iPhoning It In
Ken Gordon is the editor of
JBooks.com, the founder of
QuickMuse, and a freelance
Passover is about storytelling (“Haggadah,” of course, means “the telling”) and order is the meaning of the word “seder.” The
tension between the freedom to create one’s
own Passover script and the set form of the
seder — the 15 steps, from kadesh through
nirtzah — makes Pesach something like a jazz
1. The Jews have no single Haggadah, and
thank God for that. The lack of a centralized text, and Passover’s dining-room setting, means that Pesach is, in many
respects, a homemade chag.
2. While some sedarim emanate directly from,
say, the rabbis of Maxwell House, some
people dare to create a story specifically for
the people around their table.
3. For me, a great seder is highly interactive;
it’s a chance for our own family or Jewish
community to perform together the story of
4. The big question: How to get a table full of
Jews to engage proficiently with the
Haggadah? One would need all the children
— the wise, wicked, simple, and the ques-tion-free children — along with their parents, to listen carefully and respond with
ample intelligence and feeling. A place at
the table can be earned with one’s ears,
brain, mouth, and vocal chords. Technology
5. Someday soon, sedarim will be conducted
from iPhones. No more Manischewitz
6. Here’s a Passover tweet of the future:
“Manischewitz = the wine of affliction.”
7. Yes, iPhones. For those of you for whom the
term “People of the Book” isn’t just a bitter
21st-century joke — for whom Jewish culture remains the ne plus ultra of bookishness — hear me out. Many serious readers
own and use iPhones. Their lives are seriously bound up with email and texting, and
they understand that using social media
(that is, the sort of communally written
content one gets on YouTube, FaceBook,
and Twitter) is not merely a rebarbative
habit of the computer-drugged young.
These people will one day put their smartphones to a real Jewish use.
8. Imagine a table of family and friends, heads
bent over illuminated little screens. Emails
and tweets and digital pictures of Hillel
sandwiches shooting across the table and
to the outside world, and then back again
around the table. Imagine how empowering this will be to the young and shy —
wicked and wise children writing wicked
and wise things with a few expert taps.
Imagine having the ability to fact check any
and all points raised at the seder table.
9. The iPhone Passover can be chaotic, with
any number of pishers virtually heckling the
seder. With a premium on responding
quickly in the world of social media, one
writes back with comments. You like. You
share. If you fear and hate interruption, this
innovation isn’t for you.
10. But the truth is, even at a good, nondigital
seder, there is a lot of disruption. It might be
useful to have those blurted-out questions
and comments put into writing. It might
force the blurters to be more thoughtful, to
formulate better blurts.
11. If your seder is one where all the guests are
intent on strictly following the order — the
words and paragraphs and pages — of the
Haggadah, or following the halakhot on
iPhones, this seder is not for you.
12. If the print-based Haggadah is a game of
follow-the-leader, the iPhone seder is
choose-your-own adventure volume.
13. A caveat: If your guests aren’t curious or
courteous or interested in the Pesach story
in the first place, the iPhone will probably
make things worse, because the iPhone can
easily lead the uninterested to check their
email, stocks, and sports scores.
14. Is it feasible? There are millions of iPhone
users right now, and you can download a
Haggadah app from a company called Hada
Porat for $2.99 and the Union Haggadah
goes for $.99. Neither of these apps is ideal,
but they are a start. My wife looked at both
and said, “They’re cheat sheets.” Perhaps
they are, but I prefer to think of them as
lead sheets. Love that Passover jazz.
15. The truth is, the iPhone is a tool — as is a
Haggadah. It’s only as useful, or as dangerous, as the people touching it.