Haggadah for Teens and Their Grown-Ups

By Rebbetzin S. Feldbrand
Illustrations by Miri Darvish
Israel Bookshop Publications
Lakewood, 2024
255 pages

Far removed from her teen years (“a great-grandmother many times over”), and her own teenage children long out of the house, Rebbetzin S. Feldbrand noticed some years ago that the interest of her teenage grandchildren at a family Seder was flagging.

The problem, she thought, was the choice of the Haggados at the table. The standard ones, geared for adults and heavy on learned commentary, were above the educational level of the teens; and those written for young children were too simple to engage someone a little older. Neither type of Haggadah captured the teens’ attention.

Someone, the rebbetzin decided, should create a Haggadah that meets the unique spiritual and literary needs of teenage boys and girls.

Rebbetzin Feldbrand decided to be that someone.

Rebbetzin Feldbrand is a prolific author, personal counselor and former seminary principal based in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn. She has more than three dozen books to her credit, mostly historical novels and profiles of prominent figures. Her Haggadah for Teens presents the Seder night’s readings and rituals in an easily accessible and understandable fashion that she wishes she’d had while growing up. “When I was a teen, there was nothing [comparable] available in English,” she says.

Apparently, her Haggadah is filling an important contemporary niche. A search on Google or Amazon for a Haggadah geared specifically to the intellectual and spiritual needs of teenagers turns up no items. There are plenty of results for “kids” (ostensibly younger), but nothing for teens.

Like many educators of teens, Rebbetzin Feldbrand believes if you make it interesting, teens will come; and they will keep coming to other Jewish events. So a Haggadah like Rebbetzin Feldbrand’s is arguably more important, in terms of Jewish continuity, than one used by other age groups.

To an untrained eye, her Haggadah, which offers beautiful graphics, looks much like the dozens of others that are available. But to a reader familiar with the panoply of choices, it offers significant differences: a wider variety of stories (which reflects the author’s knowledge of Jewish history), more-up-to-date translations of the text, and less-preachy commentaries. Grown-up readers will feel at home in the pages too.

Notably, the cover illustration features five cups of wine—not the Seder’s standard quartet. Inside, she discusses the Kos shel Eliyahu (Elijah’s Cup), usually referred to as the fifth kos. “There are differing opinions regarding the necessity of a fifth cup,” Rebbetzin Feldbrand writes. “When there is uncertainty about a particular halachah in the Gemara, the halachah is typically set aside until the arrival of Eliyahu Hanavi, who we wait for to resolve the matter. This explains why the cup is named after Eliyahu.”

Rebbetzin S. Feldbrand noticed some years ago that the interest of her teenage grandchildren at a family Seder was flagging.

While the author didn’t try out her Haggadah’s contents on her extended family’s members in that age group at her family Sedarim, she did share her ideas with age-appropriate children in her family to gauge their reactions and garner suggestions. “I crafted this Haggadah with my teenage grandchildren at the forefront of my mind. My granddaughters supplied a lot of input. One insisted that the Haggadah must be colorful. Another that it should have pictures. Everyone agreed that mefarshim [commentaries] must be short. Later I appended ‘and their grown-ups’ to the title, recognizing that there are adults who would also value the format.”

All the standard text of a Haggadah is there (both the Sephardic and Ashkenazic nusach), in Hebrew and English, as well as an explanation of the items on the Seder table and of the fifteen steps of the Seder. The main text is supplemented by extensive-but-brief commentaries, insights into the Ten Plagues, inspirational anecdotes of notable Torah personalities, an explanation of significant Haggadah numbers—“mind-boggling gematrios, fascinating world etymology”—and “thought-provoking questions for discussion.”

Ma nishtanah? What is uniquely different about a Haggadah aimed at a teenage readership? “The commentary is concise and tailored to their demographic, as are the sections on life skills and all of the stories,” Rebbetzin Feldbrand says. “Additionally, I observed that many Haggados heavily feature the Yetzias Mitzrayim narrative, so I took the initiative to dramatize these events.”

“The goal of the Seder,” she writes in the book’s introduction, “is to leave everyone on a higher spiritual level.”

Her Haggadah is a good place to start. Even if you’re older than nineteen.

Steve Lipman is a frequent contributor to Jewish Action.

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