New Graphic Novel Haggadah Brings Seder to Life


The one consistent guest at every Passover Seder is the Haggadah. Unassuming and yet quietly authoritative, the Haggadah corals guests into the family room, directs them to wash their hands or eat maror at the right times, and even dictates when they can or cannot take sips of the mandated four cups of wine. Yet, despite its central role, the Haggadah — for most people — arrives in the same jacket every year, offers the same sentiments and never changes its tune. That’s a shame, says Jordan B. Gorfinkel.

Gorfinkel, more frequently called “Gorf,” is the mastermind behind the new “Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel” that was released in January. Gorf assembled a team composed of artist Erez Zadok and translator David Olivestone to complete the project. While other illustrated Haggadahs have been published, he said, this is the first of its kind to present the Haggadah as a graphic novel meant for both children and adults.

The Haggadah is different from modern Western stories, Gorf explained, because it’s not a chronological retelling of an event with a three-act structure. Most stories Western readers are familiar with begin with a setting, progress to the conflict and offer a resolution.

Gorf, Olivestone and Zadok worked to make sense of the unusual format of the Haggadah and make it accessible to all readers, even those not familiar with the Passover Seder. To do this, they created a literary guide in the form of a family of Jewish goats who are going through the stages of celebrating Passover.

“It’s a universal retelling of the entire Passover Haggadah,” Gorf said.

And the goat family, who act as guides, are the perfect mechanism for explaining the actions and reasoning behind Seder traditions, as well as “the key to structurally making a three-act structure familiar to Western readers,” Gorf said. “I don’t think there’s any other Haggadah in history that has done something like this.”

The first stage of the project involved brainstorming, translating and scripting an adaption of the translation into a text that could be used for designing the graphics. In a March 6 webinar, Olivestone spoke about the thought that went into making his translation true-to-the-text yet understandable to modern audiences. One specific decision Olivestone made was to not use the word “exodus,” since it’s not common in modern English, and instead describe the “rescue” of the Jews from Egypt.

In the scripting stage, Gorf took Olivestone’s translation and turned the narrative into a sequential story. The key difference between a translation and a script, Gorf explained, was that scripts have dialogue, a necessary element for cartoons.

By writing dialogue for the story of Passover, Gorf said, “we’re putting the words back into the mouths of the people for the first time, in some cases, since they said it thousands of year ago.”

When it came time to put ink to paper, Gorf gave general descriptions, along with the text, to Zadok, who then arranged layouts by dividing the script into panels.

Following Gorf’s approval, Zadok began penciling, drawing the important parts into the layout to make it more detailed. After penciling, Zadok inked the panels — tracing the pencil drawings with ink and defining details.

In this case, the inking and all subsequent portions were done digitally.

One hallmark of this Haggadah is its dedication to being as modern as possible. Just like graphic novels and comic books, the Haggadah demonstrates an alternate history: What life would look like for the Jews if they had not been rescued from Egypt.

Zadok’s drawings bring this alternate history alive by imagining what the modern enslavement of Jews by Egyptians would be like and by depicting scenes of contemporary workspaces, complete with cubicles and mind-numbingly-gray walls. The vibrant colors and intricate illustrations bring the story of Passover to life.

Another important function of this Haggadah is to show the reflection of modern Jewry in the experiences of their ancestors. While other Haggadahs also strive to show this reflection, often with exhortations to remember that they were once slaves in the land of Egypt, this volume goes out of its way to depict Jews of many ages, sizes and colors. Gorf wanted readers to see the variety of modern Jewishness reflected in the images of the Haggadah.

“We want people to feel like they belong,” he said. “Every Jew has a place at the table at this holiday.” 


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