really, for most its one tasting course after the next. My Haggadah: Made It Myself was the skeleton of a conversation Francine had with her then 4 year old child using all of the languages available to him: words, pencils, markers, glue and paint.
Little did they realize at the time, but the Hermelin Levite family was at the epicenter of a Jewish cultural moment. Young Jews were wrestling with the why's and how to's of being and doing Jewish everywhere. Conversations were emerging in living rooms and cafes about creating on ramps for making more personal connections to Jewish practice. Francine was engaged in both local conversations on the board of the Jewish Community Project of Downtown Manhattan and through a larger national conversation called Reboot.
At the same time, parents were deeply engaged in tossing aside rote forms of education and choosing more inquiry-based and experiential learning environments--all very Jewish in fact. And from an aesthetic standpoint, Jewish products and images were completely out of step with contemporary families' personal design choices, more organic, modern, simplified and sophisticated taste. The Jewish products needed to match the Jewish family.
Our families conundrums mirrored a culture also asking "why should I care" and "what should I do?" and "how can I make this my own?" What began as a family project, soon became a community one and soon after found itself into the hands of 100's of families around the world. Today My Haggadah: Made It Myself acts as a blue print for families, schools and individuals each seeking to creatively personalize the story and use the personal connection to connect with others.