Seders- Traditions and Maxwell House Coffee

Spring break today. I had kind of hoped to take this week off, but I could only manage one day. Mrs S beat me to it when she put in her vacation notice for Hawaii. She’s over there helping her Mom move. Apparently she was sunburned on the golf course on Sunday. I’m assuming she was carrying things from her Mom’s place to the car, and the car was parked across the fairway, something like that she wasn’t really clear.


Photo curtesy of Faye Kelberg Photography. Reproduced without her permission but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind, as it’s a rare decent picture of yours truly.

Either way she was missed. Last night Laura and I, the remaining Sankary’s in Minnesota headed over to our friends for, I don’t know I have to think about this now… maybe 15th annual Seder? Might be more than that, I’m not certain the girl was even here when we first started going over to these folks house for this event. As always the food was outstanding and the company better.

Seders have come a long way since I was kid and we tried to burn through the infamous Maxwell House Haggadah. Maxwell House, yes that Maxwell House, used to print Haggadah’s and give them away with the purchase of a can of coffee. The story of the Maxwell House Haggadah is an interesting one.

First of let me ground my non-Jewish friends who may not be clear on terms:

Seder: Hebrew for “order” it’s the festive meal we do on the first and second nights of Passover. 

Haggadah: The book from where the text that is recited at the Seder comes from. It is a script for the evening and includes a narrative of the Exodus from Egypt. It also includes, in the following prescribed order: (From

  1. Kadesh -the recitation of Kiddush.
  2. Urchatz -washing the hands.
  3. Karpas -eating a vegetable dipped in salt-water.
  4. Yachatz -breaking of the middle matzo.
  5. Maggid -the recitation of the Hagadah.
  6. Rachtzah -washing of the hands a second time.
  7. Motze -the recitation of the blessing hamotzi.
  8. Matzah -the recitation of the blessing al Achilas matzo, eating the matzo.
  9. Morror -eating the bitter herbs.
  10. Korech -eating a sandwich of matzo and bitter herbs.
  11. Shulchan Oruch -eating the festive meal.
  12. Tzafun -eating the afikomen.
  13. Bayrech -the recitation of grace.
  14. Hallel -the recitation of Hallel psalms of praise.
  15. Nirtzah -our prayer that G-d accepts our service.

From a practical standpoint, most years we do steps 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9,10, and 11.  Skipping the hand washing parts and most things after dinner. Once dinner is eaten, momentum dies, no one really wants do any singing or praising, although we do get to the last couple cups of wine (there are 4) and open the door for Elijah the Prophet who tradition says will come to the Seder to announce Messianic age has began. As kid this image of a 2000 year old dead guy coming the door… cool.

He didn’t show up last night by the way, but there is an outstanding SNL skit about this whole affair if you go looking for it.

Anyway, we do lose momentum after dinner when we Jews like to sit down and have a nice cuppa coffee. Which is where Maxwell House comes in. Maxwell House makes coffee and in 1919 if you went to a Seder anywhere in the US, you wouldn’t have had coffee. Coffee then, wasn’t considered Kosher for Passover, K4P as my kids say. During Passover European (Ashkenazic) Jews also do not eat certain legumes, due to a 700 year old misunderstanding about what a dried bean is and what a grain is. (Thankfully we Sephardic Jews understood what beans and rice are and thus continue to eat them during the week, a difference that remains to this day) Long story slightly shorter here, the coffee bean thought to be a legume and was prohibited during the week of Passover. In 1919 BTW, 99% of American Jews were Ashkenazic.

Jewish grocery stores would pull the coffee off their shelves for the holiday and that was it.

Enter Joseph Jacobs, an entrepreneur who had a ad agency specifically targeting Jewish consumers. He convinced the owners of Maxwell House to sign up for a campaign the market coffee to Jews. Step one in the campaign was to find a Rabbi would declare coffee kosher for Passover. Since the coffee bean comes from a fruit is not actually bean, done. They took out an ad in the Yiddish Press in New York announcing that coffee was now K4P and thus could be part of the Seder service. 

Next step was to start printing free Hebrew and English Haggigot for the holidays and give them away at grocery stores selling Passover foods.  And so you have it; the Seder brought to you by Maxwell House Coffees good to the last drop, this year and next year in Jerusalem. (The Seder always ends with the words “Next year in Jerusalem”)

My memories of the Maxwell Haggadah fall into that nostalgia that includes walking to school in the snow, up hill both ways and 2 channels of TV. In other words kids, when I was your age Seders were like 11 hours long and all in Hebrew and we had to sit quietly the entire time and look at the Seder plate. Now a days all this creativity and brevity, kids have it soooo easy.

Facts don’t exactly support my description, I don’t think seders were more than a few hours long [sic] and I know my mother and her friends chatted away at one end of the table while someone droned on about plagues and hills skipping like young sheep at the other. And at some point after dinner someone said “go find the afikoman” the broken half of matzo that had to be the last thing anyone ate at the seder. (so matzo would be the last taste on your tongue reminding you of how awful things were back then) The kid who finds the matzo gets a prize. Actually they’re supposed to negotiate it’s return with the leader of the service, since the seder can’t end with out it you’re supposed to drive a hard bargain. Once more reason my people are known for their negotiation skills, it’s ingrained early.

But last night, with the youngest kid at 15, no one was all that interested in the afikoman. For old times sake I slipped the girl a Jefferson and whispered “Happy Passover”. She was quite thrilled, even asked if I was giving her too much.. nice to see some things are still good in the world, like $20.00 being a lot to a 15 year old.

And the Maxwell House Haggadah, it still exists and apparently, can be downloaded and printed at home.



Filed under Life

2 responses to “Seders- Traditions and Maxwell House Coffee

  1. Eddie

    Too good!!
    Great pic!!

  2. I always enjoy your descriptions of your family/religious traditions. Thanks for sharing again. Your daughter looks much older than you describe her. I love how Maxwell house worked the Rabbis….good stuff-to the last drop!

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