News | 22 March 2012

UCSC Professor Joins Acclaimed Writers for New Passover “Users Manual”


Nathaniel Deutsch

Nathaniel Deutsch

Two weeks ago, author Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything Is Illuminated, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) went on the Stephen Colbert show to promote his latest book New American Haggadah.

Edited by Foer and translated by acclaimed writer Nathan Englander, the book is a new, alternative version of the Passover book used by Jews to celebrate the annual Jewish holiday.

The new edition contains commentaries by the Atlantic magazine’s political writer Jeffrey Goldberg, children’s author Lemony Snicket, novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein—and UC Santa Cruz history professor Nathaniel Deutsch, who is also director of the university’s Institute for Humanities Research.

As Foer told Colbert, “The Haggadah is the users-manual for the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday—Passover. It’s one of the oldest, continually told stories, and one of the most well-known across cultures.”

Containing stories, prayers, hymns, and commentaries, the books are distributed to family and friends each year around the Seder table so everyone can participate in the story of how Moses delivered the Jews from slavery more than 3,000 years ago.

Professor Deutsch noted that more than 7,000 versions of the Passover manual already exist.

“It is the Jewish text that has the most different versions,” said Deutsch. “Every version reflects concerns of the moment, of the current generation.”

Deutsch noted that there was a concerted effort by Foer to have people from different backgrounds write commentaries from different perspectives.

“There’s a certain playfulness in Lemony Snicket’s commentary, coming from the child’s perspective, while my commentary is a more traditional Jewish interpretation,” Deutsch said.

“It’s such a deeply beautiful text,” Englander recently observed on ABC News.

Author of the recently published story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, Englander added, “I’m not religious, but it’s really close to my heart.”

Last week, the UC Santa Cruz professordid his part to help promote the book—moderating two public discussions with Safran Foer and Englander in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“I’m proud to be a part of it,” said Deutsch. “I think it’s something that will be meaningful to people.”

“The Haggadah is a text I’ve known since I was a kid—we used it every year,” he added. “And I thought it would be a legacy for my kids. Passover is my favorite holiday.”

Written by Scott Rappaport