Old and New
January 8 – May 2, 2024
Out of the Narrows, the haggadah produced in 2021 by the Jewish Artists Collective Chicago (JACC), is highlighted in this exhibition of contemporary art interpreting the text recited at the seder (festive meal) on the first two nights of Passover. The haggadah tells the story of the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and gives the order of the seder, during which that story is explained. It is hoped that every participant feels the journey from oppression to freedom as a personal experience.
Referencing the Hebrew word for Egypt, mitzrayim, which means “the narrow place,” Out of the Narrows was motivated by the artists’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, in full force during Passover 2020. They asked, “How does art make sense of the Passover story? How can art reflect on the plagues of disease, death, and injustice that still exist? How do we praise God when the world is broken, and millions continue to suffer?”
While the core texts of most haggadot are standard, their designs and supplementary interpretations vary as they target differing audiences. Many have exquisite artworks that illuminate the text and enhance readers’ appreciation of the meaning of the narrative. Included here are several examples of 20th- and 21st-century American haggadot, ranging in styles from modern illuminated manuscript, Israeli folk art, graphic novel, to contemporary abstraction and incorporating Holocaust remembrance, Jewish feminist expression, and human rights activism.
Also included are three paintings by Archie Rand from his Had Gadya series, inspired by a poem written in Aramaic and sung at the end of the seder. This song recounts how one little goat is the catalyst for a chain of events whose ripples extend to heaven. Some interpret it as a political parable about the nations that have risen against the Jewish people throughout history. Others view it as a metaphor for our interconnectedness, where an injury to one becomes an injury to all. At the end of the song, God slays the Angel of Death, expressing Isaiah’s prophetic message of redemption, and offers a reassuring message of hope, resilience, and peace for all of humankind today.
Dr. Bernard Heller Museum
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
One West Fourth Street, New York
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