Featured Ads

KU student brings Passover to Lawrence this summer

Danny Caine

Among the bookshelves stood a mini seder display, complete with matzah, grape juice and a haggadah, the traditional text that drives the Passover dinner. The event was standing-room only, and locals mingled as they took what were perhaps their first sips of Manischevitz wine. It was a Friday evening, and while Jews around the world celebrated Shabbat, Danny Caine brought a little bit of Passover to Lawrence, Kansas. 

Caine, a recent graduate with a Masters in Fine Arts degree from the University of Kansas, hosted the release of his newly published chapter book “Uncle Harold’s Maxwell House Haggadah,” at the Raven Bookstore on June 9. With “A Rugrats Passover” VHS playing on a television in the background, Danny read selections of his poetry, “We praise you … Ruler of the Universe, who has freed us and our ancestors from Egypt and brought us to Cleveland…” 

Born to a Jewish family in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, Caine attended Hebrew school, became a Bar Mitzvah, and even entertained the idea of becoming a rabbi. When his pursuit of an MFA brought him to Kansas a few years ago, he found himself missing the Jewish food he grew up loving. 

While visiting Cleveland one spring, he noticed a huge grocery store Passover display and reminisced about seders spent at his Uncle Harold’s home.

“I think it started with the food,” Caine said. “My family’s experience at Passover seems funny and unique to me … but it probably has enough to do with how other Jewish families celebrate Passover, so I thought I should explore this a bit more.” And so, the concept for his chapter book was born. 

Many families like Caine’s found themselves using the Maxwell House Haggadah because of a marketing campaign that began in 1932. The coffee company produced a version of the text as part of an effort to correct the misconception that coffee was not kosher for Passover. The campaign was so successful, and the text so well received, that the Maxwell House Haggadah is now one of the most recognizable American Jewish symbols. 

When asked why he was inspired to write a book based on the Haggadah, he explained, “There are so many cool poetic forms in the Haggadah … and in a lot of the text I’m imitating [it].” 

Throughout his book, Caine focuses on themes such as the relationship between the holiness of Pesach and its tie to American commercialism, and his family’s interpersonal relationships and traditions. He does so with a clever voice that is sure to induce out-loud laughter in any reader, and particularly so amongst members of American Jewry.  

His book also contains a piece entitled “Dayenu” (a Hebrew word meaning “it would have been enough”) modeled after the same-titled section of the Haggadah. When asked when he could personally say “Dayenu,” Caine responded with a smile.

“In terms of being a Jew I always say next year in Jerusalem; as a Cleveland sports fan I have usually said there’s always next year … but last year the Cavs won the NBA championship, and I’ve just released a chapbook. I could say Dayenu right now.”  

Caine succeeds in relating to the experience of many American Jews. There is always next year: Next year for a family trip to Israel, next year for the Royals to win the World Series again and next year to have a copy of “Uncle Harold’s Maxwell House Haggadah” to be read aloud during your family’s seder. 

Caine has already started talking to KU Hillel staff about the potential of sharing his haggadah at Hillel’s Passover seder in the spring. 

Caine currently lives in Lawrence with his wife and is the owner of the Raven Bookstore. Pick up a copy of his book online and learn more about him at his website, dannycaine.com. 

Tori Luecking is KU Hillel’s engagement associate.