The Passover story, told and retold by Jews throughout history, gets a cover-to-cover makeover this year. The Bronfman Haggadah by world-renowned philanthropist and Jewish leader Edgar M. Bronfman and illustrated by his wife, Jan Aronson (Rizzoli, Feb.), aims to fill a gap they believe is inherent in the traditional haggadah and create a narrative that is more engaging and relevant to modern readers.
The Bronfman Haggadah shares a vision of the exodus not so different from that of the Talmudic writers, who sought to encapsulate that historic period so that readers of subsequent generations could connect with and appreciate their ancestors’ experience, both in escaping bondage and in rejoicing in freedom. That, however, is where the similarities end.
Bronfman unabashedly removes whole portions of the conventional haggadah and inserts many of his own observations, poems, and interpretations (all in English). Instead in his own words he tells the background of the exodus, beginning from Moses’ birth through the decisive moment when God gave the Torah.
Perhaps the most significant revision is taking “the notion of a personal, supernatural, and anthropomorphic ‘god’” and replacing it “with one that…is understood as ‘energy--an energy that is both transcendent (beyond us) and immanent (within us),” Bronfman writes. He does include a close variation of the Mah Nishtana (The Four Questions) and Chad Gadya song, and embraces the four glasses of wine as well as the children’s favorite, the ritual of finding the afikomen, the hidden piece of the matzah. In this way, Bronfman hopes to convey the eternal messages of the timeless Passover story to children and adults alike.
Aronson’s beautiful watercolor illustrations adorn every page, sometimes with subtle implications, sometimes more explicitly, but in a way certain to capture the interest of even reluctant seder participants. Bright colors, sharp lines and shapes, and vivid portrayals of seder-related events bring the age-old story to life. While traditional readers may balk at Bronfman’s liberties, seder participants with less Jewish background or those seeking a more contemporary angle might better relate to and appreciate the modifications.
Although the Bronfman Haggadah is for children too, a more kid-friendly rendition of the exodus can be found in The Longest Night: A Passover Story by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Catia Chien (Random/Schwartz, Feb., starred review). In beautiful rhymes and accompanied by magnificent illustrations, a young Jewish slave tells her experience of the Passover redemption.
But Passover isn’t just about the seder. Children eager to learn more about the holiday can enjoy Grover and Big Bird’s Passover Celebration by Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer, illustrated by Tom Leigh (Kar-Ben, Feb.). As the Sesame Street gang hurries along Israel’s streets to make it to Avigail and Brosh’s seder, they encounter myriad opportunities to learn about the Passover story (see review). Young readers will also enjoy the timeless celebration of Passover in The Passover Lamb by Linda Ilovitz Marshall, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss (Random, Jan.), a delightful and humorous yarn about a young girl whose desire to join her grandparents at their seder may be thwarted by a willful sheep.
For adults looking for some Jewish-themed books to balance out repeated renditions of Big Bird and Grover, several new volumes may prove helpful. Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community by Ron Wolfson (Jewish Lights, Mar.) presents practical strategies and case studies to transform the old model of Jewish institutions into relational communities. Rabbi Sidney Schwartz’s Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Future (Jewish Lights, Mar.; starred review), with a foreword by Ambassador to the European Union Stuart E. Eizenstat, offers visionary solutions for a community ripe for transformational changes from fourteen leading innovators of Jewish life.
Finally, a collection of essays, Radical Responsibility: Celebrating the Thought of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (Maggid, Jan.), edited by Michael J. Harris, Daniel Rynhold, and Tamra Wright, brings together Rabbi Sacks’s theories on ethics, justice, religion, and leadership.