My parents collected haggadot for Pesach, many of which are now in my library. There is a slim, tattered haggadah from Prague, printed in Hebrew and Czech. A note tucked inside dates it to 1898.
(My mother wasn't sure, in the end, whether it had been a gift from her aunt -- born, like my mother, in Prague -- or something Mom found in a bookstore on one of her visits once the Iron Curtain fell.)
There is one bound in metal with full-color illustrations. There is one that's full of Chagall prints and illustrations alongside the Hebrew text. And there's this one, which just found its way to me:
The cover just says "Haggadah for Pesach."
When I first opened it, I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. It's bilingual, Hebrew and English. The texts sketch the story of the Exodus in the traditional way, with quotes and snippets of narrative.
The graphic design is neat. The interior flyleaf has a stylized print of swirls and flowers, cups of wine and bunches of grapes. Vines and flowers and grapes twine around the words on every page.
And then I turned to a page that contained a photograph, and that's when I figured out what makes this haggadah different from all other haggadot. (You had to know I was going to go there.)
The caption reads, in Hebrew and English, "And the children of Israel were fruitful and swarmed and increased," a line from Exodus that appears on the facing page as part of the story of the Exodus.
Something about this photo (the hairstyle on the woman in the center?) reminded me of photos of my parents in the late 40s and early 50s -- and also of photos of those I grew up calling halutzim.
What an artifact. Oh, those capital letters on the New Exodus and the Ingathering of Exiles! It feels soaked in hope, the way baklava or teiglach are soaked in honey or knafeh soaked in rose water.
Like many in their generation (they were young children when the Holocaust began), my parents believed completely in the dream of Israel -- as they believed completely in the dream of America.
In written instructions for her funeral, my mother asked for "America the Beautiful" and "Jerusalem of Gold:" for the nation that took her in, and the Jewish state she felt privileged to have lived to see.
Mid-century graphic design... and photo.
This haggadah makes me wistful for the optimism my parents felt both about Israel and about the U.S. -- even as I know that the stories they held dear aren't the whole story about either place.
It's a complicated knot of feelings: missing my parents deeply, and remembering where we disagreed, and feeling grateful that they aren't here to see some of what's unfolding today both here and there.
A haggadah is a ritual object, not a history book, though this one feels steeped in history. And that history feels sharp with heartbreak, as it has every day since Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah.
Had Gadya - a parable in song about all the nations who've tried to destroy us.
In Hebrew the name מִצְרָיִם / Mitzrayim is both a place (Egypt) , and a state of being. The root connotes narrowness or constriction. It's the same root as in the word tzuris, suffering or sorrow.
All of the people, and peoples, who love that land are in a Narrow Place now. I keep returning to lines from Psalm 118: "From constriction we cry out to You; God, answer us with Your expansiveness!"
Imagine a future where all the peoples of that place can flourish side by side in mutual safety and human dignity. Where is the Moshe, the Musa, who could lead the way to that Land of Promise?