A Place at the Table: How an Accessible Haggadah Creates a Seder of Belonging

April 8, 2024Jack McPadden

As someone who is completely blind, I have enjoyed many opportunities to fully participate in the Jewish community because of accessible materials. Over the years, braille translations of many English and Hebrew texts have enriched my religious education, synagogue services, and my bar mitzvahbar mitzvahבַּר מִצְוָהCeremony marking a boy's reaching the age of religious maturity; plural: b'nei mitzvah. . This profound impact on my life has extended far beyond temple walls and has played a critical role in many of my most cherished family memories. The JBI braille Haggadot HaggadahהַגָּדָהLiterally, “telling.” This is the Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Passover seder. Plural: Haggadot.  that I have used over the years are central to some of my most meaningful family moments.

Among my earliest memories of family gatherings are Passover SedersSederסֵדֶר"Order;" ritual dinner that includes the retelling of the story of the Israelite's Exodus from Egypt; plural: s'darim. held at my grandparents' home. These occasions were one of only two times each year when my extended family from across the country reunited. With three generations of family gathered around the table, my grandfather led each Seder by encouraging the active participation of all who were present. Each person at the table read aloud small segments from the Haggadah, with reading responsibilities rotating around the table as the Seder progressed. With my braille Haggadah from JBI, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to read aloud when my turn arrived. As we reached each of the Seder prayers, which my family recited in unison, I joined them as I read from my braille Haggadah.

These Seders were deeply cherished by my grandparents. My grandfather seemed to define the passing of time during the year not by the 12-month calendar, but by the number of months until his entire family would be together again. For my grandfather, seders were among the highlight of his year. He delighted in the preparation for each seder. Of the many events in advance of the first seder, my grandfather was perhaps most excited that I would be reciting the Four Questions(the) Four Questionsאַרְבַּע הָקֻשְׁיוֹתFour specific questions asked at the beginning of the Passover seder, the answers to which shape the rest of the retelling of the exodus from Egypt. Learn how to recite or sing the Four Questions. , a responsibility that remained with me for many years until the next child in the family joined our Seder table. I recall rehearsing the Four Questions as a young child at my grandparents' home, reading from my braille Haggadah as my mother helped me to learn the proper recitation. As I worked to master the Four Questions, I remember taking care to do so only in a private room, as my young self did not want to reveal my recitation abilities to others until the first Seder. My grandfather was even more excited than I was for the occasion and checked with me frequently in the days leading up to the first Seder to inquire as to how my learning was progressing. After I recited the Four Questions from my braille Haggadah, my grandfather would boast of this accomplishment for many days thereafter, just as he shared other highlights of his grandchildren's Seder participation with any and all who would listen.

While reciting the Four Questions was certainly a highlight of each seder for me, I distinctly recall enjoying the opportunity to read from my braille Haggadah and participate alongside my family throughout each seder. The ability to read for myself the same text that all others were reading was an experience so special to me that few events could disrupt me from it; participating in the search for the afikoman afikomanאֲפִיקוֹמָן"Dessert" (Greek); matzah is the official "dessert" of the Passover seder meal. During the seder, the children traditionally "steal"and hide the afikoman, and it must be redeemed by the seder leader. and opening the door for Elijah were among those rare exceptions. I am truly grateful to JBI for having provided me with the Haggadot that united our family around the table each year, where I created special memories that I will forever carry with me.

About JBI

JBI, established in 1931 as The Jewish Braille Institute, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people of all ages and backgrounds who are blind, visually impaired, or print disabled gain access to Jewish life. Through a vast circulating library, liturgical texts, customized materials, and cultural offerings, JBI enables its patrons to connect to the rich literary, cultural, and religious texts of the Jewish community. JBI creates, publishes, and distributes thousands of Jewish-interest materials in audio, braille, and large print free of charge and sends them to patrons' doorsteps. JBI continues to innovate and empower communities through its commitment to inclusivity and accessibility. To learn more or request a free large-print, braille, or audio Haggadah, visit jbilibrary.org, call 800-999-6476, or email haggadah@jbilibrary.org.


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