Why this Haggadah is very different from others

North London-based artist Emily Marbach has created a Collage Haggadah with gender-neutral translation


No Jewish book has appeared in more editions than the Haggadah.

Every year, new versions make their debut and among those set for the Seder table in 2022 is the work of Belsize Square Synagogue member Emily Marbach, an American artist who has lived in the UK for 28 years.

Her Collage Haggadah reflects a passion for collage art and printmaking that she has developed over the past decade.

Not only has Ms Marbach illustrated the text with her designs; the Hebrew is accompanied with her own, gender-neutral translation. “As an artist who wants to be known as a Jewish artist, I feel this is one way of being part of that tradition,” she said.

The project took off during lockdown when Ms Marbach found herself stuck at home and her collection of books and periodicals became “my playground. Part of the joy of collage is the hunt. You have an idea in your head and you search for it in your library.”

Apart from images she found from printed sources, “I’d go for walks in the park and pick up leaves and feathers to press”. Leaves from the fig tree in her garden have also provided collage material.

Ms Marbach had “a lot of fun” with the images she created — such as the Queen of Clean, armed with brushes as she prepares for Pesach, or the Israelite who leaves Egypt on a skateboard.

Though there is only one cursory reference to Moses in the Haggadah text, she gives him a greater pictorial presence. “In one, I did put the Michelangelo statue with the horns on his head – it is a nod to the fact that antisemitism is still around and people have all sorts of suppositions about Jews. But in the others, he is looking very handsome – and hornless.”

Having studied at a New York Orthodox Jewish day school from the age of five to 18 and spent a year in Brovender’s Yeshivah in Israel, she had “the confidence to make my translation”.

Determined to render God as gender-neutral, she used, for example, “Leader of the world” in blessings instead of “King of the universe”.

The four sons appear as four daughters, although in the translation she describes them as “child”. She felt “it would balance all the four sons depicted in many Haggadot. “I did add Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah to a few passages but beside that I have been very true to the Hebrew text,” she said.

And in one classical touch, her niece in America, Rachel Jackson — a soferet (scribe) — has contributed a list of the plagues in scribal Hebrew.

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