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Akiva School launches first Haggadah of its kind
By DAVID LAZARUS, Staff Reporter
Thursday, 24 March 2011

MONTREAL — The faces of Akiva School’s 350 children – not to mention their parents – will surely be beaming at adjacent Congregation Shaar Hashomayim this Thursday evening as they gather there to celebrate in song and joy the launch of the first Passover Haggadah to be professionally published by a Montreal Jewish school.

Called the Akiva School Family Haggadah, the book equals the quality of any professionally published Haggadah and culminates a full two years of effort.

Its publication is also being seen as historic both for the school and the Jewish community.

“I spent hours looking for another school here, Canada or in the U.S., that has done something like, but never saw one,” said Martin Sacksner, the driving force behind the Haggadah.

The main goal, according to Sacksner, who spoke with unabashed enthusiasm about the project – and who along with his wife, Joelle, have three children at Akiva – was to publish a Haggadah that remained true to the Hebrew text while incorporating the thoughts, ideas, memories and traditions of the Akiva community.

Equally important, he said, was to make a Haggadah that was accessible, interactive, and engaging to Jews anywhere while capturing the unique defining sensibility of Akiva, which was founded in 1968.

That is, it aimed to reflect the values of families that send their children there – diversity, pluralism, enrichment of family, and the strengthening of Jewish identity – Sacksner said.

For that reason, he said, the Haggadah includes both Ashkenazi and Sephardi blessings. As well, a new English translation of the text that, while true to the Hebrew, is readable and contemporary.

The Akiva Family Haggadah uses dynamic, original colour graphics, school children’s and parent’s artwork, a range of coloured annotation boxes, and other talking points interspersed with text to inspire questions, discussions, memories and reminiscences, as well as fun for kids and grown-ups around the seder table.

“Carmela’s Classroom,” referring to Akiva teacher Carmela Aigen, for example, expands on themes learned in school, while “Cooki’s Crumbs,” named for longtime Akiva head-of-school Cooki Levy, help explain Haggadah passages.

Meanwhile, “Tina’s Trend” – named for Akiva student services director Tina Roth – contains insight into a child’s social development in the context of the Passover experience.

“What Do You Think,” are questions meant to trigger discussion, while “Did You Know” gives information on different cultural practices, historical facts, and interpretations. “What Does This Mean,” appearing only a few times, tries to clarify passages that are hard to understand, even in English.

“In Our Family,” describes particular Akiva family practices and experiences during Passover, including kids who make place cards and seders where the children hide the afikoman.

Sacksner said the Haggadah’s publication represents a milestone for Akiva.

Beginning only as an idea he had in March 2009, the ambitiousness of the project seemed daunting at first, until he joined the Akiva board and was finally spurred to action by a number of people.

They included Carmela Aigen, Levy and her husband, McGill University professor Barry Levy (both Aigen and the professor have extensive collections of Haggadot).

The co-chairs of the project are Arianne Aberman, Joelle Sacksner, Leslie Cons, and Isabelle Danino, while the editor is Debbie Abecassis Warshawsky, whose thesis is on the Haggadah and is filed in the U.S. Library of Congress.

Jonathan Schouela drew the imaginative figures in the Haggadah, while Barbara Rosenstein of Studio Duotone did the graphic design.

Rosenstein, like others, Sacksner said, donated their time and talent for free, so the total cost of the Haggadah didn’t exceed $40,000, despite its truly professional look and quality.

Proceeds from the sale of the Haggadot – they are $20 each ($18 each for 10) – will be used for the school. The Haggadot will be available at selected Jewish book stores, gift shops and institutions, including the Akiva School (514-939-2430).

“We are all thrilled,” Sacksner said.