Zionist Haggadah recalls pioneers return to homeland

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"In every generation, each individual is bound to regard himself as if he personally had gone forth from Egypt," commands the Haggadah, the traditional text retelling the exodus from Egypt that is read at the Passover seder.

This sentence, uttered by Jews for centuries, inspired award-winning Jerusalem artist David Harel and his wife, Chaya, a historian and leading scholar on Theodor Herzl, to spend four years creating a unique work of art and tradition. The couple's "Rebirth of Israel Passover Haggadah" is a Zionist Haggadah portraying not only the birth of the state of Israel but also the Jewish people's return to their homeland.

"We were looking for a way to bring our children and ourselves closer to the Exodus," Chaya Harel explains. "The establishment of the state of Israel is the modern equivalent of this biblical event, with the return of the Jewish people to Eretz Israel from exile.

"We wanted to connect the two and communicate that we too are a part of an ongoing Jewish history."

Of more than 3,000 different haggadot created over the centuries in various countries around the world, the "Rebirth of Israel Passover Haggadah" is the only one to connect the Passover theme of freedom with the modern return to Zion and the establishment of Israel's independence.

Faithfully following the traditional text, it describes the transition from slavery to redemption using illustrations and text.

Premiered at a special exhibition held in the Tel Aviv Museum in April 1986, the Haggadah won immediate critical acclaim both as a work of art and as "a modern-day version of the traditional Haggadah." In honor of Zionism's 100th anniversary in 1997, the Haggadah is now being issued in a new English-Hebrew version.

Every detail is filled with meaning, from the special introduction providing a synopsis of modern Zionist history to the closing words of "Chad Gadya," which are illustrated by milestones in the history of Jerusalem.

The Harels give a new and fresh perspective to the traditional passages. "This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt" is illustrated by a drawing of the convoys that carried food to besieged Jerusalem during the War of Independence.

Alongside "We were slaves unto Pharaoh in Egypt" appears a picture of a ship carrying illegal immigrants trying to reach Eretz Israel during the British Mandate. The illustration for "In your blood shall you live" is a synagogue burning during Kristallnacht.

The words "the Egyptians ill-treated us, afflicted us" are illustrated by a photograph of the main gate of Auschwitz.

But there is joy, too. The reclamation of the land, the building of Tel Aviv, the first Rishon LeZion orchestra, the rebirth of the Hebrew language — all culminate in "Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem." The illustration is a composite of both the earthly and heavenly Jerusalem of the past, present and future.

In order to give an authentic feeling of the pioneer period, the text is written in a style similar to that used by the early Hebrew press, and illustrations are taken from old photographs and posters.

The Haggadah originally appeared in Hebrew in regular book form suitable for the Passover table, and in a collector's limited edition of 250 copies. The latter has 54 full-color lithographs printed on imported Italian paper and is packed in a velvet-lined wooden box along with a facsimile of Israel's Declaration of Independence.

The new dual-language issue is being updated with a slightly different graphic style that is still in keeping with the period. It is a fitting tribute to the pioneering founders of Israel whose dedication and determination brought about the realization of a Jewish state.