Elevate to Celebrate with the Haggadah Collective

One of my first memories of Passover is as a teenager helping my mother, Lily Brown, set the table for our family Seders. It was our special time together. A time for me to learn and observe, a time that further solidified our deep connection. 

She showed me how and where to place the cutlery and dishes, the candle sticks and Seder plate, the Kiddush cups and Elijah’s cup, the parsley and saltwater, the matzah cover, and the beautiful water glasses. She allowed me to use my creativity by folding the napkins in the shape I wanted and by placing the Haggadot where I desired. I watched her cook outstanding dishes—from cucumber salad, brisket, and wine-and-nut sponge cake—prepared specially for Passover for up to 25 people in a two-bedroom apartment. But that wasn’t all she did. My mother prepared her home by renting tables and chairs, and insisted on cleaning up after the Seder by herself because she had an “organized system.” She must have worked for weeks, completing a different chore every day so she wouldn’t be overwhelmed when the Seder came. 

Pearl and Maxie surround Lily Brown with love and a kiss on each cheek. Photo courtesy of Pearl Richman.

My mother opened her door and her heart to anyone who didn’t have a place to go. She always began our Seder by saying something meaningful that would resonate with all of us, which included introducing me to the fifth child, the child of the Holocaust, who did not survive to ask a question. Looking back, I marvel at the many challenges she faced as a single mother, and how she continually rose up to set an extraordinary example for our family. I’ve cherished Passover every year of my life. For the last 30 years, I have made the Seders at my home with my husband Steven, my children Maxie and Cole, and my mother by my side. I’ve tried to maintain the important traditions of the Seder while also bringing in new traditions that would give deeper significance to our Passover. With my mother as my inspiration, I introduced modern interpretations of traditional texts that promote inclusivity and provide the opportunity to experience a more profound understanding of our world today.

I gathered different books, news articles, and scraps of paper and sticky-notes to share with loved ones each year. Eventually, my mother said, “Enough, you have to get this all on the same page.” And I did. 

The resources Pearl collected over the years to use and share at the Seder table. Photo courtesy of Pearl Richman. 

I spent nearly 35 years teaching, and my desire to create learning opportunities carried into the home. I always sought out new ways to make our Seders meaningful and interactive, and that continued on when, in 2017, motivated by mother’s suggestion, I curated, with the help of my daughter, a comprehensive Haggadah so that we could all be on the same page—literally. The creation of our modern and inclusive Haggadah—which includes the fifth child, directions to place an orange on a Seder plate in honour of the LGBTQ+ community, Miriam’s cup in honour of women, a prayer and fifth cup for refugees, and the “matzah of anguish and hope” to acknowledge victims of terror in Israel—also marked the start of the Haggadah Collective

Soon after, Hug-It-Out, the illustrated children’s companion Haggadah followed. It mirrors the adult version page for page. My daughter Maxie and I wanted the kids in our lives to feel empowered by having their voices heard at the Seder table, and we wanted everyone to experience the Seder together. Hug-It-Out is a love letter to the children at our Passover table who learn about Judaism from us with great curiosity and awe. Nothing warms my heart quite as much as hearing parents share that Hug-It-Out sparks their children’s interest in the Seder and enables their kids to take on a bigger role. As one parent shared, If they can read, they can lead!

I could never have predicted that an act of love for my family would evolve into creating the Haggadah Collective. In 2019, the Haggadah and Hug-It-Out went semi-viral in Toronto when hundreds welcomed the Haggadot into their home after seeing us profiled on local TV stations and in the Canadian Jewish News. Since then, the Haggadah Collective has grown immensely.  Our products can be found on the shelves of the Jewish Museum New York, Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History, and several online Judaica stores. Not to mention, local retailers in Canada have embraced our company. Especially Type Books in Toronto, the first retailer who took a chance on the Haggadah. Due to our success, we are able to donate hundreds of Hug-It-Outs to UJA and offer families another tool to create a wonderful Seder. I like to call the Haggadah Collective the little company that could.

After the success of the two Haggadot, retailers were asking: “What are you creating next?”

It didn’t take long to kick my inner interior-stylist into gear and create other beautiful Jewish items. Creating these pieces is my way of practicing Hiddur Mitzvah, the beauty mitzvah. Hiddur Mitzvah refers to taking the time, or making the effort, to beautify religious objects to enrich the religious practice or experience. Everything I create has layers of meaning, intention, and beauty at their core in order to elevate the aesthetic and the experience of your celebrations. My favourite example is the blue thread found across most of our products. Inspired by a gift from my mother to my husband Steven for his 50th birthday, the blue thread symbolizes the Tekhelet on his tallit and is said to promote the highest spiritual connection. 

The Haggadah Collective spread. Except to find their vintage linen Matzah cover and Afikoman bag set, the Haggadah, Hug-It-Out, and dippin’ dabbers, all on a  sleek wooden board.

Today, there is no greater pleasure than having my growing family together for Passover and to see the sheer joy in my 94-year-old mother’s eyes when she walks into our home, breathes in the familiar aroma of the foods being prepared, and hugs her grandchildren. I feel immeasurable pride to witness my family read from the Haggadah that my daughter and I curated. I watch my mother take in my Passover table filled with all the Judaica, family heirlooms, and Haggadah Collective pieces. All at once the past and present meet, and during those two days, my ancestors and my family celebrate together.

Header image design by Orly Zebak. Photo courtesy of Pearl Richman.

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