Francine Hermelin is the author of My Haggadah, Made it Myself, a haggadah designed just for kids that doubles as an interactive activity kit. She marries Jewish education with design savviness to create the perfect addition to your family-friendly seder. She’s also been dubbed a “grup” by New York Magazine, but you’ll have to read on to learn just what that means.
Why did you decide to create My Haggadah, Made it Myself?
My background is eclectic: children’s educational software, graphic design, avant-garde film festivals, and event programming for kids. When I had my first kid, I, like many parents, was suddenly struck by the need to sort out my relationship to Judaism and how to translate that to my kids.
I am part of a generation that has a very progressive approach to education—one that puts children’s natural curiosity, wonder, and engagement with the world at the center of their experience. The Jewish offerings have been consistently heavy-handed not to mention that a modern visual aesthetic is sorely lacking for our design savvy culture.
I joined forces with other like-minded parents living in downtown Manhattan to create meaningful Jewish experiences together. One of our first community-wide events seven years ago was for Passover and I decided to write our book for it.
Kids say the darndest things when asked about God, plagues, miracles, tikkun olam, etc. This book empowers families to start these rich conversations and document their kids’ candid answers.
What have been some of the reactions you’ve gotten from it?
The reactions have been so heart-felt and positive. Last year, the book was picked up on a tastemaker website called coolhunting.com and My Haggadah then went viral. It was wild to see requests come in from Brazil, Milan, Berlin, Jerusalem, the UK and of course around the US and Canada.
What’s your favorite part of the Passover seder?
First off, I should mention, I love Passover! It is one of the major Jewish moments of the year, the holiday where essentially the Jews become a nation and it happens in the privacy of one’s home. The rituals are interpreted and led by family and friends. What an empowering moment. As a result, no two families’ seders are alike.
I have a couple favorite parts of the Seder. One favorite is Part II after dinner, the seder song medley: Adir Hu, Echad Mi Yodaya, and Chad Gadya. At this point in the evening we are all deliriously exhausted, the kids have scattered, and adult relatives are still awake singing to our hearts’ content.
The “same time next year” component of the seder is also quite comforting. The entire family comes together, a little older, a little wiser, and the same questions are asked, the same jokes are told, and we find comfort in being together. My family’s tradition is to sing a Yiddish drinking song “Lo Mir Alenanim” and toast to accomplishments in the year past and to milestones anticipated in the year ahead.
You and your husband were featured in a New York Magazine article about “grups”. Do you identify with this classification (meaning parents who are still, well, cool)?
I think cool is meant to imply that I am part of a generation that is more engaged in the day to day goings on of our kids. I wouldn’t say that I am so friendly with my kids that they don’t trust that I will guide and protect them as they grow. But I would hope to think that our kids feel as if we are more connected to and empathetic with their lives. I also think that this notion of cool ties back to what I said about being a generation that is eager to define itself.
On a more superficial note, I do think I am part of a more design conscious generation. We probably have many players to thank for that such as Ikea, the Internet, H&M, etc
How do you encourage creativity in your kids’ everyday lives?
My husband is an artist and has always spent time just drawing with the kids. Literally, parallel play. They all just sit and draw together. Moreover, easily accessible in our apartment you will find sketch books, markers, tape, glue, recyclables, paint, cookie cutters, sequins, wood, feathers, paper mache, stamps, musical instruments, clay, shoe boxes, buttons, fabric, paper towel rolls, etc.
We also are lucky to live near Canal Street where you can find raw material for practically any project. In fact when Halloween or Purim come around the kids will decide on a costume, we make a list of materials, shop our recyclable shelf, and then hit the fabric, art, plastic, lighting, and hardware stores in our four block radius. Whatever the kids dream up, we sort out a way to make it from scratch. Once they make something, we try to celebrate and keep it for as long as they care and our apartment permits.
Francine Hermelin was the co-founder of Associates in Science, a graphic design, marketing and branding company that worked predominantly with the entertainment industry and art world. Currently, Hermelin produces Jewish and political events for families. Most recently she created Thirsty for Change, a national family empowerment program that used the Internet to inspire families to create lemonade stands to raise money for the Obama campaign. My Haggadah: Made it Myself is Hermelin’s first attempt to put her empowerment ideas into an activity book for families. Hermelin lives in New York City, with her husband, Adam Levite and 3 children.