‘What’s missing here is plague jokes’

‘What’s missing here is plague jokes’

Noted humor writer Dave Barry (and some friends) give the Haggadah a funny, irreverent spin. How about a fifth cup of wine for the Knicks?

Barry: Lots of similarities between Presbyterianism and Judaism.
Barry: Lots of similarities between Presbyterianism and Judaism.

No, the voice that Moses heard on Mount Sinai or the Burning Bush did not sound “kind of like Morgan Freeman.” No, the tablets with the first set of Ten Commandments that Moses shattered after the Children of Israel sinned with the Golden Calf were not “still under warranty, and G-d wrote out another set of commandments.” No, the words in the Haggadah could not be “a Hebrew repair manual for a 1973 Westinghouse dishwasher.”

Yes, all these alternative “facts” are in what is likely to be the hit Haggadah of the 2017 Passover season.

“For This We Left Egypt? A Passover Haggadah for Jews and Those Who Love Them” (Flatiron Books) is the creation of three writers: Dave Barry (the acclaimed Miami Herald humor columnist and recipient of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for “distinguished commentary”); Alan Zweibel (an original “Saturday Night Live” writer); and Adam Mansbach (author of two best-selling books, “Go the F*** to Sleep” and “You Have to F****** Eat”).

With such credentials, you might assume that they would approach the seder text and rituals in a less-than-stern fashion.

You would assume correctly.

Their Haggadah, which the three discussed in email interviews, brings a fair measure of levity to a holiday when leavening is banned. It’s best used by those who feel comfortable supplementing the seder table with words of mirth and irreverence but questionable verity, as well as several fact-free footnotes.

From the opening page, which introduces “the liturgy for the Seder service on this festival of Passover — or, as Reform Jews sometimes call it, Chanukah,” to the end, which discusses the seder’s fifth cup of wine that “some families drink … in gratitude for the state of Israel and also, depending on the playoff situation, for the Knicks,” the book is both reverential and irreverent.

It’s clearly not a product of the traditional publishing house ArtScroll, unless the Art is Carney.

Inside are notes to parents (“Many young Jewish people today would rather undergo amateur eyeball surgery than sit through a lengthy and boring Seder”), notes to grandparents, and “A Note to Episcopalians.”

The Barry Haggadah contains, surprisingly, most of the seder’s basic prayers and customs, with explanations that may be accurate or fanciful.

It also contains many discussion questions: “These will make the Seder last longer, so you should ignore them.”

The discussion questions made the final cut, Mansbach said, because “at the seders I went to as a kid … you got a quarter if you asked a really good question. I guess I was hoping someone would give me a quarter.”

Then there’s the blurb by God on the cover: “Three of the funniest people I’ve ever created.”

How did they get The Writer to write the complimentary blurb? “I know this sounds like name dropping,” Zweibel said, “‘but G-d gave me his cell number when we were both guests on ‘The View’ and we’ve been staying in touch ever since.”

Some of the writers have obviously sat through a run-on seder – Zweibel said he has nightmares about the one “that began in early April and didn’t end until the Fourth of July.” They warn that the brisket – “which started out hot and juicy” – will by mealtime “be as moist and tender as a UPS truck tire.”

The Ten Plagues? Among them: “Humidity.” “Jerry Lewis.” “Gluten.” And “Constipation Like You Would Not Believe.”

Then there are “deleted scenes” from the Passover story. They’re added, the authors write, “because the authors of most Haggadahs have not promised their publishers that they would deliver a manuscript of no fewer than ninety-six pages.” (This Haggadah has 126.)

The book is intended, Barry wrote in an email, for “everybody who has ever been to a Seder and thought, ‘What’s missing here is plague jokes.’”

While the Haggadah is collaborative, “truth be told,” Zweibel said, “I wrote all the funny stuff, Adam wrote the serious stuff, and Dave typed.”

The most intriguing contributor is Barry, who was raised in a Presbyterian family (his father was a pastor) and now identifies as an atheist and is married to a Jewish woman, Miami Herald sportswriter Michelle Kaufman. He has written in the past of seders he’s attended, and of a synagogue trip to Israel he took in 2014.

An obvious question on a holiday that encourages inquiries: Why did Barry co-write a book about a Jewish holiday? “It seemed like a fun idea,” he said. “Also, Adam and Alan told me that if I didn’t participate they would take my first-born son.”

His qualifications as someone with Christian roots for penning a Passover guide?

“There are a LOT of similarities between Presbyterianism and Judaism,” Barry said. “For example, they both end in ‘ism.’ The list goes on and on.”

What does his wife think about his Haggadah? “I am frankly afraid to ask her.”

read more: