Pesach and the Haggadah have inspired countless artistic interpretations. Shira Friedman, curator of the Neve Schechter gallery in Tel Aviv offers two seder illustrations from modem and contemporary Israeli artists. How does historical circumstance inform these seders?
Seder Night celebrations are one of the most common themes in traditional Jewish art, in illustrated and printed haggadot and also in modern and contemporary art, both in Israel and in the Diaspora. We will examine two Israeli works that draw attention to the people sitting around the table, a kibbutz collective and an Israeli family. The first painting is from 1949 from Kibbutz HaOgen (in central Israel) when the aftershocks of the War of Independence were still being felt. The second is from 2016 in Tel Aviv, the non-stop city.
Shraga Weil (1918-2009) painted “Pesach Seder” on Kibbutz HaOgen after making aliyah from Czechoslovakia, where, during the war, he was a member of the underground. Weil was one of the most important artists on the kibbutz and a member of Hashomer Hatzair from his youth. He illustrated the secular-zionist oriented national kibbutz Haggadah published in 1951, during the peak of the kibbutz movement.
The painting “Pesach Seder” was completed at the time when Weil worked in the kibbutz dining hall. It belongs to a series depicting dining hall culture and atmosphere. Weil was also an active and prolific graphic designer and made use of the realistic and naive styles. The characters around the table are portrayed as hungry, lonely refugees, a contrast to the hearty kibbutzniks that tended to be portrayed in the art of the period. This is one of the first paintings that Weil did in Israel portraying kibbutz life. As the years passed his paintings became more optimistic.
In contrast to Weil’s efforts at illustrating collectivism, Vered Aharonovitch (1980-) deliberately delves into and draws attention to the frustration and complaints surrounding the details of the seder. Her characters are both tragic and comic and her depiction the seder becomes an absurdist play. Aharonovitch, a graduate of the Bezalel art school and the University of Haifa, sculpts using a wide range of materials. The characters in Aharonovitch’s seder are busy with conflicts and personal frustrations. The grandmother is feeding, in an exaggerated fashion, the grandfather who is offering up his son as a sacrifice.
One of the characters is lying down on the table as the food is being served on him. In the sculptures she portrays the sacrifices and suffering of the characters while referencing iconic images in art history. This Pesach we will gather separately and privately next to the seder table and hope, at next year’s seder, that we will return to a more collective celebration.