For about 13 years, “The 30 Minute Seder” has been selling really really well, its author, Robert Kopman, said.
The haggadah filled a real need, he explained. “I got tired of having a seder and hearing ‘I want to skip that page. When do we eat?’ So I wrote a 30 minute seder and people love it.”
It’s important to understand that the haggadah wasn’t primarily for children. “It’s aimed at the adults,” Mr. Kopman said. “They’re the ones who were complaining. That’s the problem in most households. It’s not the kids who get impatient. They’re coloring, or running around. It’s the adults.”
That haggadah “sold 350,000 copies last year,” Mr. Kopman said. “Last year it was number 80 on Amazon’s top best-selling books. Not Jewish books, or religious books. All books.”
Still, this year Mr. Kopman decided to try something a little bit different. His new book, “Passover — A captivatingly concise and complete Haggadah,” is a little different; bigger, longer (although still not long; he thinks that a seder conducted using it would take about 45 minutes), glossier, and “more sophisticated,” he said.
Mr. Kopman, 62, came to the haggadah not as an academic or an expert but as a seder-goer, he said. “I’m more of an entrepreneur than an author or religious person.” But as a Brooklyn boy — he moved to Long Island at 18 and to Arizona, which still is his home, about 43 years ago, but we all know the impossibility of taking Brooklyn out of the boy — he was bred to seder going. (And to complaining about how long the seders were.)
So when he wrote the “30 Minute Seder,” “I wanted it to be kosher, and to hit all the high points,” he said. He worked with a friend, his business partner Bil Yanock (yes, Bil with one l), and discussed, debated, and generally lost arguments with his rabbinic advisor, Rabbi Bonnie Koppell, a Reconstructionist who also was the first female chaplain in the U.S. Army, and now is the associate rabbi at Temple Chai in Phoenix. “I wanted a rabbi with a more worldly point of view,” Mr. Kopman said. “I wanted someone progressive. I didn’t want an old-fashioned male, stuck in his ways.”
Rabbi Koppell, Mr. Kopman, and Mr. Yanock have an interesting shared backstory. They all come from Mill Basin in Brooklyn, and they all went to John Dewey High School in Coney Island. Mr. Kopman and Mr. Yanock were friends, and Mr. Kopman and Rabbi Koppell were acquaintances, but because John Dewey was an experimental school and admission was by application, not zoning, Rabbi Koppell and Mr. Kopman had no idea that they lived four blocks away from each other in Brooklyn until they re-met over a haggadah in Phoenix.
Also, Mr. Yanock is Catholic. Mr. Kopman finds that enormously helpful; once he’s explained the seder clearly enough so that Mr. Yanock, who despite growing up in Brooklyn had never been to one, understood it, he knew that he’d done his job right.
So, the haggadah.
The 30-minute one “was designed for people who want a guilt-free short seder,” Mr. Kopman said. “If you want to cover everything, you should get another one, but here’s the thing. I have never met a Reform household where you can get people to come back to the table after dinner. So I designed a haggadah with everything before dinner.”
But things change. “A few years later, I wanted a haggadah with all 15 parts,” Mr. Kopman said. “This book has all of them.” Some are abbreviated; the Birchat haMazon, the grace after meals, for example, is represented by three lines in English. There is also a url to the entire text, although “the people who want to say it already know it by heart,” Mr. Kopman said. (There are other parts of the seder where only a few lines are in print, but the rest is available online. All the online copy can be printed out.)
“We wanted a haggadah that looked more adult,” Mr. Kopman continued. “This one looks like a magazine.”
Like the 30 Minute Haggadah, it’s almost entirely in English, and it opens from the left, not the right. That’s because “it’s an English book,” Mr. Kopman said.
Another stark difference between Mr. Kopman’s two haggadot and the more traditional versions is that in both of Mr. Kopman’s works the Maggid section, which contains the story, leaves out the framing device of the rabbis, deep in discussion until the time for the morning Shema, but instead details the stories of Joseph and then of Moses. The traditional haggadah does not include Moses’ name, but it’s all over these two.
“Everyone knows that Moses is one of the central figures of Passover,” Mr. Kopman said. “The central figure. God talked to him. So why leave him out?
“It’s a philosophical decision. I had arguments with Orthodox rabbis about it.” Like kitniyot — the legumes that should be pesachdik but on the whole are not, except in Israel — “it is a bunch of malarkey. So we have a cookbook with kitniyot. It’s part of the same philosophy.”
Mr. Kopman says “Reform” as shorthand for “mainly Reform but also some Conservative,” he said. “Conservative synagogues are going out of business. Judaism has been polarized, so I don’t mind saying it’s for the Reform. One of my closest friends is Conservative, keeps kosher, does Shabbat every weekend, and she loves both of our haggadahs. Very few Reform people tell me that we’re missing stuff in the haggadah, but some Conservative people do, and they say that they won’t use it. So it’s not good for all Conservatives, but it is good for all Reforms.”
“Passover: A captivatingly concise and complete haggadah” and “30 Minute Seder” both are self-published, and available online, at passoverhaggadah.com and 30minuteseder.com.