Modern Haggadah adds new dimension to the Passover Seder

I view this Haggadah as a step forward in this age of photographs, because the author via his carefully selected distinguished photographs illustrates each step of the way in the Seder process.

 The cover of the Pictures Tell Haggadah (photo credit: ZION OZERI)
The cover of the Pictures Tell Haggadah
(photo credit: ZION OZERI)
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

Pictures Tell, a Haggadah created by the noted photographer Zion Ozeri, dramatizes the Passover experience through photographs taken during his lengthy career. In his introduction, Ozeri points out that his Haggadah is like the illustrated and illuminated Haggadot from the Middle Ages.

“The photographs contained in these pages are not mere illustrations, they are visual commentaries – ‘texts’ in their own right, that challenge and re-contextualize the words that have been so carefully handed down through the generation. Just as each generation must see itself as having personally come out of Egypt, so too must each generation make the experience personally relevant by viewing it through a unique and uniquely relevant medium.”

I view this Haggadah as a step forward in this age of photographs, because the author via his carefully selected distinguished photographs illustrates each step of the way in the Seder process. For example, his photograph for the statement from the Haggadah “we are enslaved” is a picture of young people in New York, holding up signs “Let My People Go,” referring to Soviet Jewry.

Regarding the rise of feminism within the contemporary Jewish experience, Ozeri punctuates the discussion in Bnei Brak described in the Haggadah with women of a study group in Seattle. Their eyes are locked on the teacher, their sage, as she offers insights into the text which are before them.

 Let Our People Go, New York City, 1987 (credit: ZION OZERI) Let Our People Go, New York City, 1987 (credit: ZION OZERI)

Ozeri’s use of women parallels what I did in my American Heritage Haggadah (also issued by Gefen Publishers) when I used four young girls as the four children. That was 30 years ago, and much has happened since then.

Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman notes that the phrase “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” is actually based on inscriptions from the Egyptians. We see here the dynamics of cultural appropriation. During much of its history, ancient Israel was in Egypt’s shadow. “Why would the Torah describe God in the same terms used by the Egyptians to exalt their Pharaoh?” Berman now asks. He then makes this point clearly: “For weak and oppressed peoples, one form of cultural and spiritual resistance is to appropriate the symbols of the oppressor for competitive ideological purposes.”

As we read the Haggadah at the Seder each year we understand more fully how the Jews in the last 70 years have left lands where they were oppressed and came to Israel. There is a powerful photograph of a son carrying his mother as they arrive in Israel from Ethiopia in 1991. The story of this major Jewish aliyah is told in the Ethiopian Haggadah, and here in this Haggadah we feel once again the drama of that experience.

One unique aspect of this Haggadah is the inclusion of QR codes throughout that allows for reading in-depth by Seder participants. They are able to scan the codes in the pages themselves for further explanation and texts relating to the photographs. For example, when you arrive at the text about the four children that reads: “what attitudes or attributes might you ascribe to each of these four children,” a QR code can be found to the left of the text.

As we see the Ukrainian refugees in their exodus from their embattled country, and are sensitive to the lack of proper food, we can turn to P. 78, and there under the title, “Shulchan Aruch – The Table is Set,” we see the Jews in Santiago, Cuba, setting their tables with food of all types. Each of us will truly feel at our Seder how our Ukrainian brothers and sisters have a minimal amount of food while we sit and enjoy every type of food imaginable.

I find the contrast in this Haggadah with the fullness of the Seder culinary experience overwhelming us, so that we have to think about those who have little or no food this Pessah. Their exodus does not appear to be filled with the blessings of our people’s exodus from Egypt thousands of years ago.

David Suissa captures a beautiful photographic memory in Montreal. “Everything on the table felt new – the china, the table cloth, the glasses, the silverware, the colors. Our clothes were also new. Perhaps as a nod to nostalgia, my parents would wear colorful jellabas. Of course, they could never recreate... their cozy and noisy Jewish neighborhood of Casablanca. Their isolated apartment in frigid Montreal became a glorious and intimate sanctuary.”

Among the scholars and writers who offer insights to different sections of the Haggadah is Professor Jonathan Sarna, dean of American Jewish historians and the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. Ozeri chose Sarna to explain the words, “l’shanah habaah bi’Yerushalayim,” “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

Sarna notes that the phrase “provoked enormous anxiety” in the Haggadot in the last three centuries. In some versions it was discarded, in some untranslated, and in others a distorted translation “to protect the community’s reputation.”

Sarna expands what has happened to that famous statement. “The history of the phrase’s appearance, disappearance, translation, illustration, and interpretation testifies to its significance not only within the Haggadah but also within the larger religious, cultural and personal life of the Jew.”

He does not want anyone to read that phrase and ignore its essential meaning. “Yet the phrase also reverberates with a question that seemingly every generation of Diaspora Jews has pondered anew: What is my Jerusalem, where does it lie?”

I have tried to give you a taste of the pictures and the text of this new Haggadah. The QR codes add a dimension to your Seder experience. Traveling through this Haggadah at the Seder or on any occasion will almost explain to you the experience of Passover that the Jewish people have experienced for 2,000 years. I encourage you to purchase this Haggadah and use it as a visible complement to your Seder.

Why is the Haggadah the Jewish book with the most editions since the 15th century? No book in the world besides the Bible has so engaged the mind and imagination of scholars, popular commentators, illustrators, printers and collectors as the Haggadah. More than 4,000 different editions have been cataloged. New additions keep being published, and numerous reprints of older Haggadot keep appearing.

Since the Haggadah is the basic text for participating in the Seder, we have to feel that the edition we have is speaking to us. That is why this new Pictures Tell Haggadah has been created. The author’s hope is that we can turn its pages as each highlight moment in the Seder arises.

This is almost parallel to the Seders I conducted as a USA Army chaplain in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The Haggadah text and supplement that I and my assistant prepared inspired the soldier as they were preparing to leave for Vietnam. What was that inspiration? They understood what freedom meant, but most of all they hoped they would return to sit at the Seder again.

Ozeri’s poignant photographs assembled by him for inclusion in his Haggadah are a work of art illuminating the words and concepts of the Haggadah.

This review is dedicated to two figures who developed Gefen Publishing House, and whom I know personally. One is the late Dror Greenfield, of blessed memory, who with his brother Ilan, took over the publishing company that their father, Murray Greenfield, had begun.

Thirty years ago, when I produced, compiled and wrote my American Heritage Haggadah, Dror was the one who saw it through so that it would be ready in January 1992. Unfortunately, Dror died of cancer a few years later at 47, but he changed the cover of a later edition of the Haggadah after 9/11, putting the Statue of Liberty and the American flag flying above, and subtitled it: The Passover Freedom Experience.

Just a few words about Murray Greenfield, who recently celebrated his 95th birthday. He is a pioneer American oleh who came to Israel even before the state was declared. He manned a marine force to help bring illegal immigrants to Eretz Yisrael. His life here has been filled with many novel projects to help the State of Israel grow. ■

The writer is a Conservative rabbi living in Jerusalem, and the author of the American Heritage Haggadah published by Gefen.