Stephen Durchslag’s love of Passover started at a young age. One could argue it started at birth, when his parents gave him the middle name Pesach.
So it’s not surprising that Durchslag, now a retired lawyer, amassed what’s being called the world’s largest private collection of antique Passover Haggadahs — over 4,500 versions of the book that leads Jews through the holiday’s seder meal.
He recently donated the collection to the University of Chicago, where he earned a master’s degree in divinity after retiring in 2013.
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Shortly before retiring in 2013 from a 46-year career as an attorney—having led the intellectual property department at Winston and Strawn—Durchslag enrolled as a graduate student at UChicago’s Divinity School. He is planning to write a dissertation on parody Haggadot, created by writers to explore the political, economic and social conditions of their times. His studies inspired him to preserve his collection at UChicago Library’s Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, where they will be accessible to future generations of scholars, students and the Jewish community.
“Stephen Durchslag’s exceptionally generous and very substantial bequest includes the largest known collection of Haggadot in private hands,” said Brenda L. Johnson, Library Director and University Librarian. “It will be a treasure trove for faculty, students and visiting researchers seeking to explore Jewish religion, history and culture and will significantly enhance our important academic collection in Jewish studies. We could not be more pleased that he has chosen us as the right home for his collection.”
Recited at the Passover feast (Seder), the Haggadah is meant to encourage reflection and commentary on the meaning of the Exodus story and liberation from oppression. It can explore the theme of freedom through many facets, including labor, housing or the basic desire for a better life.
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