A ‘Swiftie’ connects a superstar with a special Seder


As Taylor Swift dominates pop culture and tops the song charts, two West Hempstead mothers found a way to connect the singer-songwriter to the Pesach Seder, where conversations and songs precede and follow the meal.

“The Eras tour movie was in theaters around Hanukkah and we wanted the special popcorn bucket and friendship bracelets that came with the movie,” said Na’ama Ben-David. “I was joking with my daughter about it. It was taking over all aspects of her life, the passion for the lyrics and storytelling of her music.”

Her daughter’s use of Taylor Swift songs in conversations inspired Ben-David to work with her on a Haggadah. “How would that work with themes of pesach, oppression and freedom, good and evil?” she asked. “She’s a tremendous Swiftie and a deep thinker.”

“She had an idea and we jumped into it, the branding and marketing,” said Shelley Atlas Serber of West Hempstead, who illustrated the book. “It is an Amazon bestseller. It has really blown up.”

Between last Hanukkah and this month’s release of The Unofficial Taylor Swift Haggadah, the author and illustrator researched song lyrics and their message, connecting them to the Seder with help from their daughters. “Ma Nishtana makes the kid feel like the star of the show,” Serber said.

Swift’s lyrics are clean in comparison to many of the other Top 40 stars, and while her clothing isn’t tsnius by Orthodox standards, her presence on stage is tame in comparison to the overt sexuality of many other singers. “It’s timely and overall she’s a good role model for young girls and it will keep kids at the table,” Serber said.

Ben-David researched other recent Haggadahs inspired by popular culture, noting how they connected to the timeless story of the Exodus. “I read Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg’s Superhero Haggadah and the Harry Potter Haggadah,” she said of the author from Kew Gardens Hills. “I wanted to avoid copyright issues, and see how to translate a bracha. I wanted to make sure no one else had done it. I made the decision not to make it a companion to a Haggadah, but as a functioning Haggadah.”

One example of a Haggadah story connecting to Swift is the story of the four sons, who conveniently fit into the four characters whose romantic stories are a theme of her 2020 album Folklore. With the ten makkos, each one corresponds to an album title, but the obvious song name, Bad Blood, somehow did not make an appearance in this chapter.

“My mother and husband edited it, my daughter contributed to the wording, it was a family affair for both of our families,” Serber said.

Published through the Amazon platform, which prints and distributes the book, The Unofficial Taylor Swift Haggadah has been reviewed by the news publisher JTA, Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post, and the London-based Jewish Chronicle. It is sold online at  $19.89, Swift’s birth year, and the name of her fifth studio album, released in 2014.

“There is trivia, Divrei Torah, and symbolism,” Ben-David said. “We are careful not to overstep boundaries,” referring to copyright. As the book notes, tour, album, and song references are expressed in parody, protected by law in the same manner as Pesach-related songs by Maccabeats and Six13 that also take inspiration from pop culture.