By bentsi Cohen
The last 1,000 years have seen generation after generation of enterprising artists employing their finest talents to present a fresh take on the Haggadah, the text of the Jewish Passover ritual, so that currently a great variety of Haggadot can be found on the marketplace. Some invest their intellectual energies in presenting new interpretations of the text. Others endowed with artistic ability illustrate their best graphical view of the story. For Passover 2012, this venerable tradition continues with the triumphant presentation of the world’s first interactive multimedia digital version of this ancient and beloved text. Readers and lovers of this great story in the dawn of the media revolution, where instantaneous searches for life queries and solutions can be found electronically at the speed of light, will soon be able to download this work onto their iPads or computers.
Future projects envision a limited edition of an illuminated manuscript the “The book of Ruth”, produced on authentic vellum parchment.The driving force behind this project is digital graphic design specialist and font master Ramón Abajo, whose talents cover many areas of the field. He tells the story of how he became enamored with the intricate artistic work of these texts after examining several antique Haggadot including the Golden Haggadah and the Barcelona Haggadah, two name a few. What began as an artistic attraction triggered a keen interest in the actual content and the determination to produce a version for our age. He assembled a group of artists and specialists from several countries with wide and varied backgrounds in various fields, including a former teacher and an art expert; an architect endowed with a refined and creative artistic talent; a computer graphic designer; an expert in video and digital animation; and a professional actor.
After several months of intensive labor this ingenious Haggadah for the digital age has now come to fruition, with the affable, easygoing Mr. Abajo operating as a virtuoso concert master to ensure that all the “instruments” in this unusual orchestra operate in perfect harmony. The results are dazzling.
The work began with fine artist and architect Esther Pinto creating a gallery of over 100 original and ingenious illustrations to accompany various pages of the text. The Passover story starts in Exodus. However, she chose to begin with a brief pictorial history of the Hebrews as told in Genesis before introducing the viewer to the Passover proper. These images depict iconic biblical episodes and legends, with the borrowed’ biblical themes revealing the historical life of the ancient Middle East in accordance with the structure of emblematic Haggadot such as the Golden, Barcelona and the Sarajevo versions. Then, in order to make the connection to the modern age clearer, the artists perused pictures of synagogues in New York. Fascinated by these temples, many of them landmarks, they then picked a theme at random and proceeded to superimpose the biblical theme image over line drawings of the particular synagogue. This powerful technique delivers the core message – a contemporary rendition of ancient legends fusing the old and the new. Undoubtedly, New Yorkers will be able to identify the beautiful structures chosen as background for these illustrations, while people from all over the world will also be able to feast their eyes on these regal historic buildings.The next phase of the work involved the process of how to make the static images move. Computer graphic artist Alberto Fernández came on board to lace the still art with an elaborate dynamic drawing animation. Thanks to the modern marvel of software enhancement, you can watch in amazement as the Prophet Elijah appears to visit the celebrants, each line, each dimension, each underlying pattern, each figure of the still illustration springing to life before your eyes, the ancient world reborn as if the biblical characters were descending in the flesh to visit the synagogue.
With these processes completed, I provided Mr. Abajo with translation of the Haggadah text, which in general terms hews to the traditional text. The team interlaced it with the artwork, artist Francis López adorning it with attractive frame drawings. The text editor chose to include certain instructions for the “Seder” night, while excluding commentary because this is not conceived as a study guide. All the while, Antonio Gallo presided over the computer web design to ensure a smooth interface for the final product.
The final step in the elaborate crafting of this innovative Haggadah involved bringing immediacy and drama to the ancient text so that it would be accessible to the widest range of audiences. Mr. Abajo chose actor and voice-over artist Walter Krochmal for this task. Mr. Krochmal’s audiobook-style narration dramatizes the complex ancient text clearly and crisply, infusing the story with life. The passages depicting the sorrow of servitude have a chilling effect on the imagination. Those dealing with the gaiety and happiness of redemption fill the listener with joy. Drawn in by the storytelling, we empathize with the characters and sympathize with their story. The narration fulfills the ultimate goal of the Haggadah, which is to make the listener feel as if he himself has only recently been redeemed from physical or spiritual bondage, thus becoming one with the spirituality of the Haggadah. The special artistic techniques
employed in this Haggadah skillfully embed gentle modernity into faded antiquity while also capturing the universal themes of the Haggadah. The decorative frames and colorful first letters on various pages are a copy of the antique medieval manuscripts from Western Europe. The backgrounds
with their broad, colorful brushstrokes enliven the ancient rites, while fine line drawings and rich palette of colors point to the liberation of one’s soul from intellectual or physical bondage.
The interplay of colors stresses the separation between the pure and the defiled, the holy and the profane, light and darkness. Work and labor, depicted in dark blue, must come to an end as the yellow, deep red and orange of the candlelight – colors also utilized to signify equality – make the Sabbath table glow. Clarets and white wines are employed with equal sacramental significance. The overall effect creates a powerful sense of reflection on the eternal Jewish theme of appreciation for the value of time?and its essence, the distinction between time for physical needs and time for spiritual needs.
I stress the living nature of this pioneering production, which will be improved and amplified in the near future. Until then we can learn to enjoy this beautiful virtual production as an electronic attempt to reveal the beauty of tradition and its universal symbolism, all expressed with modern tools to a public so attached to the world of electronics.
The completion of this project with all its complexities in such a short time-frame is nothing short of a miracle, the amount of work each participant invested in the endeavor incalculable. We sincerely apologize for any errors of omission and/or addition. We also ask each and every reader or listener to respond with all comments and or suggestions and corrections deemed necessary. We appreciate all comments, without reservation, addressed to
Mr. Ramón Abajo, Project Manager at Downhill Publishing Co. New York, NY. www.digitalhaggadah.com.