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‘Out of the Narrows: The Artist’s Haggadah’

Accessing the Haggadah through art

Artists Haggadah image
Haggadah artwork by Susan Dickman, Berit Engen, and Carol Neiger

A beautiful new Haggadah is bringing work by artists at the Jewish Artists Collective Chicago (JACC) to local families just in time for Passover.  Out of the Narrows: The Artist's Haggadah  includes both text and artwork to depict the Passover story in a unique way. 

The idea for the new Haggadah came during Passover 2020, when much of the world was suddenly plunged into lockdowns to control the coronavirus pandemic. "It was frustrating and sad," recalled Carol Neiger, one of the Collective's members and the mind behind the Haggadah. "We wanted to gather with family and friends."  

Instead, she thought of responding to the pandemic and isolation through art. The other JACC members enthusiastically embraced her idea and began curating their collections for suitable pieces and working on new, original artwork for the Haggadah. 

JACC is a five-year-old group of Chicago-area Jewish artists who together create art. They work to enrich Chicagoland's community by giving talks and workshops, exhibiting artwork, and providing educational programs to synagogues and other Jewish institutions. Their new Haggadah aims to further this mission by offering a unique new way of understanding and accessing the Seder guidebook-and providing a fresh take on the Passover story. 

"The Haggadah contains ideas of freedom, slavery, refugees, and wandering," said JACC member Berit Engen, who worked on the Haggadah's Hebrew text. She used classic Hebrew sources for the Haggadah; these are augmented with artwork and the original artists' commentaries and insight that explore these and other key themes of Passover. The idea of Passover as a springtime holiday, for instance, is expressed using beautiful pictures of nature. Oppression and slavery are evoked in artwork that conveys misery and the depths of despair. 

English text was provided by JACC member Susan Dickman, who has created a fresh, modern, gender-neutral, inclusive translation. "We retained the meaning of the text," while providing new interpretations and insights, she explained. Quotes and essays by artists and other writers enrich the Haggadah, providing food for thought and interesting notes to bring up during Passover Seders. Each JACC member contributed artwork and also wrote meditations on the meaning and intent behind their pieces. "We want it to provoke conversation," Carol Neiger noted. "We want to generate dialogue."   

Conceived as a way of responding to the loneliness of Passover 2020 during lockdown, Out of the Narrows: The Artists Haggadah offers a way to help bring some of Chicago's most impassioned Jewish artists and their artwork to a wider audience. This fresh new Haggadah can help us connect us with our local artistic community-both during this Passover and beyond. 

Yvette Alt Miller, Ph.D. lives with her family in the northern suburbs of Chicago.    


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