Over the years, contemporary Haggadot have incorporated themes from diverse issues and causes that the Passover story can further illuminate. Haggadot.com has parlayed that concept into a successful website. Founded in 2015 by designer and artist Eileen Levinson, the company offers the tools and templates to customize Haggadot for anyone with access to a computer. Rebecca Missel, Haggadot.com’s director of partnerships and operations, recently spoke to JewishBoston about the company’s resources, which also offers webinars to help users navigate the site.
Missel said that during the pandemic, the company has grown over 300%. She noted that while not all of Haggadot.com’s users are digital natives, “They have enough facility with the site, computers and technology to create their Haggadot. And they usually organize and make the seders happen.”
With two full-time professionals and a team of freelancers, Missel pointed out that mostly grassroots donations fund Haggadot.com. “Our users are the fuel that drives this whole machine,” she said.
JewishBoston is one of your partner organizations. Who else do you partner with, and what does a partnership entail?
We work with about 60 organizations, including JewishBoston, that I call core content partners and makers. I love that we connect our end users to the incredible breadth of what the Jewish community has to offer. That’s what the partners bring. We have a “liberal” seder template. It’s a popular template on the site because it’s accessible and looks familiar to people who have attended a seder. There are Hebrew blessings, but everything else is in English. We also have a template for a more traditional seder, which includes mention of Miriam’s cup along with Elijah’s cup at the end of the traditional seder.
We also work extensively with MAZON. They produced a Haggadah and have generously posted it on our site. Their seder has a lens on hunger and what that means in the context of Passover. Eileen and I talk a lot about the fact that one of the beauties of Passover and the seder is that they are open to interpretation. The partners illuminate that creativity for our users. Whether you’re interested in hunger, inclusion, LGBTQ issues, social justice, environmentalism or secular Judaism, we have all these different lenses on the seder.
What steps can people take to create their unique Haggadah?
One of the best things to do if you’re brand-new to the site is to start on the “How to Use Haggadot.com” page and the FAQ page. We also have tutorial videos to walk you through everything. The other place that is great to start with is our introductory webinar on hosting a seder. Before diving in too far, I would also recommend knowing what you’re looking to do this year for your seder. Are you hosting on Zoom? Are you hosting in person, or is it a hybrid? Are you hosting people of different generations? What do you want to walk away with from the seder experience? Is it a moment to collectively pause, be together and reflect on the last year? Is it to connect to this ancient tradition of heralding in springtime? Does it have a religious aspect? Know your purpose going in and let that be your guide on the site.
Will this second pandemic Passover be different for Haggadot.com users?
This year we’ve been encouraging people to experiment. People now have a better understanding of the technology. Yet in the Passover spirit, we’re still in this narrow place regarding the holiday. How can we liberate ourselves by liberating the structural side of it? We did a session on breaking the seder rules, and 165 people registered for it.
How many people have downloaded their unique Haggadot?
Last year, 450,000 people visited the site, and approximately 86,000 of them downloaded Haggadot. This year it looks a little bit different because we’ve asked people to create an account. It helps us to better connect with those folks afterward. And although we are a free website, people tend to donate when they’re downloading their Haggadot.
You mentioned that you want to follow up with your users and offer content for the rest of the year. What does that look like?
We are called Haggadot.com but we are here for you year-round. In 2015, we launched our design studio called Custom & Craft. People have also used the site to find content for Shabbat, Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah. This year, we created a spin-off site for the High Holidays called HighHolidays@Home. That site was successful because people celebrated the holidays in a different way. Unlike Passover, which is a home-based holiday, the High Holidays are not home-based. But in the last year, we’ve shifted to this idea of what it means to have home-based rituals or at-home rituals year-round.
After Passover, we will transition to our year-round content and offer it on Haggadot.com. We stick with that website because it’s the name that most people recognize. And Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah have a seder element that lends itself to the bookmaking structure that Passover has. Yet there’s not that same user behavior in those holidays as there is for Passover. However, there are still ways to make all of these holidays meaningful by personalizing them. Another example of customizing on our site is that we highlighted Pride Month in June. Our partners at Keshet assembled content for Pride Month. It was a very different Pride Month last year—a holiday that is usually celebrated in deep community with many people.
This interview has been edited and condensed.