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Lawrenceville author melds art with ritual in new Haggadah
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Lawrenceville author melds art with ritual in new Haggadah

Shoshana Silberman. Photo Courtesy Shoshana Silberman 
Shoshana Silberman. Photo Courtesy Shoshana Silberman 

To find the perfect illustrations for her latest Haggadah, Shoshana Silberman culled through 200 pictures of works by artist Mordechai Rosenstein. Not just any image would work. For example, candlesticks with a challah were out because leavened products are prohibited during Passover. 

Finding appropriate prints was an exacting process. “What I did was I really looked carefully at each and every painting and thought about where it might work in the Haggadah, and I eliminated those that I didn’t think would match the theme of the Exodus story,” Silberman told NJJN. 

Her decision to create “The Rosenstein Haggadah,” to be released next month, was spontaneous. She happened to be visiting Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell in 2014 on the same Shabbat that Mordechai Rosenstein was there as artist in residence and saw some of his new work. 

“As I sat there and looked at his paintings, the idea just clicked,” she said. “The paintings were so bold and colorful and very engaging, and so I thought these wonderful paintings would be perfect in a Haggadah.”

Rosenstein, whose studio, Rosenstein Arts, is located in Elkins Park, Pa., agreed. “Being used for a service — it’s fantastic; I love the idea,” he said in a phone interview with NJJN. 

A resident of Lawrenceville, Silberman met Rosenstein in the early ’70s when he was a framer in Philadelphia who experimented with printmaking. 

“Before he was famous,” she said.

A close friend, aware of Silberman’s interest in art, recommended she meet him. She did, and starting with the lithograph “Ani L’Dodi,” Silberman and her husband, Mel, began collecting Rosenstein’s work, and even commissioned a ketubah from him for their 10th anniversary.  

Silberman said that she believes the beauty of Rosenstein’s work will enhance the mitzvah of completing the seder. “He had never done a book before, and this seemed to be something that would be almost like a legacy,” she said. “It would contain his works, but in very impactful way, and an important way, not just a collection of pictures.” 

The artwork illustrating the Haggadah was carefully selected from existing prints; commissioning new art could take years, she said. 

As far as subject matter, Silberman turned to broad conceptual ideas because, she said, “there were very few that were exact; most were abstract themes about Jewish values.” Since there was no print of “The Four Children,” she turned to a print titled “To Learn and to Teach.” For candle-lighting Silberman chose a print that “is completely abstract, and in the middle is something that is large and gold.” And she chose one called “Trust,” because the Israelites had to trust in God to follow Moses across the sea and into the wilderness. 

The Hebrew text and English translation for “The Rosenstein Haggadah” came from Silberman’s second Haggadah, “A Jewish World Family Haggadah” (ibooks, 2012), but the latest work has new commentaries, which she chose from a variety of sources, including online texts and Haggadahs in her personal library. 

The content reflects diversity along several axes: traditional-modern, young-old, male-female, Ashkenazi, Sefardi, and Mizrahi. “I wanted there to be an exposure to different points of view about what the text means,” she said. “I wanted people to have things to think about. It is food for thought; it challenges people to open up and have different ways of looking at text.”

In “The Rosenstein Haggadah” she wrote a section to encourage participation. “Creating a More Lively Seder” includes ideas such as inviting participants to share explanations of particular parts of the seder, having children design maps of the routes the freed slaves took to get from Egypt to Israel, and asking young children to color the four cups of wine. 

Silberman said she appreciates the opportunity the new Haggadah gives her to honor the evolution of an artist she has known for more than 40 years. “He is in his mid-80s now, and his paintings seem to get bolder and more dramatic as he ages,” she said.

Her first Haggadah, “A Family Haggadah” (Kar-Ben Publishing), focused on families with young children; subsequently she added to the set “A Family Haggadah II,” for families with older children. She wrote it in 1987 when she was educational director at the Jewish Center, where she is still a member. She also served for several years as consultant for Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education, and today she teaches locally to study groups and at senior centers, and wrote a curriculum on modern slavery for third-through-fourth graders on freetheslaves.net. 

Besides the Haggadah’s, Silberman has written several books on Jewish topics, including “The Whole Megillah (Almost)” (Kar-Ben Publishing, 1991); “Tiku Shofar: A High Holiday Machzor and Source Book for Students and Families” (United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, 1993); and “Siddur Shema Yisrael: A Siddur for Sabbath and Festivals, and Sourcebook for Students and Families” (United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, 1996). 

The March 11 launch of the Haggadah will include an exhibit and sale of Rosenstein paintings. Copies of “The Rosenstein Haggadah” and Silberman’s “A Family Haggadah” will be available for purchase.

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