Hillel Smith

New Venice Haggadah

2016 marked the 500th anniversary of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, Italy, the first ghetto in Europe, founded during Passover in 1516. To celebrate 500 years of Jewish life in Venice, Beit Venezia (formerly the The Venice Center for International Jewish Studies) initiated a year-long series of events, including plays, symposia, and other cultural programs. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Venice was a primary center of Jewish book production. It was there that the first complete Talmud was printed, the first Mikraot Gedolot (a bible with a number of commentaries printed on the same page as the biblical text), and a highly-regarded multi-lingual illustrated Passover haggadah from 1609. In recognition of this history, Beit Venezia invited eight artists from around he world to create new work for a New Venice Haggadah, honoring the city and its distinctive community.

Partnering with the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica Venezia, and based out of their print studio, the eight of us spent three full weeks living in Venice, learning about the city's history and importance from scholars, artists, and locals. Each artist then created two full-page copper-plate etchings on specific passages in the haggadah as well as smaller filler illustrations. I was tasked with the plates for Ma Nishtana (the four questions) and Raban Gamliel's stressing of "Pesach Matzah Maror" as the most important part of the seder.

The haggadah will tentatively be published for Pesach 2018. The project was featured on Italian television on Rai Une and by JTA among other media outlets. See the complete set of images at artist Nathan Gotlib's website.

New Venice Haggadah artists

Participating artists are Jacqueline Nicholls (UK, lead artist), Andi Arnovitz (USA/Israel), Josh Baum (UK), Yael Cohen (Israel/UK), Nathan Gotlib (Belgium), Sophie Herxheimer (UK), Kyra Matustik (Sweden), and me.

New Venice Haggadah Ma Nishtana

For the four questions, I tried to capture the wonder and whimsy of Venice's architecture, spelling out the Hebrew words "Ma Nishtana" with impossible buildings tilted at wonky angles as they settle into the Venetian Lagoon. Find a Ghetto building at the bottom right.

New Venice Haggadah Pesach Matzah Maror

For the second, just as Raban Gamliel declared a Pesach seder is incomplete without a mention of the Pascal lamb, matzah, and maror (bitter herbs), so too is a discussion of Jewish Venice incomplete without mention of the communities that comprised its populace: those from Germany, Spain, and Italy, here reflected in the script styles used for each word. The words are framed by elements of Venetian architecture, referencing historic Jewish illuminated manuscripts that used local architectural elements as framing devices, and incorporated the depiction of matzot and maror from the 1609 Venice Haggadah into the roundels and arch.

Jewish Museum of Venice New Venice Haggadah

The completed art was displayed at the Museo Ebraico di Venezia (Jewish Museum of Venice) from April 17-July 31, 2016.