A hilarious new radical Passover Haggadah by the London-based Jewdas collective provides Jews across the diaspora the opportunity to hold their own alternative seder.
By Michal Zweig and Aaron Kaiser-Chen
A Jewdas Haggadah (Pluto Press, 2019)
Fraught with Ashkenormativity, punctuation and spelling irregularity, and all-around anarchy, the Jewdas Haggadah has arrived this Passover, just as Jews around the world are feeling a rise in right-wing movements, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy. Sometimes, in the face of hatred and terror, it’s good to have a laugh and take the piss on Jewish establishments, which continue to prove ineffective and reactionary.
Meet Jewdas. Readers may recall this ragtag team of rabble-rousers from Passover 5778/2018, when they made headlines by hosting UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn at their communal seder on the third night of Passover — an event that brought fresh controversy to British Jewry, as well as several thousands of Twitter followers to Jewdas.
Being a thoughtful guest, Jeremy brought the now famous beetroot – used as a vegan alternative in-place of the zeroa‘, or roasted bone on the seder plate – which was later raised in the air while all present exclaimed “fuck capitalism!” This was, as you can likely tell, no ordinary seder. Along with previous years’ sedarim, this seder followed Jewdas’ general line of diasporist programming. Diasporism, — as opposed to Zionism — and “doikayt,” a Yiddish word meaning “here-ness,” are popularized by Jewdas and other radical and leftist Jews, who wish to emphasize a politics of entrenching oneself in the struggles of wherever one lives, rather than fueling yearning for a mythical or distant homeland.
The great irony here is the central theme of most haggadot: the escape of the Israelites from Egypt, with the eventuality of God bringing them to the Land of Israel. The Jewdas Haggadah is the guide to a diasporist, alternative seder, reminiscent of the tongue-in-cheek 1921 haggadah printed by the Central Bureau of the Bolshevik Party’s Yevsektsia (“Jewish Section”) which provided instructions for holding a Red Seder.
The Jewdas Haggadah might even be more tongue-in-cheek, but it also seriously seeks to answer the question: What does it mean to be Jewish the late capitalist era? It begins by introducing to the reader to the apocryphal sage Rabbi Geoffrey Cohen (who gets a cup on the Seder table along with the prophets Elijah and Miriam). Those familiar with Jewdas may recognize Geoffrey Cohen as the pseudonym under which most diasbara (a portmanteau of diaporist and hasbara) is published. Rabbi Geoffrey, along with companion Rav Audrey make frequent appearances to help guide you through the rituals of the diasporist seder — some familiar, others a bit quirky.
The Haggadah itself is usable on one of the traditional seder nights (observant Jews in the diaspora hold sedarim the first two nights of Passover), alongside any other traditional, or non-traditional Haggadah – such as Maxwell House’s Midge’s Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Haggadah, or the 2017 Unofficial Hogwarts Haggadah.
The text of the Jewdas Haggadah, however, is decidedly radical, perhaps in the most traditionally Jewish sense. In true feminist fashion, many of the blessings refer to the Jewish deity by names considered in some Kabbalalistic and Jewitch circles to be representative of the feminine aspect of the Almighty – “Berukha At Yah,” “Berukha At Shekhina,” begin some of the blessings, contrasting the conventional masculine version “Barukh Ata Adonai.”
One cannot underscore enough the anti-capitalist comedy upon which the entire Haggadah is based. On the topic of the Afikoman (a bit of matza hidden for dessert), Rav Audrey insists that in order to ensure a good hiding place, one must pretend you are a multi-national company seeking an offshore tax haven to hide your assets. The Maggid (storytelling) section opens with the cheeky “4 and 20 Questions,” comprising the famous “Ma Nishtana” as well as two variations on that theme, include “four [questions] for goyim.”
It continues with the Four Comrades, as opposed to the Four Sons of a regular Haggadah, followed by a short, three-act play about labor organizing in ancient Egypt. Scattered throughout are various Yiddish labour and Bundist songs, including classics such as Der Internatsional, Ale Brider, and Daloy Politsey.
In a concerted effort to acknowledge non-Ashkenazi customs, several Mizrahi recipes for the traditional Passover spread haroset appear in the beginning. Additionally, the text of the Old Spanish song Bendigamos appears towards the end of the Haggadah, in a nod to the Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi community, Britain’s oldest Jewish community.
Traditional text and radical songs aside, the Haggadah also features examples of original poetry and prose. Displaying diasporist colors with full pride, A Prayer for Diaspora, a poem by Elphaba Mond, appears handwritten, assumedly a facsimile of the author’s own writing.
The Haggadah closes with a heartfelt essay called “Towards a Jewish Pacifism,” focusing on the writings of Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamaret. Rabbi Tamaret, an avowed pacifist, was known for his strong criticisms of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century. His appearance in the Jewdas Haggadah is no surprise, though the section dedicated to solidarity with Palestinians in the Haggadah itself does leave something to be desired.
A Jewdas Haggadah fills the gap where other radical haggadot have fallen short with real comedy and merriment. It takes on the impending doom of climate change and hyper-capitalism by shaking an anti-capitalist beetroot at it. Be prepared to be confused by the litany of UK, London, and Jewdas-specific in-jokes and references; you may want to take a read through the Jewdas Twitter feed before purchasing to know what you’re getting into.
We pose our own four questions just to see if you’re ready for the Jewdas Haggadah:
- Have you ever wanted to observe the qorban Pesach (Passover sacrifice) without upsetting your vegan friends?
- Have you ever wanted to strike ten plagues on your employer for better work conditions?
- Do you feel that anti-Semitism in the UK Labour Party has become a boring cliché?
- Are you ready to overthrow the mainstream Jewish establishment and replace capitalism with fully-automated, luxury gay space communism?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you’re ready to hold your very own diasporist seder with A Jewdas Haggadah to guide you.
Michal Zweig is an American-Israeli living in London who spends too much time on the internet. Aaron Kaiser-Chen has a background in history, activism, and social media, and currently works as a museum administrator in Chicago.