Stephen Durchslag’s family began teaching him to love Passover practically from birth, when they gave him the middle name of Pesach—the Hebrew word for the Jewish holiday. Throughout his childhood, his relatives would gather around a large table, each holding a Haggadah—the book that guides participants through the rituals of the holiday and tells the biblical story of the redemption of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.
“The evening was magical—a time of family support, warmth and tradition,” Durchslag, AM’14, recalled. “The Haggadah encapsulated it all.”
Those memories formed the foundation of what has become a decades-long intellectual labor of love. Since 1982, Durchslag has obtained more than 4,500 Passover Haggadot (the plural of Haggadah, or “the telling”) from across the world, with the oldest dating back more than five centuries. Now, he has established a bequest that will leave the vast majority of this remarkable collection to the University of Chicago Library.
“The University of Chicago has been such an exciting place intellectually and so informative to me in all aspects of my Jewish scholarship,” said Durchslag. “It seemed to be a logical place to continue my legacy.”
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.