SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
Last night marked the beginning of Passover, the holiday when Jews gather together to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. To do this, you need a haggadah. And as NPR's Eliza Dennis reports, a common one in the U.S. comes from a place you might not expect.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Smell good, ground coffee. That's Maxwell House coffee.
ELIZA DENNIS, BYLINE: That's right. Maxwell House is the producer of a popular haggadah in the U.S. Let me explain. The haggadah is a book of texts used during the Seder, Passover's ritual meal. And Maxwell House produced their haggadah as a marketing tool.
JENNY SINGER: The Maxwell House haggadah is the longest-running sales promotion in advertising history.
DENNIS: That's Jenny Singer. She is the deputy life and features editor for The Forward, a Jewish American publication. And she knows a thing or two about the Maxwell House haggadah. It all started with the 1920s ad-man Joseph Jacobs. He realized that his fellow Jews weren't drinking coffee because they thought it wasn't kosher for Passover. So he turned to Maxwell House.
SINGER: They got this kind of obscure Lower Eastside rabbi to give them the OK to say that coffee is kosher for Passover.
DENNIS: Joseph Jacobs saw an opportunity.
SINGER: You buy a pound of Maxwell, you get a free haggadah.
DENNIS: And people did. Maxwell House has printed more than 55 million haggadot.
SINGER: You open it up. And there are these gorgeous illustrations of Moses parting the Red Sea, and then the Israelites sitting down to drink Maxwell House coffee on the other side.
DENNIS: And it hasn't changed much. The Maxwell House haggadah has only been updated to modernize some of the language and to include gender neutral pronouns. But this year, there's a special edition.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL")
RACHEL BROSNAHAN: (As Midge Maisel) And crazy, the famous mad divorcee of the upper west side.
DENNIS: That's Midge Maisel, the main character of the hit TV show "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" set in 1950s New York City. She's a Jewish housewife who makes brisket during the day and does standup comedy at night. And this year, Maxwell House and Amazon, which produces the show, teamed up on an updated version of the haggadah. It's Pepto Bismol pink. It includes a recipe for Midge's famous brisket, and is complete with wine stains and illustrations of the cast members.
ALEX BORSTEIN: I didn't know Maxwell House still existed. I'm not even joking. Like, the coffee that I drink at this point are just always those little pod things. But I happily ordered some coffee.
DENNIS: That's Alex Borenstein, the actress that plays Susie Myerson, Midge's fearless agent.
BORSTEIN: She's a little Jewish person.
DENNIS: And so is Borstein. She actually grew up using the Maxwell House haggadah.
BORSTEIN: It's a long one. It's the dry one. It's the - it's the fire and brimstone.
DENNIS: And what would her character Susie think?
BORSTEIN: Susie would be like, oh, my God, 63 pages? What, are we slaves again? How long are we stuck here? This is 40 years.
DENNIS: Borstein and a few other cast members will be having a Masel Passover tonight. And they'll be using the Maxwell haggadot - well, mostly.
BORSTEIN: I like to add my own flavor.
DENNIS: Maybe we'll see that version next year.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL ")
BROSNAHAN: (As Midge Maisel) You've been a great audience, ladies and gentlemen. That's it for me. My name is Mrs. Maisel. Thank you, and good night.
DENNIS: Eliza Dennis, NPR News.
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