For many years, Edgar Bronfman, the philanthropist, and his wife, Jan Aronson, the artist known for her landscapes and portraits, sought to make their seders not only a time to celebrate but also to teach young people about Judaism and the importance of Jewish pride and commitment. Each year they drew their haggadah from various sources, but they were never truly satisfied with the result. Finally Edgar Bronfman decided to compose his own haggadah, and he asked Jan Aronson to illustrate it. Together they have created a distinctive and highly personal haggadah.
For Bronfman the main figure in the haggadah is Moses, who demonstrates the qualities that lead to liberation. The haggadah centers on Moses and the Exodus and tells their story all the way to Sinai — past Passover, through the counting of the omer, to Shavuot and the receiving of the Ten Commandments. For modern sensibilities the Exodus is read as metaphor, and God is construed as energy, a force beyond us and within us. The traditional sections of the seder — the four cups of wine, the four questions, the symbolic items on the seder plate, the opening of the door for Elijah, the four types of Jews, the chanting of Dayenu — are recast here in ways that broaden their relevance and bring them up to date. Throughout, the haggadah emphasizes the universal values of Judaism and their influence on world civilization.
The Bronfman Haggadah truly bears the signatures of its author and illustrator in its original reordering and revision of the text and its bold and colorful paintings. Those seeking the familiar words and ritual of the seder will not find them here. The text is entirely in English although it indicates where the leader can recite the traditional blessings. This is a haggadah that puts today’s struggles, as well as the painful twentieth-century struggles of the Jews, on the table even as it celebrates the arrival of spring and the hope that next year we will all live in the spiritual Jerusalem, a place of “justice, compassion, and freedom for all.”
Read Jan Aronson’s Posts for the Visiting Scribe
Maron L. Waxman, retired editorial director, special projects, at the American Museum of Natural History, was also an editorial director at HarperCollins and Book-of-the-Month Club.