Jew­ish Text

Passover Hag­gadah Graph­ic Novel

Jor­dan B. Gorfinkel and Erez Zadok

  • Review
By – April 8, 2019

If you are ready to approach the Passover seder in a thor­ough­ly dif­fer­ent way — one with irony and humor, yet sup­port­ed by deep rev­er­ence for tra­di­tion — then it’s time to open Jor­dan B. Gorfinkel and Erez Zadok’s Passover Hag­gadah Graph­ic Nov­el. Koren’s new pub­li­ca­tion con­tains the com­plete rit­u­al, and it is strict­ly kosher, as the book’s guide, a goat arrayed in human cloth­ing, assures its read­ers. In the same pan­el, the goat, wear­ing a Super­man cos­tume, explains that this hag­gadah — with its full Hebrew and Ara­ma­ic text, as well as translit­er­a­tion and Eng­lish trans­la­tion — will offer instruc­tions and also tell the sto­ry of the Exo­dus in the style of com­ic books, a Jew­ish inno­va­tion, you know.” (Gorfinkel is a for­mer Bat­man artist, fol­low­ing in the tra­di­tion of the Caped Crusader’s Jew­ish cre­ators, Bob Kane and Bill Fin­ger.) From bless­ing the first cup of wine at kadesh,to the con­clud­ing nirtzah, with hope­ful expres­sions of cel­e­bra­tion in Jerusalem, this seder is an action-packed and inno­v­a­tive adven­ture full of unfor­get­table char­ac­ters and excur­sions through Jew­ish history.

Since any com­plete hag­gadah is, by def­i­n­i­tion, a col­lec­tion of prayers, rit­u­als, sto­ries, and songs, Gorfinkel has not depart­ed from norms, but rather seized the max­i­mum cre­ative poten­tial inher­ent in this unique book. If you are skep­ti­cal when the goat guide com­pares post-Tem­ple era seders to din­ner the­ater,” the pace of his nar­ra­tive and its gen­uine­ly inclu­sive spir­it will win you over. His goat fam­i­ly sets up the seder plate with joy­ful enthu­si­asm; the father hauls a huge shank bone, while the lit­tle girl bounces on the hard-boiled egg as if it were a Pilates ball. Mom sways the pars­ley over her head like an inter­pre­tive dancer. Accom­pa­ny­ing this acces­si­ble image are speech bal­loons with clear expla­na­tions of all the required items. Then, as the nar­ra­tion itself begins in the mag­gid sec­tion, Zadok’s illus­tra­tions show the cos­mos with plan­ets aligned with a pic­ture of round matzah and a wine gob­let. Final­ly, an image of a glove and a shin­ing sun takes us to Egypt, where the seder metaphor becomes reality.

There are many dif­fer­ent kinds of Jews in this hag­gadah — Jews of dif­fer­ent races, gen­er­a­tions, and gen­ders. Just as the scenes of slave labor in Egypt make human suf­fer­ing real, so do the mod­ern com­ic strip sec­tions of urban res­i­dents por­tray com­pas­sion. An aged patient leav­ing a hos­pi­tal reminds read­ers that they must Let any­one who is hun­gry,” come and eat.” (The sec­ond half of the sen­tence is said by a physi­cian walk­ing out of an emer­gency room.) Oth­er pic­tures also shake read­ers out of any sense of com­pla­cen­cy about the famil­iar rit­u­al. The idol­a­try of our ances­tors is trans­formed into an image of a men­ac­ing stat­ue in the Sovi­et Union, while the cross­ing of the Red Sea includes women and men of every col­or and era, with cameo appear­ances by Natan Sha­ran­sky, David Ben-Guri­on, and Steven Spiel­berg. The descrip­tions of the four types of sons who learn the mean­ing of the seder includes daugh­ters as well. Zadok’s depic­tion of the plagues includes an enraged and grief-strick­en Pharaoh cradling the life­less body of his son, an effec­tive mes­sage about the trag­ic dimen­sion of achiev­ing freedom.

This haggadah’s embrace of inclu­siv­i­ty is not a cal­cu­lat­ed ges­ture towards rel­e­vance; vir­tu­al­ly every page reflects the diver­si­ty of the Jew­ish peo­ple. In singing Avadim Hay­inu,” Jews are instruct­ed to vis­cer­al­ly remem­ber that our ances­tors were slaves. The under­stat­ed text and casu­al pic­tures remind read­ers that all of us, peo­ple with great wis­dom, all peo­ple with great per­cep­tion, all respect­ed elders, all well-versed in the Torah,” ben­e­fit by this reminder. The por­traits of these wise indi­vid­u­als include a busi­ness­man hold­ing an elec­tron­ic tablet, a woman of col­or hik­ing with a back­pack, a hip­ster play­ing elec­tric gui­tar, and a grand­moth­er instruct­ing her grand­daugh­ter in Torah while the girl stands on a bas­ket­ball. The song Echad Mi Yodea,” (“Who Knows One?”) shows the four matri­archs carved on Mount Rush­more. These inter­pre­ta­tions appear along with clas­sic images of the his­toric nar­ra­tive. One of the most mov­ing sequences express­es the con­ti­nu­ity of God’s promise to the peo­ple of Israel. It begins with labor under Pharaoh, and pro­gress­es to lib­er­a­tion, and then shows fur­ther tor­ments under the Nazis. Adolf Eich­mann replaces Pharaoh, but is brought to jus­tice in an Israeli court­room. Final­ly, a mod­ern fam­i­ly cel­e­brates a baby’s bris, the ongo­ing sym­bol of this relationship.

Passover Hag­gadah Graph­ic Nov­elis high­ly rec­om­mend­ed for both chil­dren and adults. Any child old enough to look at pic­tures will ben­e­fit from it, and adults who have used any oth­er hag­gadah will find new mean­ing in this one.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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