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Happy Passover: The Szyk Haggadah

In honor of Passover we have invited Irvin Unger, founder and CEO of antiquarian booksellers Historicana and publisher of the new edition of the Szyk Haggadah (which you will learn all about below), to tell us why this Haggadah is different from all the others.

Spring means renewal and, for Jews, around the world, it means Passover—the story of freedom.  Jews use a book called the Haggadah to recount this story at a Passover dinner gathering—or Seder. There have been more than 5,000 Haggadahs created over the last millennium.

As a former pulpit Rabbi who became a rare book dealer, I became aware of the art of Arthur Szyk (1894 -1951) nearly 30 years ago. Since then, I have been fascinated with this talented artist who devoted his life and his art to fighting injustice—first for the Jews of Europe and then for peoples all over the world. I first came to know Arthur Szyk’s work through his Haggadah. The original 48 water color and gouache paintings were done in his unique style of medieval illumination with deep colors and great detail and intensity.

Szyk was a Polish-Jewish artist, trained in Paris, who created his Passover Haggadah during the time that Hitler rose to power. Szyk settled in London in 1937, where he supervised the printing of the Haggadah, over the next three years.  In July 1940, Szyk departed for North America, first to Canada and then to New York, where he became the most well known anti-Fascist political artist in America. Having lived at the time of the Holocaust, freedom was not merely an academic theory for Szyk—freedom was real, and he devoted his life’s work to supporting it. He said of his immense skills, “Art is not my aim, it is my means.”

I have spent the past two years securing the finest book artisans and materials available in the world to create and publish a new edition of The Szyk Haggadah. For the first time since its original printing in 1940, a new edition has been created using digital photography of the original artwork and digital printing to ensure that there are no intermediaries between the art and the printed page. This new technology has produced results that are stunning—colors are deep and true, edges are crisp and images leap off the page. I am also working with a director to create a full length of documentary of the making of the Haggadah.

During this time, I have also worked with Jewish scholars to create a companion volume to The Haggadah containing essays that shed new light and nuance on the art and life of Arthur Szyk. It has been an honor and a labor of love to create this limited edition of The Szyk Haggadah, which will be delivered to the first subscribers in time for this year’s Passover celebration.

Please visit here for more information on Arthur Szyk and the talented group of book and print artisans who are creating this new version of a 1940 masterpiece.

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