What the Press is saying about Uncle Eli's Haggadah:
Chicago Jewish Star
A Passover Made Easier With the Web
By ELIZABETH COHENDuring the Passover seder, one of the four questions traditionally asked by the youngest child is, "Why is this night different from every other night?"
This year one might pose an additional question: "Why is this Passover different from every other Passover?" There's one answer that is obvious -- although the Israelites of old did not have the Internet, today believers around the world do. Just about every item in the seder can be bought or acquired online. The Internet has become a one-stop shopping network, a cookbook, a religious reference library, a forum to consult a Rabbi and a place to get Passover games, toys and educational materials for children, among many other things. ...
Best of all, users can now download all sorts of Haggadahs -- the Passover prayer books that lead readers through the ceremony and songs. There are all sorts of places to download a traditional Haggadah, or there is Uncle Eli's Dr. Seussian version for children, one from extremely reformed Jews or one that is in Hebrew.
Following are links to the external Web sites mentioned in this article. These sites are not part of The New York Times on the Web, and The Times has no control over their content or availability. When you have finished visiting any of these sites, you will be able to return to this page by clicking on your Web browser's "Back" button or icon until this page reappears.
VALUES: A new take on Jewish tradition.Nearly 20 years ago, when his oldest son was 2, Eliezer Lorne Segal got the idea of creating a Passover haggada in the style of Dr. Seuss.
Ritual and Rhyme
After circulating for three years on the Internet, Eliezer Lorne Segal's Seuss-inspired kids' haggada is finally in book form. It's an amusing blend of the religious and the irreverent.
By DAVID L. ULIN, Special to The Times
"It started as a joke, a parody of what it would be like if the haggada were a children's book," recalls the 48-year-old Talmudic scholar, now a professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary. "Originally, it was less for kids than for adults who brought their children up on Dr. Seuss."
Beginning with his own take on the "Four Questions," and adding additional chapters as inspiration struck, Segal built his haggada, as he says, "in spurts." But although the first laser-printed copies began to circulate as early as the mid-1980s, even Segal had no idea that his little "entertainment" would eventually evolve into "Uncle Eli's Special-for-Kids, Most Fun Ever, Under-the-Table Passover Haggadah," a full-fledged reinterpretation of the Exodus story that, after more than three years on the Internet (http://www.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/Uncle_Eli/Eli.html) has just been published in book form by San Francisco's No Starch Press.
"Uncle Eli's Special-for-Kids" is the haggada like you've never seen it, as silly as it is reverent, as traditional as it is new.
Comprising 15 brief verse chapters, it re-creates the Passover saga from the point of view of a boy who has no patience for his family's Seder until an elderly stranger--the Uncle Eli of the title--appears in his room.
Initially, Segal says, Uncle Eli was little more than an exaggerated alter ego, but later, the character came to represent the biblical prophet Elijah, who plays an integral role in the Seder feast. Either way, he is, in Segal's telling, a subversive element, a trickster, who fools the protagonist into learning about Passover by giving him a version of the story that is flat-out fun. As Eli himself explains at the outset:
Instead of just sitting there
twiddling your hands
While the grown-ups read words
that you don't understand,
I've brought you
a special Haggadah to read.
It'll keep you in stitches!
It's just what you need!
Of course, more than Elijah, Uncle Eli brings to mind another famous literary trickster--the Cat in the Hat. It's a connection Segal now admits makes him "uneasy," although when his haggada was purely an Internet phenomenon, he appropriated images from Dr. Seuss to illustrate the site.
With the print publication of "Uncle Eli's Special-for-Kids," he's changed the site drastically, replacing most of the Dr. Seuss drawings with those that artist Bonnie Gordon-Lucas created for the book, and taking down all but four chapters of the haggada itself. The latter, Segal says reassuringly, is a temporary move, undertaken as a courtesy to his publisher, and after Passover, he plans to restore the missing material.
This should come as a relief to all the Uncle Eli fanatics who have, with Segal's blessings, downloaded and e-mailed the haggada around the world, or found themselves charmed by the site's low-tech "bells and whistles," like its lounge-style instrumental versions of such traditional songs as "Dayenu."
If, for some people, merging technology and tradition seems a radical innovation, Segal doesn't see the ideas as incompatible. Among his other Web sites is one re-creating a page of the Babylonian Talmud, and, he says, "the traditions are, in fact, sympathetic. Religious people have embraced technology."
Neither does he believe there is anything sacrilegious about interpreting the haggada in a popular milieu. Passover, after all, is at heart a children's holiday, when the purpose is to transmit the cultural memory to a new generation, so it will carry on.
"The commandment of remembering the Exodus," Segal says, "appears in many different contexts through Jewish life. It's like the story of the four sons; you tell it differently, depending on the context, and yet we continue to read this uniform text of the haggada and not go beyond it.
"But part of the tradition is interpretational and improvisational. There's a tradition of creativity I'm tapping into."
By KEVIN BAXTER, Times Staff Writer
You don't have to be a zealot, or even particularly pious, to conclude that the commercialization of religious holidays has gotten out of hand. Take today for example. With a forest of chocolate bunnies, marshmallow chicks and brightly painted eggs competing for children's attention, it's going to be difficult to get many of them to sit still long enough to explain why today is among the most hallowed days on both the Christian and Jewish calendars. And if you can't get them to focus on the opening of the major league baseball season, good luck teaching them about Passover and Easter!
A visit to a neighborhood bookstore turned up a wealth of materials for parents seeking a more well-rounded explanation of the holidays....
For younger children, there's "Uncle Eli's Special-for-Kids, Most Fun Ever, Under-the-Table Passover Haggadah" (by Eliezer Lorne Segal, illustrations by Bonnie Gordon-Lucas, No Starch Press, 59 pages; $12.95). The irreverent tone of the book's rhymes were inspired by the likes of Dr. Seuss, which Segal acknowledges in a foreword.
"I tried to tell the story of the Passover Seder in the style of . . . beloved children's books," he writes, "in verse and with help from lots of zany characters and creatures." As a result, the holiday tradition suddenly becomes less intimidating and much more accessible to young readers. Plus the book closes with a seven-page glossary of important Passover-related terms...
Parents looking for a way to keep the kids interested in the Passover Seder may want to seek advice from Uncle Eli. Eliezer Lorne Segal, a professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary, created the eccentric character -- "He was weirder than weird! You hardly could see him because of his beard" -- to make the Seder more fun for children. Uncle Elis (Special-For-Kids, Most Fun Ever, Under-The-Table) Passover Haggadah (No Starch Press; 415/863-9900) features Dr. Seuss-style verse and colorful illustrations from Bonnie Gordon-Lucas. It can be read on its own or used with a traditional Haggadah.
[Photo: ]Chris Wood, Calgary. Eliezer Segal reads his special Passover haggadah to a kindergarten class at Akiva Academy.
A whimsical 64-page illustrated volume by Calgary professor Eliezer Segal has become a Haggadah best seller. Uncle Elis Special-for-Kids, Most Fun Ever, Under-the-Table Passover Haggadah is a parody of Dr. Seuss-style verse.
The book by the head of the University of Calgarys religious studies department will be showing up at thousands of Seder tables around Calgary, across the continent, and even in Israel this evening as the eight-day Jewish festival of Passover begins at sundown today.
There are more than 7,000 people in Calgarys Jewish community and more people than ever are celebrating Passover this year, reflecting a worldwide trend where more Jews than ever in modern times are marking the occasion.
"No question, theres definitely a growing interest," says Rabbi Menachem Matusof, director of Chabad Lubavitch of Alberta, an Orthodox Jewish organization that promotes Jewish awareness and education.
For instance, Matusof says when he arrived in Calgary 11 years ago, he distributed about I3 kilograms of Shmura, a special hand-made, hand- baked matzah (unleavened bread) made in New York for Passover.
This year hell distribute about 75 kilograms.
"That just shows the growth: he says.
Passover commemorates how the Israelites, forerunners of todays Jews, escaped from Egypt during the time of the Pharaohs. The Hebrew Bible commands Jews to celebrate Passover every year as at way of remembering their deliverance: from slavery.
Central to remembering the historical event is the Passover seder meal, a festive dinner held on the first nights of Passover.
Participants recite the Haggadah which means "the telling" -- symbolically reliving the experiences of slavery and the joy of freedom.
The traditional ceremony, where children play a central role, is complicated and follows a detailed order. So its easy for children to become distracted and bored.
Segals Haggadah (No Starch Press, $19.95) is designed to capture and hold childrens attention, an essential ingredient to a successful Seder meal. Thats why Segal, who has a doctorate in Talmud from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote the original version for his two-year-old son, Yarrai [sic!] in 1977 [sic!].
Over the years, it underwent revisions and additions and a photocopied edition began to make the rounds. In 1996, Segal, an adept Webmaster, decided to publish it on his internet website (www.ucalgary.ca/-elsegal/Uncle Eli/Eli.html).
But it took more than a year to find a suitable illustrator. Eventually, Indiana artist Bonnie Gordon-Lucas, whose work has dressed clothing, record albums, greeting cards, TV commercials as well as childrens books, asked to illustrate it after seeing in it on the Internet.
Although the Haggadah is one of the most replicated of all Jewish books, most childrens versions are merely simplified versions of the adult text. Each chapter touches on a different segment of the Seder meal and theres a glossary at the end which makes it useful for Jew and non-Jew alike. No Starch product manager Micahel [sic!] Flynn says it expects to sell out of the books first print run (10,000 paperback copies and 2,000 hardcover) by the end of Passover.
Jewish Free Press
Eliezer Segal has done it again. He's put his dry sense of humour and his incredible knowledge to work in producing a children's Haggadah that will surely become a family favourite.
Uncle Eli's Special-for Kids, Most Fun Ever; Under-the-Table Passover Haggadah was recently published by No Starch Press out of San Francisco. With delightful illustrations by Bonnie Gordon-Lucas and Segal's Dr. Seuss-like verse, this book makes Passover fun for children and adults. Incorporated into a seder, it's sure to mark the end of the fidgeting at the kid's end of the table.
A professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary and a regular columnist in the Jewish Free Press, Segal first wrote verses of Uncle Eli's Haggadah when his oldest son was one-and-a-half-years-old and experiencing his first Pesach.
"It started out as a joke:' he told the JFP. "We were simultaneously overdosed on Pesach and Dr. Seuss."
For years, the Haggadah remained a family tradition, passed on to friends each year as new chapters were added. The big change, Segal said, was when he put up his web-site in 1996 and put a version of the Haggadah on the net. "lt developed a cult following," he said, "I got fan mail and requests from as far away as South Africa and Australia."
One message came from a kindergarten where the Haggadah was used in multicultural classes. This prompted Segal to add a glossary to the verse explaining the Hebrew words and Jewish traditions.
The Four Questions verse was also circulated on the Net for years under the title "If Dr. Seuss Had Written the Four Questions." This is an appropriate title for a verse that reads thus:
"And on all other nights
we can sit as we please,
on our heads, on our elbows,
our backs or our knees,
or hang by our toes
from the tail of a Glump,
or on top of a camel
with one or two humps,
with our foot on the table,
our nose on the floor
with one ear in the window
and one out the door
over the greasy knishes
or dancing a jig
without breaking the dishes
on all other nights you sit nicely when dining --
So why on this night
must it all be reclining?"
Later, Segal added some animated graphics to his web page so that the verse about the four plagues suddenly was adorned by jumping locusts. Over time, several publishers expressed interest in publishing the Haggadah, but the offers came to nothing. "This says something about the state of Jewish publishing:' Segal said. "They felt the Haggadah was not pedantic enough or that anyone who would understand it shouldn't have a sense of humour." But that view was not shared by No Starch Press, who recognized the marketability of this unusual and irreverent look at Passover. Normally No Starch Press publishes computer books, one of which was a guide to the Jewish Internet, a book in which Segal's web sites featured prominently.
The only hold-up to publication was finding the right illustrator. That proved to be a bit of a challenge, but eventually the Internet saved the day again and turned up Bonnie Gordon-Lucas, a Bloomington, lllinois [sic!] illustrator who has "quite a bit of experience in Jewish illustrations," Segal said. Her work appears on greeting cards, TV commercials, magazines, record album covers, and other children's books. Her colourful, communicative, and amusing illustrations are a perfect match for Segal's off the wall verse.
"Her illustrations are full of life:' Segal said. "She turned out to be the right one." Interestingly, Segal has never met Gordon-Lucas or his publishers in person. All their contact has been over the Internet. An enthusiastic Internet user, Segal says it has done him a lot of good. "I'm stuck out here in the foothills, but the Internet is very much an equalizer; it brings me to a wide audience."
Already the book is selling well, and no wonder. It takes a wacky and amusing look at the events, personalities, and rituals of the seder, with a nonconventional bent that only adds to its effectiveness. On Matzah: "This is the poorest / the driest of breads / It crinkles and crumbles / all over our beds."
On the four children: "But nasty refused / to take part in the seder / He just sat there and smiled / with his pet alligator/ as he pulled people's hair / and he poked people's eyes / and sprinkled their matzah with beetles and flies." Uncle Eli's Haggadah is not educational in the boring, cite-the-facts way, but it covers all the bases, and one can learn much from it. Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah put in appearances, alongside new characters like Abie the Afikoman-thief, Jacky the Juggler, and of course, the mysterious and mischievous Uncle Eli.
Uncle Eli's Special-for-Kids, Most Fun Ever Under-the-Table Passover Haggadah should be available in book-stores now. Be sure to pick it up before Pesach; it'll brighten your holiday.
The haggadah commands us to tell the Passover tale to all our children even those who don't know to ask. But for many parents, it's a struggle to keep tired, hungry children interested in the story.
Among the Internet savvy, Uncle Eli's Passover Haggadah has long been a source of delight. With Dr. Seuss-style verse, the haggadah speaks to children in their own language.
A sample: "We were slaves to King Pharaoh, that terrible king,/who made us do all kinds of difficult things./Like building a pyramid of chocolate ice cream/when the sun was so hot that the Nile turned to stream,/and digging a ditch with a spade of soft cotton./That Pharaoh was wicked and nasty and rotten!"
Parents will be happy to hear that No Starch Press discovered Uncle Eli on the Internet as well, and is now publishing the haggadah, accompanied by whimsical illustrations, in book form
This special-for-kids, most fun ever under-the-table Haggada--as its subtitle declares--lives up to its name. Unabashedly borrowing from the style of Dr. Seuss, Eliezer Lorne Segal delightfully rhymes his way through the holiday, accompanied by fantastic, fire-breathing dragons, floating green pizza and matza carpets and a wild assortment of other creatures
If Dr. Seuss had ever written a Passover Haggadah, this would be it! Uncle Eli's Passover is certainly the most unusual rendering of the haggadah that I've ever seen. It features the mysterious and mischievous Uncle Eli, "the weirdest old man that you ever will see. 'Weird,' did I say? He was weirder than weird! You hardly could see him because of his beard," retelling the story of Passover.
Designed "to awaken the senses of every ho-humming child at the seder table," Eliezer Segal's haggadah presents the order of the seder in marvellous, humorous rhymes. We meet a cast of hilarious sages and zany creatures like the Two-Headed Dray, Jacky the Juggler, Abie the Afikoman-thief and Harold, the six-legged moose. The author's quirky verse, coupled with Bonnnie Gordon-Lucas's unforgettable illustrations, breathe new life into the events, personalities and rituals of Passover preparations and the seder.
Segal's interpretation of the Four Sons, whom he has named Smarty, Nasty, Simple and Sam, is particularly effective. Smarty is so clever that he can recite the whole seder:"From beginning to end,
from the end to the start,
He recited it
over and over by heart.
In Hebrew and Hindi,
In Snufic and Roman,
From the first Ha Lachma
To the last Afikoman."
Nasty has "quite a bad attitude--If he'd been in Egypt complaining this way, we'd have left him behind to keep slaving all day."
Uncle Eli's Passover Haggadah is unique! Readers will either love it or be offended by what they perceive to be its irreverence. I'm going to leave that decision to you. I do wish. however, that both the author and illustrator had acknowledged their obvious debt to Dr. Seuss.
A totally adorable, Dr. Seuss-like storybook and Haggadah rolled into one. You've probably seen clip-s of this rhyme on a forwarded internet e-mail and thought, "cute". The antics cover Passover from house cleaning to welcoming Elijah. Here's a sample from the beginning of the book.We have to get rid
of the hametz today--
We have to destroy it.
We can't let it stay.
We'll punch it and crunch it
and bury it deep,
or leave it to rot
on Mount Zeepleep-the-Steep.
The rhyme isn't always perfect, but it is clever and frolicky. It's a good bet for keeping all ages amused and the inner child intrigued. (ages 5 & up).
More than 10 years ago, to help us and our-then-young i children celebrate Passover, our friends and neighbors Eliezer and Agi Romer Segal gave us a haggadah in verse that Eliezer had written for their own young children.
It was typed, illustrated by hand, photocopied and stapled together with a green cover. On it was stenciled the title, Uncle EIi's Special-for-Kids Most Fun Ever Under-the-Table Passover Haggadah. We have it still, a part of our Passover memorabilia.
So it was with a special thrill that I received, new for this Passover, a professionally published and illustrated copy of Uncle Eli's Special for Kids Most Fun Ever Under-the-Table Passover Haggadah or for short. Uncle Eli's Passover Haggadah (San Francisco, No Starch Press, $12.95pb).
It has been revised and expanded since that early version, but it has the same light touch, the same Dr.-Seuss-like merriment, the same invented creatures and the same silliness young children so love.
The full-color illustrations by Bonnie Gordon-Lucas are simply delightful -- irresistible to both children and adults -- and a perfect match for this Haggadah in verse.
For parents and their children who may not be so familiar with the holiday, Segal, who holds a PhD in Talmud from the Hebrew University and is professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Calgary in Canada, has included a glossary that explains various terms, customs and symbols. To liven up your seder, bring Uncle Eli's Passover Haggadah to the table, and every so often put down your standard Haggadah to read from its verses.
Then watch any boredom from both adults and children magically disappear.
Okay moms, dads, grandparents and other relatives. This is the book to buy for all the kids coming to your seder this year, if you didnt already get it off the Internet.
This Ph.D in Talmud, who is a professor of religious studies, has taken the entire seder and put it in verse for young children to enjoy by itself or to look at during the real seder.
"Instead Of just sitting there twiddling your hands/ while the grown-ups read words you dont understand,/Ive brought you a special Haggadah to read.It will keep you in stitches!/Its just what you need!"
Bonnie Gordon-Lucas has added paintings that are brilliantly colored, clever and funny. This is definitely the book to take for all young readers to introduce them to Uncle Eli, a weird old man with a beard flowing down his body and covering his feet; Jacky, the juggler who juggles the four cups of wine; and Abie, the great Afikoman-Snatcher, all make their appearances.
Uncle Eli has a complete glossary at the end and there are end pages where youngsters could draw their own Seder impressions.
This will revolutionize your family Seder! You aright even want to insert some of it into the regular seder.