A graphic Haggadah

“The vast majority of secular Jews in Israel attend a Seder every year, as do a huge percentage of Diaspora Jews who maintain none of our traditions.”

An illustration from the Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel (photo credit: KOREN)
An illustration from the Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel
(photo credit: KOREN)
“The Passover Seder is very precious and holds a special place in the hearts of all our people,” writes David Olivestone, the translator of the new Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel published by Koren. “The vast majority of secular Jews in Israel attend a Seder every year, as do a huge percentage of Diaspora Jews who maintain none of our traditions.”
Now Olivestone speaks directly to all of us, who may use this Haggadah as together we sit around the table with family. This wonderful wordsmith envisioned all these sedarim as he labored on his new translation, in which “God rescued us from Egypt” because our ancestors were ready to begin the exodus and finally reach Eretz Yisrael as many of us have done.
“So maybe,” as he points to his dreams rooted in the words selected to illuminate our ancient text, “They will see or read something in this new Haggadah which will pique their interest. If my translation ‘talks’ to them, which I hope it will, maybe they will have something positive to say in return, which will bolster their connection with Judaism.”
Via this Haggadah, in its original Hebrew, in Olivestone’s translation or through the English transliteration, you will be given a new view of this precious volume and an insight into your faith, whatever you believe its essentials are for you.
When you obtain this Haggadah, you will have a treat because you can go through it, time after time, and find an item-icon
illuminated by the translation which you did not see previously.
One of the images, with which I begin this tale of mine about this Haggadah, relates to the two pictorials about “wealth” which our ancestors received when they left Egypt. The upper image is a bag of gold; the lower image is a newly born baby. For me that is what this Haggadah is all about, focusing, once again in a graphic fashion, on what we really took out of Egypt, our babes in arms. As we have learned, the “money” can be used to build, to enrich our lives Jewishly when we use it wisely and with an open heart.
Through the graphics in this Haggadah, we are reminded that it is an echo of history. Chaim Raphael explained the precious ceremony at which the Haggadah comes to life. “The Seder has a unique quality, however, in that it is a ceremony which brings together – and always has throughout history – all kinds of people of Jewish origin, no matter what weight they normally attach to this in terms of belief, practice, political philosophy, social interests or family loyalty.”
Let us travel together through the Haggadah, and we will encounter exciting illustrated moments which impact on us in ways which we had not realized in previous years as we sat at the Seder. Early in the text, you will be very surprised to see our guide, one little kid, dressed in his quasi-Superman outfit with a matza on his chest. He speaks for Gorfinkel, the creator; Zadok, who painted the figures and Olivestone, the translator.
“We’re connecting a new generation to our living history, by illustrating the fully unabridged authentic text,” he says. Nothing will be omitted in the Haggadah which would make a difference, since it will be presented in “the sequential storytelling style of comics a Jewish innovation, you know.”
The rest of the instructions from Superman Kid read in this fashion. “Everything you need to conduct your Seder is right here – the Hebrew and Transliteration on the text pages and the English translation in the Word Balloons on the Art Pages. It’s all kosher for Passover,” he says.
Typically, we are led into the Haggadah text by the invitation for anyone to “come and eat.” We stand looking for strangers.
Gorfinkel introduces us to varied groups of Seder attendants in this initial part of the Haggadah. One group includes the “hungry” and the “poor” with the Jewish matron serving a full meal. We had witnessed an old man being brought to the Seder. He eats quickly and then is gone, but a hiker carrying her pack on her back joins the group. One female type, present, is a young girl spinning a basketball, the whole world, on her finger. Another is a hip-hopper guitarist with a keepah He puts that musical instrument down and then holds a Torah. He stands next to a nattily dressed young man in a blue suit and a red tie.
They sit down and start reading the Haggadah. First, we see the four rabbis in Bnai Brak who “elaborate on the story of our rescue from Egypt.”
Artistically placed at this juncture, we recognize the Jewish displaced persons after World War 2, then the illegals in a tiny boat on the way to Eretz Yisrael. An American soldier is freeing a little Jewish boy, who is still garbed in a concentration camp suit striped from top to bottom.
Then a real surprise: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel, key American leaders who were noted supporters of the State of Israel appear together. Lastly, the Ethiopian Jews finally freed, fly and deplane in Israel.
The two figures of Heschel and King will be unexpected by the majority of readers of this Haggadah. The two men walked hand in hand on the way to Selma, Alabama in the campaign to free African-Americans in the USA. I heard Heschel introduce King at the Rabbinical Assembly Convention of Conservative Rabbis in 1968. One of King’s key points, which he stressed that night, was that Israel was an “oasis of peace,” and Heschel always emphasized that Israel was the spiritual capital of the Jewish people.
Three weeks later on April 4, King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Heschel marched with other leaders at the funeral procession in Atlanta. In this Gorfinkel image of the two, he offers a major statement about freedom and our love for Israel stemming from two unexpected leaders quite connected with one another.
Now the family appears and we will follow them through the Seder. The three who have created this Haggadah point to the family as the key unit of our people not only through the Passover tale but also throughout Jewish history.
A very smart girl is the “astute” child who knows all; the “rebellious” son, second child, does not want to have anything to do with this Seder and runs off to his room to bounce a basketball off the wall. His mother rescues him, soothes him and returns him to the Seder table. It is stressed, over and over again how the Jewish woman – and especially, the Jewish mother – is a vibrant participant in the transmission of Judaism.
The “innocent” child, a girl, asks “What is this?” and the father tells her how God rescued the Jewish people from the Egyptians. “The child who cannot even put his thoughts in words” must be shown how God rescued us.
The mother captures the little boy’s interest in a childlike way by having 10 finger puppets representing the 10 plagues. Walking and dancing and laughing through this Haggadah can enliven the reader at the Seder more than in your past experiences. When you see the Pharoah, the Roman soldier, the Ottoman soldier, the Nazi storm trooper, the Russian gulag, and the terrorist standing side by side to destroy the Jews throughout history, you realize how lucky you are – to be alive as a Jew today. More participants come to the Seder table, a husband and wife, Holocaust survivors, who wear the garb of typical Israelis in the 1950s.
Two well-known parts of the Haggadah text are utilized to demonstrate what the march of the Jewish people has been through history. For Dayenu, starting with a Miriam-like figure holding her timbrel, there are 16 Jews in native costume depicting the Jewish people in each age.
We can see easily, in these individuals where all our ancestors have resided throughout history.
The final figure depicted in “Dayenu” is the woman physician, whom we met earlier. She is feeding her hungry child for she is a professional who makes sure her children experience her presence and benefit from her love of Judaism. The end of the Dayenu reads in its new Olivestone translation “to wipe the slate clean when we lose our way.”
Proudly, we can find ourselves in the significant line, “In every generation, we must imagine that we ourselves actually left Egypt.”
On an enormous i-phone screen the march of Jewish individuals, ancient and modern, through the Red Sea is completed, here and now, with the family of the Haggadah in the lead.
We have been following them as they read the Haggadah and observed the Seder. They are our guides and lead us forward. As you gaze at the faces, you will be surprised by some of the women and men whom Gorfinkel has selected.
Down the sides of the page on the right are symbols of the different sections of this particular volume – ancient, but new. When you reach the locale in the Haggadah of the designated symbol, it pops out on the page you are reading.
This Passover, read, peruse, enjoy and catch the interesting symbolism of this unique Hagaddah. It can only enrich your Seder!