newsJewish & Israeli Holidays

Passover 2024

New, inclusive Haggadah aims to empower your seder

The Haggadah is the brainchild of Efrat residents Leora Ashman and her husband Eitan, who developed aphasia following an ischemic stroke in 2017.

A brand-new Passover Haggadah titled, “Empowering Seder Conversations,” published just in time for the holiday, is designed to promote inclusion at the Seder table, making the special evening more accessible for those suffering from aphasia and other neurological challenges.

Aphasia is a condition that robs a person of the ability to communicate. It can affect one’s ability to speak, write, work with numbers and understand language, both verbal and written.

The Haggadah was written by Efrat resident Eitan Ashman and edited by his wife Leora. In 2017, Eitan suffered a massive left-side ischemic stroke. As a result, among other setbacks Eitan developed memory loss and aphasia.

A day after the stroke, Leora opened a Facebook page called “Koach Eitan” (“Eitan’s Strength”), wanting to keep family and friends updated on Eitan’s recovery.

But the page morphed from just a place to post updates into a tool used by the Ashmans to educate people regarding the experience of those living with aphasia, and perhaps even more importantly, to teach the general public how to communicate with them while simultaneously promoting their inclusion in society.

Leora explained to JNS how the idea for a new inclusive Haggadah came to light. “Eitan could no longer participate in the Seder as he once could, and we needed to figure out a way he could become a part once again,” she said.

“Two years ago we compiled the commentaries Eitan had written for the Seder and put them into a short booklet for his use. So now we decided to create something bigger and provide a tool for so many others, who could no longer participate in the Seder as they had and felt isolated,” she added.

The Haggadah isn’t just for those with aphasia, but also for adults and children with dyslexia, Parkison’s, ADHD, stuttering issues and many more difficulties, she explained.

The book itself is written in simple language, with short commentaries. It also features easy to follow instruction icons, indicating to participants when to lift the wine glass, raise the Seder plate, put down the matzah and perform all the other Seder night customs. The font is large, and the pages are specially bound so that they don’t flip automatically, causing one to lose their place.

As opposed to other Haggadahs, which start by listing the items on the Seder plate, this special edition begins with several pages of “Seder inclusion tools” a list including a chart of “do’s and don’ts” for Seder participants to learn how to better include those who may find the Seder daunting or overwhelming.

Contributors to the Haggadah offer short and poignant commentary on the Passover story and all of the evening’s customs, and include many leading Israeli rabbis, educators, community leaders, mental health experts and individuals with disabilities.

Contributor and Jewish basketball legend Tamir Goodman, founder of the Tamir Goodman Basketball Camp in Jerusalem, told JNS, “They say Judaism is the religion of the books, but oftentimes if you have learning challenges, it’s very overwhelming.”

“For me personally, I’m very dyslexic, and I love Judaism and my schools [growing up] but being surrounded by books, it’s like a point of pain, and it clashes and can sometimes be hurtful,” he said.

“There are many people with different types of challenges, which you don’t see on the outside, you only see them on the inside, whether dyslexia, dysgraphia, or any other challenge, and having a Haggadah to empower those people is very very special. Thanks to this new Haggadah it can be more inclusive now for everyone,” he added.

One woman who attended a Koach Eitan event this past week introducing the new Haggadah (and who asked not to be identified) said, “My father has advanced Parkison’s, and there is a lot of overlap with the challenges of aphasia. In the last few years, he has had to give up leading the Seder because of these difficulties and it has been a struggle to help him feel included. This Haggadah is the game changer I didn’t know existed…and I’m so grateful to Leora for leading me to it.”

Leora shared that for those suffering from aphasia or other similar challenges, the holidays can become triggering. “Instead of wanting to prepare for the Seder, Eitan pointed to the ceiling; he wanted to go upstairs, it was triggering sadness,” she said.

“Thanks to Rabbi Johnny Solomon, a spiritual coach who started working with Eitan two years ago, he started finding ways for Eitan getting involved, whether [it was prayers], religion, synagogue, they worked to compile the original booklet, which transformed into the new Haggadah.”

“And now,” she said, “So many different kinds of people, like you and me, who want to be part of the Seder and not have something long to read can use this tool, which is inviting, and welcoming and nice and clear. It’s giving them something they aren’t usually connected to because of that roadblock, and now they are included, and all those around the table are learning what those individuals are going through…It’s truly life changing.”  

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