The Birthday Haggaddah: A Personal Seder
Shalom and blessings:
We invite you to tell your personal story in the narrative of this unique Birthday Haggaddah. The order of the Telling will be up to you. Every personal has an obligation to write their own Odyssey.
On Passover the Seders Haggaddah begins after we define four types of disciples; the wise, the wicked, the simple and the dumbfounded. To be wise you simply include yourself in the story of our people.
We are children of Israel, Jew and Christians, and Jacob’s story is our story. We wrestle with our identity and pray we emerge a victor in the struggles of life. The stories of our ancestors are signposts for all descendents. On Passover the heart of the haggaddah begins with Abraham, our first wandering and wondering founding father.
Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, in her Reflections on Genesis, writes of the imperative of transformation given to Abraham. Abraham was ordered to leave his home. Moving changes ones destiny. Furthermore, Abraham was commanded to journey inward, to find the roots of his own soul. The first focus is place; the second, person, and the third will be in time. In time Abraham will encounter Ten Trials or Tests. No direct connection is made between the ten trials and the ten plagues, How did the plagues affect the Israelites? Our firstborn were saved; as was Isaac on his altar. In the history of Israel the tenth trial often lead to a more severe decree.
My story begins with my Father, an Abraham, actually an Abraham Isaac. As an eight year old his eyes witnessed almost unspeakable sufferings. I feel guilty, being only a second class survivor. I never heard my father Abrahams story until I was forty years old and presenting my genogram during Post Graduate Family Therapy training.
My fortieth birthday was for discernment.
You all know I have a fondness for the Irish poet W.B.Yeats, who writes that the aged are
“a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick, unless,
Soul claps its hands and sings”…
Clapping and singing bring us back to our topic, the birthday and its meaning in the narrative of our life.
The philosopher Priest of the Book of Ecclesiastes opines that the day we die is better than the day we are born, that it is better to go to a house of mourning than a birthday party.
Is sadness better than laughter?
The only birthday party in the bible is for the Pharaoh, the hard hearted despot, our oppressor in chief! (Genesis 40:22).
So what is this Birthday Haggaddah Seder all about?
At the very end of Deuteronomy we are informed that Moses was 120 years young when he was translated from earth to heaven. He was strong (all his juices still flowing) and his eyesight still good.
That makes sixty precisely middle age.
So teaches a Mishnah (Avot 5:24) which we discuss below.
…at age 60 Lazikna
towards old age, which is 120.
The generic Jewish Happy Birthday wish is Bis hundert und tzvantic.
With all this our tradition does focus on the anniversary of ones death and not ones birth.
We turn to the Renewal movement to discover the case for ritualizing the birthday as sacred time. The founder, Rabbi Zalman Shalomi urges his disciples to move from Age-ing to Sage-ing. Rabbi Shohama Weiner sees the birthday as sacred jewish time.
Sacred is now also dual identity time, for we have two calendars we live by, one that marks time A.D. anno domino and another according to Torah time.
This year, 5777 , marks not the years since the worlds creation; but the years since we emerged from our caves.
For Jews the calendar is our only catechism, so we wonder if we celebrate our torah time birthday or our secular time birthday. No wonder Jews are just like everyone else, only in a double dose!
In all seriousness contact me and I will look up the day you were born according to the Hebrew calendar.
This is a Seder you design and personalize, following the generic order for the meal.
Identify your favorite exotic foods and bless them before the meal ; if you want to inspire any children present, as we do on Passover.
Ask at least four questions:
Does Passover mark the birth of the children of Israel as a people?
What about Rosh Hashanah?
(Let them eat cake before the meal if this inspires a symposium.)
Then wash and teach the civilized order of the meal that sanctifies time.
Bless the bread.
Let birthday become holiday, become holyday, as you sit with family and friends.
(Avot 5:23.) Judah ben Tayma teaches:
Be as bold as a leopard
As light as an eagle
As swift as a deer
And strong as a lion
To do the will of your Parent in Heaven
He added (5:24)
Age five for the written law of Moses
Age Ten for the oral discussions of Mishna
Age 13 for the fulfillment of the Teachings
Age 15 for Talmud
Age 18 for marriage
Age 20 to chase your dreams
Age 30 for power
Age 40 discernment
Age 50 for sage advice
Age 60 lazikna
Age 70 for the hoary head
Age 80 to lionize
Age 90 to bend
Age 100 towards the end.
We see in this Mishna the decades marking time. Which are you approaching?
A model text for creating birthday blessings:
(Depending on your age, and family, you bless your spouse and children; and then they bless, toast, or roast you.)
May I merit the qualities of our ancestors;
and have the laughter and love of Sarah
The vision of Rebecca
The modesty and radiance of Rachel
And the kindness of mother Leah.
May I be a founder like Abraham
With the awe of Isaac.
May I triumph in every struggle like Jacob
Who earned the name Israel.
May I have the wealth and worldliness of Joseph
And the wisdom to understand the blessings of his sons
Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:20)
The blessing is not to the first born alone
So may we merit the leadership of Judah
And learn to save our own life.
And make us like the midwives
Whose disobedience “birthday” our people.
So may we ascend with Moses
And be high priests like Aaron
Who bless one another with tradition
And dancing, and the sanctified spin:
Lord, I hear you singing happy birthday
Each candle a blessing, I am content with my portion.
I see the light of your face, it is my education
and your grace, more light, more life.
The veil lifted, I see you face to face
A bride, I feel your Peace.
May we then be like Joshua
And conquer our seven vices
And sue for Peace
and enter the Holy Land.
O Lord God of Israel
Let there be Peace on earth
Let it begin with me.
May we find our soul in the songs of Miriam
And drink deeply from her well.
Next, the heart of the Haggaddah. your story.
Following are two short versions for your own personal Seder’s as a model.
The Haggaddah (My Story)
My father served the stranger, he survived.
I am only a second class survivor.
My story begins on 14 Teveth 5711 which corresponds to December 23, 1950. On that weekend a snowstorm blanketed the Berkshires, and we finished reading the Book of Genesis in the synagogue.
Happy New Year, 1951 my covenant was cut. My Zadie must have been the Sandak. The Godfather. I was entered into the Covenant of Abraham. I was then given my names.
What I mean is, Laurence Maurice Alpern then took upon himself a second identity, chosen by Elijah the Prophet, Aryeh Moshe. Named for my grandfathers brother Maurice Moshe Alpern I am still seeking to understand that identity.
So, Elijah taught me that I have a dual identity. Am I Laurence Maurice American Jew, or am I Aryeh Moshe, Jewish American?
Being Rabbi Both/and and not Rabbi Either/or I am an American Jewish Rabbi named Laurence Maurice Aryeh Moshe Elijah Alpern. The R.E.A.L. (smile!)
The challenge to modern Jews is to be at peace with a dual identity.
Christians, who in my opinion are true Israelites, are invited to take a biblical name and plug into the biblical calendar.
For all my wonderful colleagues who are Priests and Pastors I proclaim:
The Tikkun of Christianity is in you return to your Torah roots.
Embrace Biblical heroes. Embrace Torah time.
This has nothing to do with conversion. The branches need not convert to the roots. The trees of the field proclaim: When you eat the fruit kindly bless the root.
Actually the story itself predates Abraham and Sarah and begins in Eden.
The Original Teaching in Genesis is to be fruitful and to multiply and fill the earth with offspring, all of whom will celebrate the day of their birth once life has meaning as the sanctification of time.
You write your own Haggadah and you do the telling. When we are infants we are in Eden, where milk and honey flow from twin ruby fountains and our Cherubic faces inspire only smiles. Angels see to our every need as we crawl and then toddle, until we are up on uncertain legs looking for a way out.
Truth be told, it is time to turn birthday rituals inside out.
Send parents a thank you note for being.
Send them a present. And to siblings, even those who displaced you, send a greeting card of reconciliation.
If all you are able to do is send a hallmark card to honor your family, do so. Share honor!
Better yet, design your own blank birthday cards and write a love note to your loved ones. Reconnect. This is how we grow up and out and light the candle that is in the heart.
Give hands and fingers to your heart and soul.
Plan your favorite meal and invite all your significant’s.
Discuss Friedmans The Birthday Party. (E mail me for a copy!)
Talking points, (may expand upon)
Remember, conversation, not conversion!
ONE: Sixty five winters ago I was born from my mother Rhoda Theresa Weiss and my Father Abraham Isaac aka Adolf Isadore Alpern. A Shabbat child I was destined to teach the Sabbath of history. Shabbat Shalom!
TWO: Aged five I had not heard one biblical story and had never been blessed by my parents according to the rituals of the Jewish tradition.
THREE: Aged ten I had not heard of Mishnah or the Oral tradition or been taught any history.
In fact I did learn mythology posing as history, the story of Abraham the Jew. I think I was expelled from Hebrew school for asking how Abraham could be Jewish if his great grandson had not yet been born.
FOUR: At thirteen I was bar mitzvah but did not fulfill, as far as I knew, any of the Commandnments.
FIVE: At fifteen, when tradition teaches Talmud I took instruction from a Chaim Potok book,The Chosen, as good an introduction as any.
SIX: At UCLA I studied with Amos Funkenstein and met Lubavitzher Chassidim.
SEVEN: I went to Crown Heights and meet the Chassidic Messiah. He blessed me to be “Successful in every endeavor.”
EIGHT: Hearing Abrahams call to leave my fatherland I arrived in Jerusalem and studied with the Torah giants of our generation.
NINE: In graduate school I mastered the Gospels and Quran and enlarged my theological tent.
TEN: Returning to American Zion I slipped down the slope to Conservative Judaism since I was a radical egalitarian. Actually downhill sking is not the right metaphor. The Mountain is inverted over our heads. The pious claim the pinnacle. My climb to the Arête is literary and no longer religious, so language is everything.
ELEVEN: In Saratoga Springs I pulpited and worked as a prison rabbi. There I slid by Reconstructionist and Renewal Judaism as far too conservative, especially on the interfaith marriage issue. I entered prison. As A Chaplain, of course.
TWELVE : i offer Seders for Everyone: Jews, Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, etc. Before i direct you to my autobiography i remind all:
Writing ones own Sefer Torah is one of the 613 Commandments.
In my own way i am a very pious and observant rabbi.
THIRTEEN: I dream of retirement and giving all my services as a birthday gift to my beloved people, each and every one of you.
I have retired from state service, but the work of homemade tradition continues!
The very rabbi
Torah is always presented as a gift.
Called to the Torah we announce that our Creator is a Giver. A Notane
We learn to receive the Torah kabballahed on Sinai.
The gift must be opened for the truth to be found.
It is then we begin to grasp the Tree of Life and the Story of the Garden.
Kindly send us your dates
And or Birthday Seder
“You write your own Haggadah”
Happy Birthday To Us !