Popular Authors Publish New Haggadah (Passover Seder Book)

Submitted by birdie on Fri, 03/02/2012 - 12:01

NEW YORK — Authors Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander, seated together at a Brooklyn diner, would like to continue a discussion that has lasted for centuries.

They have collaborated on a text dating to Biblical times and revisited each year by millions of Jews worldwide. "New American Haggadah," just published by Little, Brown and Company, is a new edition of the Passover narrative that has been edited by Foer and translated by Englander.

They are a contrast — the earnest Foer and the expansive Englander — but they share skepticism about organized religion and anxiousness about what it means to be a Jew. Both have included Jewish themes in their fiction, whether the grandson of a Holocaust survivor seeking answers about the past in Foer's "Everything Is Illuminated" or the tug of war between religious and secular culture in Englander's "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges."

Foer, inspired by Seders (the traditional Passover gatherings) he has attended, says he thought of the project about six years ago.

"My family gathers every year and I always look forward to the Seders, but they always seem unfulfilled, despite my father's best efforts. He's the kind of guy who cobbles together every page from every single Haggadah. But the conversation is never as interesting as it should be," says the 35-year-old author, whose novel "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" was the basis for the Oscar-nominated movie.

"It requires a good users' manual, a guiding hand. The entire point is to transmit values through a story and it's impossible to do that if people aren't engaged in a story and impossible if it isn't in a language that moves them and doesn't have commentaries that engage them."

If you haven't attended a Passover Seder, you may not know that (mostly) every person around the table follows the ceremonies with their own copy of the Haggadah. Ebooks just wouldn't work.