Passover 2012: New Haggadot

Arts & Books

Passover 2012: New Haggadot

Zelda Shluker

Every year, new Haggadot are published—yet there is never a surfeit of them. We welcome new versions in our eagerness to make our Seders personally meaningful. Here are four of the latest, plus an illuminated book that is a beauty to behold.

New American Haggadah edited by Jonathan Safran Foer. Translated by Nathan Englander. Art and design by Oded Ezer. (Little, Brown and Company, 160 pp. $29.99)

This collaboration between Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander may be hugely accessible because of a revisited traditional text, the openness and simplicity of its design and the brilliant, contemporary commentators: Nathaniel Deutsch, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Jeffrey Goldberg and Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket). Read our extended interview with Foer about the making of the New American Haggadah.

Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family by Alan S. Yoffie. Illustrated by Mark Podwal. (CCAR Press, 144 pp. $50 cloth, $18 paper)

There are many reasons to like this Reform Haggada, not least of which is the magical, whimsical art of Mark Podwal. Indeed, the cover image is a Jewish star assembled of books that support pyramids, a pomegranate-cornered Torah scroll and other symbols of Jewish history. Inside are 25 full pages of Podwal’s art.

The main thrust of this Haggada, however, is, as its name suggests, to share the universal message of the struggle for freedom as well as allow friends and family who may not be Jewish to participate comfortably in the Seder rituals. The singing of “Hineih Mah Tov: A Song of Harmony” opens the evening. Along with spilling wine to acknowledge Egyptian suffering when we recite the Ten Plagues, there is a quote from the Talmud: “My creatures are drowning and you are singing?” This well-organized, reader-friendly Haggada has discrete readings and suggested ideas for discussion (What are the plagues we live with in the world today?) .

A Leader’s Guide includes a CD: Sharing the Journey: A Musical Companion for the Seder. The 40 songs can also be downloaded. An interactive iPad version, with music, will be available through iBookstore.

Wellsprings of Freedom: The Renew Our Days Haggadah by Rabbi Ronald Aigen. Illustrated by J.W. Stewart. (Congregation Dorshei Emet,, 148 pp. $23.95)

This art-filled Reconstructionist Haggada includes more of the biblical story of the Israelites’ sojourn in Egypt than is traditionally found in the Seder-night text. In this way, the historical events are part of the readings, while commentaries, poetry and songs add to inner, soulful journeys. Most satisfying is the inclusion of new translations of Hasidic insights from Be’er He-Hasidut (a collection of 18th- and 19th-century spiritual masters); other quotes and little-known nuggets are from Abrabanel, Emmanuel Levinas, the rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, Viktor Frankl and others.

Throughout, the theme of freedom is linked to rituals. For example, after the breaking of the middle matza, a question is asked: What experiences of brokenness have contributed to our search for freedom? This is followed by quotes from Isaac Bashevis Singer, the prophet Micah; a poem by A.M. Klein; a surrealistic image of a chair on a carpet in a garden with slaves in Egypt painted below and Jerusalem’s wall in the background. J.W. Stewart’s bright montages mix realistic, contemporary and historical images and symbolic elements.

The Koren Ethiopian Haggada: Journey to Freedom edited by Rabbi Menachem Waldman. Translated by Binyamin Shalom. (Koren,, 230 pp. $29.95)

It takes little imagination to read the saga of Ethiopian Jewry’s aliya to Israel as a version of the Israelite journey out of Egypt. For the first time ever, the Journey to Freedom Haggada intertwines the two struggles, and the Ethiopian community now has a Haggada that remembers their sojourn in a foreign land, commemorates their suffering and celebrates the fulfillment of their 2,500-year dream of coming home to Israel.

Waldman has incorporated information on Ethiopian Passover customs (they included sacrificing a lamb) alongside the traditional text, the baking of matzot and special Passover readings and prayers. Photographs of homes, schools and synagogues in Ethiopia, tent cities in Sudan, arrivals by boat in Israel as well as colorful naïve art fill the book. So do letters from Ethiopian Jewish leaders beseeching Jews not to forget them (including one to Yitzhak Rabin in 1975), memories of the earliest outside Jewish contact with Ethiopian Jews.

Especially moving are the four first-person stories of escape through Sudan to Israel.

The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative, and Religious Imagination by Marc Michael Epstein. (Yale University Press, 344 pp. $65)

You will probably not bring this book to your Seder table. Marc Michael Epstein’s magnificent scholarly book, which looks at four medieval illuminated Haggadot, cannot be read aloud to a bunch of hungry people. It is, instead, intended for artists, historians or anyone fascinated by the beauty and the mystery of the early art and composition of the Birds’ Head Haggadah, made in southern Germany (1300); the Golden Haggadah from Catalonia (1320-1330); and the “sibling” Rylands and Brother Haggadot, both from Catalonia (1330-1340), the former being modeled on the latter.

Books for the Holiday: Upping the Passover Quotient - By Zelda Shluker

The Arts: Utopia, Visions and Evolution  - By Renata Polt

Florida's Foodies: Growers, Grocers & Gefilte Fish - By Molly Arost Staub

A Talk with Ari Shavit - By Stewart Kampel

Books: Israel, Looking Backward

Brief Reviews: Philosophy and Fatalism

Exhibit: Saving the Past - By Barbara Trainin Blank

Book Review: A Ride With Nicholas Sparks - By Zelda Shluker

Exhibit Review: Graphic Life - By Sara Trapper Spielman

The Many Sides of Peter Max - By Zelda Shluker

The Arts: United (Jewish) Artists - By Aaron Rosen

Brief Reviews: Beauty, Brutality and the Blues

Q&A with Director Claude Lanzmann - By Judith Gelman Myers

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