The tri­als of the bloody, insect-rid­den, watery exo­dus from Egypt have been told and retold in lan­guages across the globe, yet Mar­tin Bodek has found a new way to tell them: with emo­jis. His beau­ti­ful­ly pro­duced hag­gadah, writ­ten entire­ly with emo­jis, is a pic­to­r­i­al trans­la­tion of the Eng­lish ver­sion. I inter­viewed Bodek over email to get a glimpse of the method behind the meshuggaas.

Ada Brun­stein: An all-emo­ji hag­gadah — how did this idea spring to mind? Did it come to you in a dream? Was it whis­pered through the ances­tral grapevine?

Mar­tin Bodek: It did not come from dreams within.

It did not come from grapey skin.

It did not spring into my mind.

No, this is how the tale unwinds:

My fam­i­ly always dress­es up for Purim, and thus far, as the kids are still young, we’re themed. Our sha­lach man­ot fol­low along with the theme as well, and I always cre­ate a lit­tle dit­ty to include in them.

Two years ago, we dressed up as emo­jis, and we put in all man­ner of smi­ley-face stuff in the sha­lach man­ot. When it came time to devise the usu­al poem, I got a lit­tle stuck. How­ev­er, what I set­tled on doing was draft­ing the Book of Esther into an emo­ji synopsis.

When I stepped back from my cre­ation, the first thought that came to mind was, Hmmm, how could I flesh this out on a large scale?” The full Esther is not what came to mind. Rather, the hag­gadah flashed instant­ly, and I got imme­di­ate­ly to work.

AB: How long did it take you and what made you per­se­vere through the whole thing (as opposed to, say, doing the four ques­tions and leav­ing it at that)?

MB: First­ly, Mar­tin Bodek fin­ish­es what he starts. There is no, Well at least you showed up” in my per­son­al phi­los­o­phy. You’ve got to see things through to the end. This one of the val­ues I try to instill in my chil­dren. I won’t even quit board games before they’re offi­cial­ly over.

Sec­ond­ly, I knew I was brew­ing some­thing inter­est­ing, so that kept me going.

Third­ly, I had self-pub­lished five books pri­or to find­ing a pub­lish­er with this one. I had to keep per­se­ver­ing because I had a feel­ing that could be my big break. And if not? Then the ener­gy poured into it would be les­son-learn­ing for me. Go big or go home. I choose to go big — or at least, to go all the way.

AB: What were the most chal­leng­ing sec­tions and why?

MB: The most chal­leng­ing sec­tions were those filled with con­junc­tions and prepo­si­tions. Words like but,” or,” nor,” and the” are com­plete­ly miss­ing from the emo­ji set, and when cer­tain sec­tions were heavy with them, I felt I might lose some mean­ing. In the How To Read” guide at the end of the book, I do my best to explain this dif­fi­cul­ty, and hope­ful­ly make it eas­i­er to relay to the read­er how this is prop­er­ly to be read.

AB: What was your process for search­ing for fit­ting emojis?

MB: Orig­i­nal­ly, with the self-pub­lished ver­sion, I’d put’s hag­gadah up on screen, and anoth­er tab with iemo​ji​.com. I’d then insert the next word up, pop it into the emo­ji site, and see what comes up, or what­ev­er is close, or use anoth­er word that might stand in. For exam­ple, the word first.” I’d type in one,” see what comes up. Then I’d type in 1” see what comes up. Then I’d try first.” Ooh, gold medal. That’s the one, and that’s prob­a­bly the sim­plest of all. It got much more com­pli­cat­ed than that.

Now, for the pub­lished ver­sion, you must first under­stand a piv­otal moment in the cre­ation of the book. Here’s a very long sto­ry, very short:

I sub­mit­ted the final man­u­script to the pub­lish­er. The pub­lish­er went to print. The pub­lish­er said it didn’t ren­der prop­er­ly. I would have to use a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent emo­ji set, and I had ten days to dead­line. I was over­seas at the time. I returned, spent a day work­ing out how I was going to inter­act with the new emo­ji set, the plug-ins, and dri­vers, and what­not. I then rewrote the entire book in six days, after the orig­i­nal took me two years. I did not sleep. After a thir­teen-hour typ­ing day, I was done, just in time to watch the end of the Super Bowl, which was tied 0 – 0 at the time, so I missed nothing.

Now with that, I did the same thing: insert­ed a phrase, saw what came up, found anoth­er cre­ative way of phras­ing if that didn’t work, and so on.

AB: What were the lin­guis­tic para­me­ters you used? Do the emo­jis rep­re­sent Hebrew or Eng­lish text? Do they rep­re­sent words or sounds or phrases?

MB: I used a large toolset, but I also first start­ed with the sim­plest trans­la­tion. The trans­la­tion itself is direct­ly from the Eng­lish. My first choice was always to find an emo­ji that was a direct trans­la­tion. If I couldn’t find that, I went with an emo­ji com­bo. If I couldn’t find that, I’d try a pun. I did not allow myself to get stuck. I had to come up with some­thing for every­thing. Human names were the hard­est. Place names were the eas­i­est — the emo­ji set is filled with flags.

AB: Can you give an exam­ple of a word or phrase you strug­gled with, along with the dif­fer­ent emo­ji can­di­dates you grap­pled with before decid­ing on the final one?

MB: An exam­ple comes to mind eas­i­ly: field.” There is no field emo­ji. What was I going to use for field? I went with the emo­ji for field hock­ey,” and prayed that peo­ple would get it.

When I start­ed work­ing on the pub­lished 2.0 ver­sion, this emo­ji wasn’t there (as a mat­ter of fact, the new set I was work­ing with was ful­ly 1,500 emo­jis short of the orig­i­nal Apple set I worked with). I went with the emo­ji for a base­ball sta­di­um. That’s known as a field! Per­fect — but wait! The plug-in was bug­gy, and wouldn’t insert it. So I final­ly went with the emo­ji that looks like a mead­ow, my ter­tiary option. Sim­i­lar things hap­pened a lot, but that one stands out.

AB: What’s your favorite emo­ji that you used in the haggadah?

MB: For some strange rea­son, my favorite was Rab­bi Gam­liel. Why? Because all oth­er names were most­ly lit­er­al trans­la­tions of the name. For exam­ple, Yaakov means heel,” so I put in the shoe emo­ji. Eliez­er means help of God,” so I put in the SOS emo­ji, and my sym­bol for God. Easy.

But what does Gam­liel even mean?

I went with a rebus! The game (con­sole) emo­ji, the Mali flag, and an elf. Smoosh it all togeth­er and you have Game+Mali+Elf. Said quick­ly, it sounds most­ly right. I just amused myself to death with that one.

AB: Writ­ing an all-emo­ji hag­gadah is pret­ty out-of-the-box think­ing. Have you thought about what oth­er ways there might be of telling this par­tic­u­lar story?

MB: I’ll leave that to every­one else I’m try­ing to leap over in the Ama­zon rank­ings. There is an abun­dance of orig­i­nal hag­gadahs, sev­er­al of which I pur­chased this year, and there’s no end to the cre­ativ­i­ty on dis­play. I’m just glad I have my part in it all.

AB: You work in tech­nol­o­gy. Are there ways in which you can imag­ine tech chang­ing the way we inter­act with rit­u­al­is­tic texts? (Imag­ine a guy just like you, fifty years from now. What kind of hag­gadah is he writing?)

MB: He’s writ­ing an abbre­vi­at­ed ver­sion of it, because we are increas­ing­ly mov­ing towards get­ting our infor­ma­tion in the short­est form, and in the quick­est con­duit pos­si­ble. We have entire web­sites ded­i­cat­ed to show­ing you mov­ing clips that are a max­i­mum of sev­en sec­onds long. We have a cute move­ment to define every­thing in our lives in exact­ly six words. What­ev­er it will be, it will be shorter.

The above com­men­tary was high­ly influ­enced by a book I’m cur­rent­ly read­ing called Amus­ing Our­selves to Death by Neil Post­man. It is the wis­est book ever writ­ten. He is the first son.

AB: What’s your next project?

MB: I’m won­der­ing myself. Once the mania in my life dies down from all the love and atten­tion my book is get­ting, I’m going to focus on mak­ing this deci­sion. The Book of Esther? Do I revis­it that? Song of Songs? Metaphor ver­sion? Non-metaphor ver­sion? Gen­e­sis? The Bible? I think I’ll con­duct a Face­book poll and see what comes out.

On the non-emo­ji front, I am cur­rent­ly pen­ning and trans­lat­ing my grand­fa­thers’ mem­oirs. Both led extra­or­di­nary lives, which are worth telling.

Now that I have a rela­tion­ship with Ktav pub­lish­ing house, many doors have opened for me. I’ll put myself out into the wind, and see in which direc­tion it will send me.