The first graphic novel Haggada – not just for kids

Former editor of the Batman franchise goes on a quest to make Passover accessible.

By
April 7, 2019 15:44
A page illustrated by Erez Zadok from the Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel

A page illustrated by Erez Zadok from the Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel. (photo credit: EREZ ZADOK AND JORDAN B. GORFINKEL)

 Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Nashville, New York, Boston. You might think this was the itinerary of a star musician on a 10-week tour. Instead it was the Jewish-American cartoonist Jordan B. Gorfinkel, on tour to showcase the first-ever graphic novel Haggada, a book that guides the Seder and tells the story of the Exodus. 

There was “no lightning-strike moment,” Gorfinkel said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post in regards to the newly published Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel.  
If anything, Gorf, as he is commonly known, believed that everything he has ever done has led up to this three-year project. Once Gorfinkel decided to start this endeavor he was connected with a professor from Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and she immediately introduced him to Israeli illustrator Erez Zadok to co-create and illustrate the book. After working together, Gorf would later describe Zadok as one of the “next great world phenomena, he’s that good.” Zadok has a degree from the premier art school and also has a widely popular Instagram with almost 100,000 followers.


Gorfinkel, the former editor of the Batman franchise at DC Comics, together with Zadok, created the Haggada in collaboration with Koren Publishers. 


One of the most frequently asked questions Gorfinkel receives is: “Why?” Why make a new Haggada when there are likely hundreds of Haggadot, from the exotic such as The (unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah to probably the most common edition – the Maxwell House Haggadah.


But Gorfinkel did not think they were accessible to all. While working at DC Comics, Gorfinkel was approached by two Jewish friends and colleagues who asked him, “Can you do me a favor and make a Haggada for me?” 


“They wanted a book that gave the words context in an educated way,” Gorfinkel said. And a book that “acted as a guide book and that way they could be Seder leaders or participants with confidence, instead of feeling intimidated that they didn’t have the level of background that they felt was a prerequisite to celebrate this holiday.”


Zadok said that they had to rework things to make it accessible for everyone. Opening up the book, the two did just that. The book is not only accessible with its English or Hebrew cartoons, (you can buy it in either language thanks to translator David Olivestone), but also diverse.


Gorfinkel and Zadok wanted to make sure that people could “literally see themselves in the Haggada,” including people of different races, genders and ages. “In Israel more than 90% of Israelis hold a Passover Seder,” Gorf said in a Koren Publishers and American Jewish Press Association’s webinar. 


“For me that means everyone is equally involved, men, women, children, and people of all different backgrounds, skin colors, levels of education, everyone is represented in this holiday, therefore it was really important to all of us, that everyone be represented in this book.”


Another prominent question is what makes this Haggada different from all others? Gorfinkel explained to the Post that in an illustrated Haggada, “the words and pictures complement each other, but they are separate entities.” But, in this book, “the words and pictures are in combination,” and this is something that has never been done before, he said.


Additionally, the book tries to reach across the Israeli spectrum, Zadok said. “We don’t want this project to be just for datim [National-Religious Jews], haredim [ultra-Orthodox Jews], or hilonim [secular]. We want it to be for everyone,” he said. Raised religious and now secular, Zadok thought his religious upbringing and current life-style put him in an advantageous position, being able to “create a bridge” between the religious and the secular.


The two not only wanted the book to appeal to everyone, but they also wanted it to be accurate. In fact, it contains all the authentic text of a traditional Haggada. This is why Koren’s involvement was so important to Gorfinkel and Zadok. Its stamp of approval ensured that to its readers.


“When he told me about writing a comic book Haggada, I was a little shocked,” Zadok said. Because “this comic book was actually based on the authentic text of the Haggada, which is amazing because it allows the reader to understand what they are reading and enjoy it. And maybe it can help us be more patient until the food part.” 


Koren, Gorfinkel said, is the “gold standard, of being medakdek [meticulous with details] in Jewish religious texts,” explaining that the book is both readable as a comic strip and as a Haggada based off a liturgy that is thousands of years old. 


People asked Gorfinkel in the earlier stages to make changes to the text to make it more accessible. “They said maybe you can abridge the text, or add an orange to the Seder plate or do other kinds of flourishes that will make it more palatable,” Gorfinkel said in the webinar. But he responded with: “Whom am I to say that we should change it or correct it in some way,” speaking of the age-old text. 


The Haggada, which contains verses from Deuteronomy, Psalms and Mishna, has been evolving for 2,000 years until it became similar to the current text used today. 


Thus, creating a Haggada with authentic illustrations based on the sacred texts was not always an easy feat. Zadok described one page, in which he drew angels that was particularly difficult. When Gorf sent the page off to various Jewish scholars, the two were critiqued for their Christian archetypes. 


“Gorf sent me the description from the Torah and it was extremely overwhelming,” Zadok recalled in an interview with the Post. “It had four faces, with three hands, it was crazy. I was afraid it would scare children.” 


After several months of deliberation, Zadok and Gorfinkel agreed on a “simplified version,” making the angels into silhouettes. 
Authenticity was not the pair’s only difficulty. They also worked hard to make it a not-your-average children’s Haggada. Don’t be fooled by the giant comic strip. In fact, Zadok and Gorfinkel emphasized that it was for everyone. Gorfinkel even asked the Post not to advertise some of the cuter pictures in the article and avoid the words “comic book” for fear that the book would be seen as childish. While including the authentic text might quell some concerns, another aspect the book has is depth, with “Easter eggs” hidden throughout the book for more analytical readers. 


Working as the head of one of the most popular superhero franchises, Gorfinkel would even argue that all comics are not just for children. In fact, he believes it’s a perfect medium for storytelling where one can engage and entertain.


“It’s a work of depth and certainly appealing to children but even more so to adults,” Gorfinkel said. “I hope someone will always take more from it, because I have this responsibility to this audience. If I am going to have this captive audience, I want to use it to make the world better.”


Like any book there is a superficial way to read it and a way to further delve into the text. But using Jewish texts has a special place in Gorfinkel’s heart. 


“My world view is that I see everything in the Batman way. Trying to engage and enlighten at the same time,” Gorfinkel said. “And foremost it has to have some kind of meaning. It has to have a Judeo-Christian foundation of morality.”


Gorfinkel didn’t always see it this way. When he first started to create his pet project, a Jewish comic strip, JewishCartoon.com, he got in to a little trouble with one of his jokes. 


He was focusing on getting laughs and made fun of a religious denomination.


“I inadvertently maligned one segment of our people with the gag,” Gorfinkel said.


While partially defending his joke, Gorfinkel received some criticism for it. A rabbi told him that with great talent comes great responsibility. If he was going to have his jokes reach hundreds of people, he should use it for something educational. Gorfinkel took that lesson to heart and made the decision to use his reach for constructive education, eventually leading him to the Haggada. 


For Zadok the Haggada became something very transformative as well. 


“Passover is the one holiday that I really dislike,” Zadok said describing his deep vendetta against matzah. Nowadays with all the bread substitutes, it’s gotten much better for him, but the Seder was still very difficult for him. 


“I didn’t get the full meaning of the text,” Zadok remembered. “We read the Haggada because we had to but it becomes perfunctory, and most of the people don’t understand what they are reading. 


“But this project helped me connect to the text and understand what I was reading, especially with the illustration. And although I may not be objective, it makes it more enjoyable.”


In fact, Zadok said that this year he is even looking forward to Passover. 


Related Content

August 24, 2019
Nobody is around to tell Sara Netanyahu PM plane isn't hers, Caspit says

By JERUSALEM POST STAFF

Cookie Settings