Why is This Haggadah Different Than All Other Haggadahs?
American consumers are brand loyal. Whether toothpaste or toilet paper many dig in their heels about brand favorites.
American Jews are no different.
Especially when it comes to their Passover Haggadah, the books used at Passover seders to teach the story of Exodus. These paper booklets were more often than not distributed as product premiums to shoppers at their local markets.
It would not be an all-American seder without a corporate presence.
While the iconic Maxwell House Haggadah is the gold standard for American Jews, my family chose their coffee competitor Chase and Sanborn to guide us through our seder.
Why my mother chose these particular Haggadahs remain an unsolved mystery. Was she persuaded because she was a fan girl of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy who she listened to religiously every Sunday night on the radio as part of the Chase and Sanborn hour?
Or could it be as simple as these Haggadahs were what our local A&P were giving out free?
There is fierce loyalty when it comes to Haggadahs. Steeped in family memory, custom, and ritual it’s hard to get users to change from their favorite brands.
My mother’s family were Chase and Sanborn Jews. Yet our seders were led by my father who was raised a Maxwell House Jew.
Somehow, they stayed married.
At the turn of the last century, many local banks offered Haggadahs to their customers. Printed in Yiddish and Hebrew they were a sign of goodwill. By the 1920s many products associated with Jewish food and drink like Hebrew National meat products sponsored a Haggadah as did Mogen David kosher wines.
But it wasn’t long before non-Jewish corporations got into the act to attract the expanding Jewish market.
In 1923 an advertising agency hired by Maxwell House ran a campaign to let Jews know that coffee was kosher for Passover.
Many food items are not allowed during the holiday. Leavened grain products are the most significant category, hence a week of matzo and macaroons. Many people also avoid rice, corn, and legumes. In the 1920s, some mistakenly characterized coffee “beans” as legumes; Maxwell House’s ad changed that perception.
The original ad was written in Hebrew and English: “It is a mitzvah to tell you that Maxwell House coffee is kosher for Passover.”
The surge in coffee sales from the Jewish market inspired them to create a branded Haggadah in 1932, free with the purchase of Maxwell House coffee at grocery stores.
It proved incredibly successful for generations.
The introduction to the original Maxwell House Haggadah was written from the perspective of General Foods. It explains the rationale for sponsoring this Haggadah
General Foods Corporation, packers of Maxwell House Coffee, whose relations with the Jewish people have always been most friendly, take pleasure in presenting this new, up-to-date edition of The Haggadah.
Just in time for the baby boom Chase and Sanborn came out with their “Haggadah for the American Family” written by Rabbi Martin Berkowitz. His book made it easy for those who couldn’t read or speak Hebrew -the phonetic English translations were paired with traditional Hebrew passages.
Renditions of centuries-old text were Americanized, simplified for mid-century children resplendent in in their Mary Janes and clip-on bow ties.
Now once again, I take out my well-worn circa 1963 Haggadahs.
Never retired from service, these true workhorses remained an anchor from seder to seder. Locations and tables have varied over the decades, and the blemishes multiply, but 60 years later the Haggadahs remain in use.
The wine stains that were spilled at my grandmother’s table, remain decades later even if she physically does not. They serve to remind me of seders past. The dog-eared, charoset-splattered books show their age, some with loose pages carefully scotch taped by my mother in the 1980s, others wobbly with weakened spines as befits an object well worn, long-lived