by the Forward

An Abstract Haggadah

A decade ago, artist Archie Granot sat down to give new texture to one of the world’s oldest books. This year, his Haggadah is finally complete.

Granot’s Haggadah is different from all other Haggadot in that it is composed entirely of papercuts — sheets of paper carved with a surgical scalpel and intricately layered. Granot has been making papercut art since the 1970s, but in retrospect, he said, “It was a trial run for the Haggadah.”

At the outset of his project, Granot set two rules for himself: Every letter of the text would be cut individually, and the design of every page would be different. He also avoided looking at earlier illustrated Haggadot so as not to be influenced by their designs.

Granot never imagined he would finish his project quickly — he and Max and Sandra Thurm, the New York-based couple who commissioned the piece, expected that it would take four or five years — but he also didn’t plan on the 10-year odyssey that it became.

“In theory, at the beginning it was simple,” Granot, who lives in Jerusalem, told the Forward. “When I got to page 53, making it different from every other page was very difficult. It got harder as I progressed through the work.” Every design that resulted from this process is abstract; there are no cutouts depicting, literally, Moses or the Red Sea. According to Granot, some of the pages are intended to illustrate the story of the Exodus, albeit abstractly, while others reflect a more personal journey.

“There were pages done under periods of extreme stress,” Granot said. “I did one page not long after the bombing at the hotel in Netanya [in 2002], at which both parents of someone with whom I sit in synagogue were killed. You can feel the blood dripping.”

Granot, who was born in London and moved to Israel in 1967, has made papercut ketubot and a version of the Scroll of Esther. But the Haggadah, currently on display in New York at the Yeshiva University Museum, has special significance for him: Not only does it lend itself to visual interpretation, but it also has traditionally been one of the few Jewish books considered acceptable to illustrate.

Asked whether he is relieved to be through with his decade-long project, Granot sounded a little wistful.

“My Haggadah was on my desk the whole time I worked on this,” he said, referring to the copy he used as a source for his papercut text. “Now it’s back on the shelf, and it feels like there’s something missing on my desk.”

Marissa Brostoff is the Forward’s editorial assistant.

This story "An Abstract Haggadah" was written by Marissa Brostoff.

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