New American Haggadah
Jonathan Safran Foer, editor
Hardcover: Little, Brown &Co., 2012.
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Reviewed by Michelle Van Loon
As I read through The New American Haggadah, I had the distinct sense that I was at a beautiful, bountiful Passover table with a lively mix of friends old and new. Together we journeyed through the ritual retelling of the story of God’s miraculous deliverance of the Jewish people from the oppression of Pharaoh. Exodus 1-13 contains the account of this deliverance, and a Haggadah (which means “narration”) offers a guide by which Jewish people can gather around a table and obey the command in Leviticus 23:4-8 to celebrate this sacred feast.
Though every generation creates its own haggadot, I imagine there has never been one that captures a blend of lively old-school Seder (ritual Passover meal) and contemporary, culturally-engaged observance in quite the way that The New American Haggadah does.
The design of this beautiful book has much to do with this. There is a lyrical translation of the traditional Passover liturgy in both Hebrew and English, penned by acclaimed author and playwright Nathan Englander. Running along the top of most of the pages at a 90 degree angle to the primary text is a timeline that captures fascinating bits of history. The stunning artistic interpretations of traditional Hebrew letterforms dancing across the pages relate to the period to which the timeline refers.
Like a selah, there are pages flipped in the opposite direction of all the other text in the haggadah offering reflective meditations on what is occurring at that moment in the Seder meal. These brief, beautiful commentaries are entitled Library, Playground, House of Study, and Nation. Each is crafted by a different author, and gives the reader a chance to ponder the text in question from a literary and scholarly angles, the world of the imagination, and an active engagement with social justice issues.
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