David Ulin, the book critic for the Los Angeles Times, interviewed Jonathan Safran Foer this week about The New American Haggadah, the book Foer has been working on for almost a decade.
This Haggadah features a new translation of the traditional text by Nathan Englander, commentary by Jeffrey Goldberg, Lemony Snicket, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, and Nathaniel Deutsch, designed and illustrated by the Israeli artist and calligrapher Oded Ezer.
Here is a portion of a review by Larry Mark, editor of MyJewishBooks.com, followed by a video of the first eight minutes of the Ulin interview (if you have trouble seeing the video below, you can also see it here). If the review does not make you want to buy the Haggadah, the video will:
Seders have been celebrated for over 100 generations, and perhaps there have been over 7000 known versions of the Haggadah, whether it is from a religious movement, a kibbutz, Maxwell House, Mesorah, a commune, Cokey Roberts, or your own family. Foer writes that a new haggadah does not imply that earlier ones are failed; he just saw a need for one that looks at current issues in today's idiom
This haggadah is an exciting new one and will prompt many seder-table discussions for years to come; the "hyper-literal" translations into English will fascinate. … Across the top of each page is a progressing timeline (by Mia Sara Buch), flowing like sweet malaga wine, from 1250 BCE to 2007 CE. The timeline is in a smaller font and gives a running history of Passover and Jewish communities. For example, for 1387 CE, the timeline mentions Chaucer's publication of "The Canterbury Tales," and his story of a blood libel against the Jews … At the end, you can add to the timeline as years go by. I can imagine each participant adding their own timeline to their copy each year, and seeing how attitudes and comments change over the decades. A keepsake.
… Nathan Englander used to use the Hebrew side of the traditional Maxwell House coffee Haggadah. … He found that the Hebrew is so moving, yet the English translations he saw did not communicate this beauty well enough. The line that clinched it for him was "HaMavdil Bein Kodesh l'Kodesh." In English, many Haggadot translated it as "to differentiate between the Sabbath and the holiday." But in Hebrew what it says is, "to differentiate between holy and holy." To him, the English was missing the poetry and the metaphysical space between "holy" and "holy." …
For example, in "Nishmas kol chai," he translates it as "Were our mouths were filled with a singing like the sea, and our tongues awash with song, as waves-countless, and our lips to lauding, as the skies are wide, and our eyes illumined like the sun and the moon, and our hands spread out like the eagles of heaven, and our feet as fleet as fawns. Still, we would not suffice in thanking you, lord God of us and God of our fathers, in blessing your name for even one of a thousand, thousand, from the thousands of thousands and the ten thousands of ten thousands of times you did good turns for our fathers and for us."