By some counts, more than 3,000 different types of Haggadahs exist today, offering commentary and activities to fill just about any niche.
Fuggeddaboutit, say Maxwell House aficionados.
“We’ve tried others, but year after year we find our table set for 25 to 30 folks in our home and every place is set with a Maxwell House Haggadah. It makes our Passover Seder good to the last drop,” joked Dana Marlowe of Silver Spring, Md., who built on her mother’s stash of the books over 12 years of hosting her own Seders.
Last drop. Get it? Cracking wise about the famous Maxwell House catchphrase is a popular pastime among fans of the company’s Haggadah. The slogan from the company’s coffee commercials was used on the book’s cover in the early years.
Some families have laminated the books to preserve them or photocopied them to accommodate more guests. Marlowe, who runs a company that makes technology accessible to people with disabilities, had the text made into Braille, converted to larger print and translated into Spanish for guests.
“When I have friends who are deaf attend, I’ve interpreted the entire Maxwell House Haggadah into American Sign Language,” she said.
Rosenfeld, an Orthodox Jew, said the giveaway makes the books easy to acquire. Also, they’re not heavy on commentary, which is a draw for “high holiday Jews” who aren’t religious most of the year but do mark major observances.
The books have been around so long, Rosenfeld said, they’re now “part of the American Jewish experience. One doesn’t need to be well-schooled in Judaism to feel comfortable using this book.”
Obama was introduced to the guides by young aides during an impromptu Seder they held in 2008 while on a campaign stop in Pennsylvania. Why the Maxwell House version? Primarily because that’s what they could scrounge up quickly.
The books were used in ’09 at the White House and again for the White House Seder last year. This year? No word, but tradition is likely to prevail in the big house like smaller ones everywhere.
The 2011 edition (the last tweaking was in 1998) modernizes the English translation of the text for the first time and includes images of past covers. Prior to 1998, the interior hadn’t been touched since the early ’60s. The covers have changed a few times between the ’70s and ’90s, Rosenfeld said.
Ron Korn in Scottsdale, Ariz., said the Maxwell House books have logged 45 years of use in his family. He, too, inherited them when his parents died. The books have been circulating in other families for two generations.
“They represent the archetypical American Jewish experience. Here you have a major U.S. corporation publishing a Jewish book of prayer that reflects multi-denominational Jewish values,” he said. “It speaks loudly of the American dream.”