New Haggadot Put Creative Spins on the Passover Story

April 3, 2014
BY Marc Shapiro
Baltimore resident makes Seder text more personal, the Bronfman Haggadah goes digital

040414_haggadahStan Lebovic needed to reconnect to the story of Passover. Reading the Haggadah felt like going through motions, and something wasn’t clicking for him.

“You go through every part and it’s like, ‘What am I missing?’” the Baltimore resident asked. “Most of what I’m saying, the Haggadah, is falling on deaf ears. I myself don’t appreciate it.”

So Lebovic, the son of a Holocaust survivor, wanted to find a way to connect the story to faith in a manner that could be passed down to the next generation.

The result of around five years of work is “Escape Velocity, A Post-Apocalyptic Passover Haggadah.” While it’s not meant to be used for the Seder service, the book serves as an enhancement to Passover, a philosophical examination of the deeper meaning of the story told through the eyes of someone whose family is a living testament to the survival of the Jewish people.

“The point of it isn’t really to use at the Seder,” explained Lebovic. “It’s more to inspire you to connect to what the Haggadah has to say on your own terms and bring that to the table to express to your children.”

Lebovic’s first book, 2011’s “Black is a Color,” offered his perspective on the Holocaust and the post-Holocaust world. His new book, released in February, somewhat continues on that theme.

“I was eager to see God in the light of day, rather than in the darkness I had experienced,” he said.

The book features Lebovic’s vivid artwork combining photographs and digital illustrations, and digs deeper into the Passover story by putting its characters, settings and symbols under a microscope. Lebovic examines these elements in terms of faith and survival.

“The existence of Torah, by itself, does not guarantee its survival, it must be written and read with our own lips,” the book’s preface reads.

Taking it digital
For the tech-savvy family looking for a new way to tell the story at Seder, the Bronfman Haggadah app is out just in time for Passover.

Using the book written by philanthropist Edgar Bronfman and illustrated by his wife Jan Aronson, the family-friendly app takes the book and adds narration, subtle animation, a biblical map and video discussions with the author and illustrator.

“If you have questions, you can go and search for meaning and other interpretations rather than what just might be quoted in your standard Haggadah,” said Aronson.

One of the elements that makes the Haggadah unique, she said, is how the book deals with God.

“Edgar and I did not believe in a supernatural God, so he referred to Godliness as doing the right thing, making the world a better place,” she said. “We don’t do any ‘Praise the Lord,’ we do praise doing the right thing, praise bringing the family together, praise asking questions, praise doing everything the Haggadah stands for. And I think that’s an important, not intellectual, but spiritual part of what the whole thing means.”

Aronson’s watercolor paintings illustrate the app by showing her interpretations of the main events and symbols of the Passover story. She aimed to create poetic imagery rather than force readers to think the images should look a certain way, she said.

The app also has a special significance for Aronson, as it was the last project she and her husband, who passed away on Dec. 21, 2013, worked on together. She said her late husband was “forward-thinking.”

“Edgar loved kids and he loved bringing Judaism to people who were maybe not absolutely committed, or if they were absolutely committed, then doing it in a different way,” she said. “It’s a sweet conclusion, I suppose, to the efforts that we both made on this collaboration.”

Other new Haggadot and related projects released in time for Passover include DipTwice, a website where users can create their own custom Haggadot, “30minute Seder” and “60minute Seder,” books that serve as beginner’s guides to Passover, “Pop Haggadah,” an Orthodox book with colorful graphics that walk readers through the story and commentary, and the “JDate Haggadah,” which gives the Seder a light-hearted, humorous tone.

See also Passover? There’s an App for That >>

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