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For 80 years, Maxwell House Coffee has been giving out free copies of the Haggadah, a book of prayers and hymns used for Passover seders. Ellen Leiken, of Shaker Heights, holds a couple of old family copies.
SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio -- For many Jewish families, it's not Passover without Maxwell House. Not necessarily the coffee. The Haggadah.
For 80 years, the coffee company has been passing out free copies of the Haggadah, a book of prayers, hymns and stories recited during family seders.
Last Monday, the first day of the eight-day Passover celebration, even President Barack Obama used the complimentary Maxwell House publication of the Haggadah at his White House seder.
And so did the family of Ellen Leiken at their Shaker Heights home.
"Absolutely," said Leiken, 64. "My friends still use it too. I grew up with the old Maxwell House Haggadah. It reminds me of seders when I was a little girl."
Leiken has eight copies (plural Haggadot), some with pages dog-eared and marked with decades-old food stains. Every year, she said, "I have to remember where I put them."
Leiken likes the idea that she and Obama used the same publication. She noted that the decorative centerpiece on her seder table this week was a vase shaped as a bust of the president. It was filled with daffodils.
The Haggadah, which tells the Old Testament story of Jews being freed from slavery in Egypt, can be found free in some grocery stores. A manager at Heinen's on South Green Road in University Heights, said the store has given out hundreds this year.
"It is the most commonly used Haggadah in the world," said Bridget MacConnell, a New York manager for Kraft Foods which owns Maxwell House.
Maxwell House began offering the booklets in the 1930s to "further cement relationships" with Jewish customers, MacConnell said. Since then, the company has distributed 50 million Haggadot in the United States, including 1 million this year.
Over the years, the covers on the booklets have changed. The first edition had the company ad pitch "Good to the Last Drop" printed on the cover.
Micki Brook, 77, of Shaker Heights hosted 16 people at her seder this week. Usually, she uses the Maxwell House Haggadot, but she only has 12 of them, so she purchased 16 new books from a religious publisher, paying $2.95 a piece.
About 10 minutes into the ritual reading, Brook and her guests found the English translation of the Hebrew difficult to follow. "The language didn't flow," she said. "We were all saying, 'What is this?'"
Brook pulled the new books from her guests, went to the Yiddish section of her bookshelf and handed out the Maxwell House Haggadot.
"They were my mother's," she said. "They're simple."