The cover of the new Haggadah, with one of its authors, Rabbi Adam Scheier. (photo from cjnews.com)
A new Haggadah in Hebrew, English and French has been created by Canadians for Canadians and celebrates the Jewish experience in this country.
The Canadian Haggadah Canadienne, compiled and edited by Rabbi Adam Scheier and Richard Marceau, has been published by Montreal’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim. The authors of the Passover text describe it as the first of its kind, and one overdue for a Jewish community that is not only one of the largest in the world, but has a distinct identity.
All text is equally reproduced in the three languages, but what really makes this book stand out are dozens of historic photos of Canadian Jewish life from the early 20th century culled from the Canadian Jewish Congress Archives and other community archives, including those of the Canadian Jewish News.
The book also includes commentaries from 20 rabbis (and one maharat, the title for ordained female clergy in modern Orthodoxy) from across the country and the denominational spectrum.
The text is traditional, said Scheier, but it’s one he believes is familiar to almost everyone and may be used in full or abbreviated. The language is close to gender neutral.
One small addition is a prayer for Canada, alongside one for the state of Israel: “May the Merciful One bless Canada and its government, and grant fellowship and freedom to all of its inhabitants.”
Marceau and Scheier, who are friends and colleagues in community work, labored on the Haggadah for about five years, in their spare time away from busy professional and family lives. They both enjoy having diverse guests at their seder tables – anglophones and francophones – and felt the lack of a bilingual Passover text. Extemporaneous translation or using two versions proved to be awkward.
They may seem like an odd pair to produce such a proudly Canadian work. Scheier, Shaar Hashomayim’s spiritual leader, is a Rochester, N.Y., native, a fourth-generation American, who came to Canada 11 years ago.
Marceau is general counsel and senior government adviser to the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, based in Ottawa. He is a convert to Judaism, a francophone from Quebec City who was a Bloc Québécois MP from 1997 to 2006. He recounted his journey to Judaism in the 2011 memoir Juif: Une histoire québécoise, which was later translated into English.
“When I came to Montreal, I was struck by the sense of pride Jews had in this country and their history in it,” said Scheier, who notes his wife Abby is Canadian and that they have “produced four Canadian citizens,” to whom he dedicates the Haggadah.
The completion of the project is bittersweet for Marceau. He dedicates the book to his late wife, Lori Beckerman, who passed away without seeing it published, and their two children.
Marceau attended his first seder in 1992 with Toronto native Beckerman’s family and friends. It was his introduction to Jewish ritual, which was totally strange to him, but it was made even more baffling because his English was not strong at the time.
“It was quite a culture shock,” he recalled.
They were married two years later, and Marceau converted in 2004. “Lori was very supportive of the [Haggadah] project. Although she was an anglophone from Toronto, she became fully bilingual, worked in French as a lawyer in Ottawa, and loved the duality of our home and the friends we invited around our table,” he said.
Both editors emphasized that the project would not have been possible without the help of many people, be it with research, proofreading, donations or advice.
“From the outset, we only encountered excitement about this project,” Scheier said. “People really responded to the idea.”
That input helped them find and select an eclectic mix of pictures, some familiar, but many rarely seen today. Some examples are the first religious service held by a Jewish farming colony in Lipton, Sask., in 1906; Philip Adelberg, the first justice of the peace in British Columbia’s Peace River district, taken in 1915; the Cornerbrook, Nfld., synagogue in the 1940s; the founding of Ecole Maïmonide in Montreal in the 1960s by the Sephardi community, the first French-language Jewish school in Montreal; and demonstrations for Soviet Jewry in the 1970s.
Marceau said he and Scheier felt it was important to highlight the relationship between Canada and Israel over the years. There are shots of visiting Israeli leaders from David Ben-Gurion to Shimon Peres in 2012, as well as then prime ministers Menachem Begin and Pierre Trudeau together in 1978. The relationship is represented in the other direction as well, such as an Inuit delegation’s visit to the Jewish state.
The Canadian Haggadah Canadienne, which weighs in at 168 pages, is tablet size in order to make it easy to use at the seder table. “It’s not supposed to be a coffee table book,” said Marceau.
It is being sold on amazon.ca and at synagogues and Jewish bookstores for $20. Any proceeds will go to charity – split 50-50 between Scheier’s and Marceau’s choices.
– For more national Jewish news, visit cjnews.com.