The Talmud? Or perhaps the "Book of Zohar"? Do the Jews really have a secret book, and if so, what is it?
Not only do they have such a book, posits veteran Israeli political cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen, but its identity is more obvious than most would think. “The secret book of the Jews is the Passover Haggadah,” he states. “It’s a book that is a script for a ritual, and every year at our spring festival, when everything is reborn, we sit down with our families and take out this secret book, which is really a guidebook on how to teach the next generation who we are, who we were and who we will be.”
The creator of “Dry Bones,” Israel’s longest-running political cartoon strip, has now lent his own personal touch to this secret book of the Jews in his newly released “The Dry Bones Passover Haggadah.” Each page of this brand-new, self-published Hebrew-English Haggadah is framed by graphics and "Dry Bones" cartoons, many featuring the beloved character of Uncle Shuldig. Its structure, says Kirschen, is modeled on the Talmud, with the main text appearing in the middle of the page and surrounded by commentary – in this case, various elements of contemporary relevance and wit in the more than 3,000-year-old story of the Exodus from Egypt.
In one cartoon, for example, God tells Moses that not only has he picked the Jews to be his Chosen People, but that he will also give them the commandments so that they can be a light unto the nations. “And will this win us the love of the other nations?” asks Moses. “Listen," responds God. "Two out of three is not bad!”
Kirschen's objective, he explains, was to create a Haggadah that would be relevant for all types of Jews, and for every day and age. “After 40 years of commenting on events of the day, I’ve now done a work that will speak to the next generation and the generation after, whether they be black-hat Haredi extremist reactionaries or tallit-wearing California lesbians,” as he puts it.
Born in Brooklyn, Kirschen moved to Israel in 1971 and several years later began working as a cartoonist for The Jerusalem Post, then Israel’s only English-language daily. "Dry Bones" has since been syndicated in dozens of newspapers in the United States and Canada. In recent years, Kirschen also created a popular blog that provides a behind-the-scenes look at his daily cartoon strips. What prompted the 75-year-old to make his own signature Haggadah?
“It was several things that came together,” he explains. “First was the 40th anniversary of doing 'Dry Bones,' which I started on January 1, 1973. To mark this anniversary, the Israel cartoon museum did a retrospective of my work, and there were other awards. Suddenly, it seemed to me that 40 years is a memorable thing, and I should be doing something to celebrate as well. I realized that I do cartoons for people based on the news, but the news keeps changing and life goes on, and 'Dry Bones' would like to talk not only to people today, but to comment on the Jewish experience of the past and to talk to generations coming after. The only way to do that is to talk to them when they’re sitting down at the Passover seder because that’s the one time they’re all together.”
To finance the project, Kirschen launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. His intention was to raise $5,000, but he ended up with four times that amount. “And it cost us more than four times that amount to see the project through because we underestimated the job,” he adds.
His main miscalculation was to assume there was only one official English translation of the Haggadah. “Every translation out there is different, and none of them are strictly accurate,” he explains. “So I decided the first thing I needed to do was to get a strictly accurate English translation, and that turned out to be insanely difficult.”
After the book was completed (“We had it totally proofread by extremist religious people who made sure every dot was in the right place and everything was totally traditional and kosher”), Kirschen had to figure out the best way to sell it. “We decided we didn’t want to go to an Amazon, printed in China sort of deal,” he says. Instead, hoping to give the venture more of a family feel, he and his wife set up their own mom-and-pop shop online (http://store.drybones.com/), which allows them to fulfill orders directly from their Herzliya home. (Close to 700 copies of the 1,200 printed in the first run have already been sold, he adds.)
“We produced this as a family, Passover’s a family holiday, and the Jewish people happen to be one big family. That’s why we chose to do it this way – something from our family to yours,” he says.