The members of Jewish Artists Collective Chicago write about our stories, struggles, experiences, and musings, and how they inspire us to create contemporary Jewish art.

Creating Our Haggadah: My Joys and Oy!s of Content Curation and Editing (Part 2)
Text and Art by Berit Engen

My Joys and Oy!s of Content Curation and Editing (I) provided background material about the making of Out of the Narrows (OOTN). This second post is about my content curating and editing responsibilities:

• The Blank-to-Be-Filled Introductory Pages
Decisions Re Content: Tradition! Selection! Addition! Deletion?
Transferring Content for the Approx. 3018th Haggadah
The Far From Frivolous Art of Proof Reading and Revising
A Musical Note
Transliteration – Another Love, Another Headache
And Last . . .

The text includes rather tedious accounts and lists. Thus, I have illustrated the text with my tapestries, some of which are not about the Haggadah and Passover; rather, they reflect the work process. Except one, they are not included in OOTN.

The Blank-to-Be-Filled Introductory Pages

Our Haggadah’s first pages gave Carol, Susan, and me an opportunity to set a tone of conversation with the reader by introducing ourselves, JACC, and OOTN; and, as often is done in Haggadot, provide some practical Passover information. But the Haggadah’s role as a resource book has changed with the Internet. Influenced by the growing interest amongst liberal Jews for observing rituals, I favored focusing on the old and (mostly) unchanged Rabbinic rituals of preparing for the holyday:

· For the section “Welcoming Passover” I suggested instructions on the rituals pertaining to the removal of chametz, including blessing and formulaic recitations.
· For the section “Preparing for the Seder” I suggested lists of and information about the ritual objects pertaining to the seder table and the seder plate. 

2006 was our family’s third year of selling our chametz to our Catholic and Japanese neighbors. The kids on the block were excited to see the baskets with pasta and crackers change hands and witness the signing. It looks like we had difficulties finding a buyer thanks to our wild Jack Russell terrier. Inspired by I. B. Singer’s account of his father, the Rebbe, who wrote up the agreement for a neighbor in Warsaw selling a horse because of the contents in its guts, our soon-to-turn-six-year-old crafted a contract.


With all due respect to creativity, I suggested not to include enrichment ideas such as matzah-baking instructions, a grow-your-own-karpas guide, food recipes (including the key to keep a carp in the bathtub to make gefilte fish), an egg decorating manual, and a list of kids’ activities anything fun one may do one year but not the next.

Candle lighting is a nice transition between hectic preparations and the seder, and the candle lighting page separates the introduction with its specific contemporary details and the traditional text which links us to previous generations.

Decisions Re Content: Tradition! Selection! Addition! Deletion?

We compiled the OOTN text in a time when collecting a variety of Haggadot rather than choosing a one-and-only Haggadah was becoming more popular. Having explored the many in our combined collections, we felt strongly that our Haggadah did not need to have it all. None of the Haggadot we looked at comprised every possible element. Rather they had their different foci and strengths in terms of layout, ideology, commentary, art, illustrations, colors, and accessibility. But each one contributed magically to this old liturgical text which had been copied in creative ways over centuries – much because the Seder is a lay-led home service versus a clergy-led in the synagogue. 

“If everyone pulled in the same direction, the whole world would fall down”

Applying Yiddish wisdom onto Haggadah creativity:

if there were only one Haggadah version, we could wave the seder good-bye.

Once we had decided to follow the traditional text and not to include ideological statements or relevant Rabbinic and other commentaries, this thematic content compilation was pretty straight forward until the rather dense, and for many only partially familiar, Hallel and Nirtzah when I thought we could and should be selective.

Our additions and deletions are not originally ours; they are also found in other Haggadot. Not all the suggestions were mine, but all changes required that I submitted a final version which included all details correctly written and with information to Carol regarding types of text.

For my suggestions and our specific decisions, please see APPENDIX 1.

Transferring Content for the Approx. 3018th Haggadah

I wonder what the major challenges were for the 3000+ editors before me of this popular Jewish book. Fortunate (?) to live in Modern Times with helpful technology, my biggest difficulty was to compile, prepare, and transfer the complete text, including my evaluation regarding the relevance of text categories and segments to Carol in one single manuscript. (My initial idea of starting with streamlining the blessings and all the details that they encompassed and then do a different type of text, would not work for Carol who needed the Haggadah text in order, from beginning to end, in order to plan and design the book pagination).

Without any reviewing of the text, Carol should then be able to use my submissions and make the artistic layout decisions and colorize, minimize, normalize, italicize, etc. according to our content vision. One would think that the text transferring would be a linear and straightforward task, but it required much discussion and solution searching.

Nailing down devilish details took up 75 (?) percent of the work hours. Technical issues (like right-aligned margins for Hebrew, left-aligned for English and transliteration slowed down the process of copying and pasting the hundreds of line-by-line segments. My internalized grasp of the Haggadah and knowledge of Hebrew grammar from teaching Biblical Hebrew helped, especially when it came to breaking up sentences for layout. It was inspiring to benefit from previous studies. Still, I do not understand how compiling and transferring the text took so much time. I developed a deep respect for editors’ work behind the scenes which is hard to spot or define in the final product. I found it surprising and sad how my contribution to OOTN had become so invisible.  

Thanks to the incredible, (the free, public domain Jewish library), the Haggadah was available for basic copying. But deadlines loomed. During the detailed transferring of the material (Hebrew w/vowel marks; Hebrew without vowel marks; my transliteration; and English translation) plus making line and phrase divisions and to make sure that the line and phrase divisions were in the correct places (for Hebrew, transliteration, and English translation) I felt at times like Chaplin in front of the conveyor belt. 

I admit that sometimes I dreamt of picking up my grandfather’s silver quill and India ink; I would copy by hand from an old Haggadah and let the words shine on hand-made paper. No typing, no screen, no endless back and forth editing. But the truth is that the ability to design the Haggadah with state-of-the-art publishing software was a lifesaver for us in materializing our simple Haggadah vision in all its complexities. 

The Far From Frivolous Art of Proof Reading and Revising

A plague germinated the idea of our Haggadah. Fortunately, most of the work could be done despite COVID. I consulted my many Jewish reference books at home. On-line, updated resources of various kinds (such as,,,, and were crucial for final details. But the three times Carol, Susan, and I got together in person to get the Haggadah ready for printing felt like injections of energy. We badly needed them because before uploading OOTN for printing in time for Passover there was endless proofreading to be done. I can live with a couple of typos, but not mistakes that could reflect incompetence on my part.

Knowing that we could make revisions after uploading (because we were self-publishing) took pressure off me mentally, but the act of taking down and re-uploading OOTN was quite time consuming for Carol. I felt that everything should be correct in the first place, at least to the best of my knowledge. And it was, but my knowledge had some holes. The situation was also fogged by time pressure. Still, we have made two rounds of revisions since Passover 2021. (My work was not the only that needed to be corrected, but my revising covered every aspect of the book.)

Were the many hours of additional revisions after Passover necessary? Few readers would ever notice our inconsistencies, typos, or various mistakes in layout and text. (Such as of the Havdalah service. I did not know before Carol’s first upload that when the first Seder coincides with the end of Shabbat it is slightly different.). Well, I am glad we did the work.

My Blue YaKNeHaZ

 YaKNeHaZ is an acronym for the order of blessings in Kadesh for when the (first) Festival Day coincides with the conclusion of Shabbat and Havdalah is recited. As it was included in liturgical books centuries ago, a pictorial curiosity emerged in Haggadot: illustrations of hunters and hares due to the similarity between the sound of YaKNeHaz and the German imperative phrase “Jag den Has” – “Hunt the Hare.”

In terms of adding text, even just a little which I found tempting a couple of times we may have had to break up an elegant page-layout. If we went beyond the page, we could end up with three and a half blank pages, since the number of pages had to be divisible by four. Since I cared deeply about both layout and artwork and was responsible for the text, this posed difficulties. But all the instances we decided to change made me feel good; it is satisfying to make things right. 

A Note About Seder Songs

A seder without Dayenu bellowed in unison is inconceivable. But not every chanted piece or song is joyous or needs to be a group activity. Whatever the style and selection for chanting and singing, we wanted to point out the text segments that have melodies to facilitate singing and song leading. Thus, short Maggid ‘verses’ with (relatively known) melodies were highlighted with transliteration and special layout. All Psalms, traditional songs, and new songs appear where they belong within the 15 steps versus in an appendix. We placed a music icon next to all these segments.

We decided to not add any songs or melody information since the Internet gives us access to plenty to choose from. And choice and research seem to be two things that contemporary sederniks thrive on. It is easy to find relevant old and new Jewish and non-Jewish lyrics regarding the overreaching themes of the Haggadah like slavery and freedom. The same is true for newly composed melodies to blessings and Psalms to selected lines in the Maggid.

More specifically, I favored keeping the (often sung) phrase “Next year in Jerusalem!” at the beginning of Nirtzah, after Chasal Siddur Pesach. Some Haggadot end the seder with this statement and finale-like song of redemption -- which, I admit, is a good choice for a concluding Seder song with its up-beat feel in words and melody. But finishing OOTN in the more traditional way with the song Chad Gadya! has a special content curation significance: it is the last addition (1590) to the traditional Haggadah text. Regarding the added exclamation point: I found it fitting for both the symbolism of the lyrics, the song’s ‘achievement’ of having made it into this liturgical book, and its well-known title being the Haggadah’s last headline.

Transliteration – Another Love, Another Headache

As with translation (which gives us the meaning of words), something is lost in transliteration (which tells us how to pronounce them). I find transliteration fascinating and fun. With my background in several languages and numerous dialects, this is like a playground for me until I need a style guide for my written materials that will be printed and published. Grey hair strands fill the piggy tails when the need for consistency enters the field. Using only the Latin alphabet makes the task impossible. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ transliteration. Most transliteration decisions have their pros and cons. When writing, making one’s own rules as needed is quite common, and that is what I have done too.

I had found guides established by academic institutions, and they were helpful, each in a different way. But finding the single one that would be satisfactory when I started my Jewish tapestry project 13 years ago was difficult. One criterium I had was that all sounds and diacritics had to be expressed not only in Latin letters but in available letters on a standard keyboard without making short cuts since that would mean using unfamiliar characters for the reader. I wanted the transliteration to be easily legible.

Ever since I started going to synagogue services twenty-five years ago, I have looked carefully at transliterated prayers. They used to drive me nuts, especially the ones that also emphasized stress with capital letters and were loaded with hyphens within a single word. I found it much easier to learn the Hebrew alphabet, vowel diacritics, and pronunciation rules. Now that I easily could read the transliterations, I simply did not find them that satisfactory. I am happy to see that the more recent transliterations, like in the new Reform prayerbooks, apply the rules that I favored.

Like many contemporary official and unofficial styles, mine is based on the Israeli-influenced pronunciation. (I actually love the Ashkenazi for its retainment of a distinct Kamatz vowel, [which in chanting gets a minor-sounding quality], and for its [to me, charming-sounding] stress on the ‘wrong’ syllables.)

I have often been puzzled by inconsistencies within the same publication or website. Sometimes there is a reason for it, like when a good rule does not work well in all instances. Annoyingly, that is true for most of them. Or, like when the sheer look of a word is almost off-putting, like Qaddish. It simply does not feel right. The emotionally infused Kaddish does.

Since Hebrew does not any longer have a distinct pronunciation for the letter Kuf, why transliterate it as q and not k? Well, generally, I prefer q because it tells me the word’s Hebrew spelling and root letter information. But, as with Kaddish, convention matters even if it complicates the overriding goal of consistency. I cannot win even my own fights here!

After all factual considerations have been made, decisions depend not only on the transliterator’s sensibility but on the purpose of a specific transliteration. The Haggadah, a prayer book with focus on aloud and unison reading, may benefit from a different style guide than a textbook in the Hebrew language.

Since the primary focus of transliteration is for the reader to be able to pronounce foreign words (without phonetic transcription), it is strange that later trends (regarding Hebrew for American Jews) seem to favor transliterations that complicate the process! I like it because these transliterations look logical and consistent with grammar and word construction specific to Hebrew, and strangely, makes it easier to read! That is, if one knows some Hebrew already, which most do. (Even if it is only seeing it in print and using single words and phrases (Torah, rosh Hashanah) in English speech, it’s not like we are tourists ordering food in a restaurant on a travel in Vietnam.) A good example is the use of ‘ah’ endings for nouns which indicates singular, feminine noun or adjective (in Hebrew kamatz-hey ending). It feels ‘right’ to see Sarah, shanah, and tovah – even if it could be written, and often is, as Sara, shana, and tova. It is almost like an identity thing. We feel it is our language even if it is not our vernacular.

Now that I have given the reason for possible rule breakings and inconsistencies in OOTN, please see APPENDIX 2 for my applied rules. (In case the OOTN reader wonders: yes, I did miss Echad Mi Yodeia? while applying transliteration consistency. And no, I have not yet decided what to do with the Hebrew double consonants and pretty much gone with convention.)

One peculiarity is found in the important phrase “Next year in Jerusalem!” I chose to transliterate into biYerushalayim. Most people are not familiar with the specific letter-dropping and vowel-change rule pertaining to the word birushalayim. The latter, which is correct, does not easily look or sound like it contains the name of this special place and symbol of Redemption.

Then there is the migraine inducing Hebrew transliterated title case. I decided on rules, such as capitalizing the key word rather than the first letter in a Hebrew word consisting of a one-letter article, conjunction, or preposition followed by a verb, noun, or another preposition. Thus, v’Nomar l’Fanav is a title, while in a text the same phrase would be written v’nomar l’fanav. (If starting a sentence, it would be V’nomar l’fanav.)

I am ready to leave this playground; it takes a lot of time, and at times I wonder if it is worth it. Well, my answer is, “Absolutely!” 

And Last . . .

Since I started my Jewish tapestry project in 2007, I have enjoyed weaving Passover-related themes, such as Elijah, the seder plate, wild poppies in Israel, and a six-piece series on (my first Shabbat Torah chanting), Shirat haYam (Song of the Sea) But living with Out of the Narrows on my mind for several months incited the necessary spark to expand and finish the series The Whimsical Haggadah A Colorful Prayerbook. Started in 2008, it has grown from a handful to about 70 pieces. Maybe one day I’ll turn them into a traditional-textless Haggadah companion.

Partly because I am a Jew-by-choice I worriedly, [[[ shyly, apprehensively ]]] remind myself to put in extra efforts to feel that I can truly stand behind my work when it is being printed, purchased, or publicly displayed. But the driving force to create and my desire to share with people and to contribute to the Jewish story supersede my hesitations. As Rav Nachman of Breslov reminds us: “Life is but a narrow bridge the most important thing is not to be afraid.” 


Pg. 27 / UR’CHATZ
A growing interest in spirituality and ecology inspired our adding a brief ritual text with focus on water. The ritual requires a Miriam’s Cup.
(We included instructions, Hebrew text, transliteration, English translation, and our commentary.)
Pg. 29 / KARPAS:
We added Song of Songs (2:10-16). The scroll is chanted at Passover Festival service in the synagogue. Its erotic sensibility and portrayed female desire relate to both springtime and women.
(We did not include transliteration, assuming the text would most likely be read in English. We included our commentary.)
Pg. 77 / MAGGID
With the last decades’ rise of feminism, women have inserted Seder readings about Miriam. We added a text with its own headline, “MIRIAM’S CUP.” The text includes a Hebrew phrase (here in English only) that is used throughout the Maggid when the story refers to the Torah. The phrase is followed by a Torah verse and reference (Exodus 15:20). In the Torah, this verse (about Miriam and the women dancing on the shore of the Sea of Reeds) follows the poem, Shirat haYam, The Song of the Sea.
(We included the Torah verse in Hebrew, transliteration, English translation, and instructions. References to this text are found in two of the artwork statements, thus, we did not include commentary.)
Pg. 115 / BAREKH
I disagreed strongly to a suggestion of deleting “Sh’fokh Chamatkha” (“Pour out Your Wrath”). We compromised by adding an alternative reading found in a 16th century (!) Haggadah.
(The text was given to us in English and in transliteration to which we made no changes. We included commentary explaining our addition.)
Pg. 119 / BAREKH
As is done in many Haggadot in memory of the victims of the Shoah and in honor of those who survived, we added Maimonides’ statement, Ani Ma’amin, and Hannah Szenes’ poem, Eli, Eli.
(The texts are in Hebrew, transliteration, and English translation. (The lack of space on this page made us decide to not include further references or commentary.)
Pp. 125, 126 / HALLEL
We could have included the whole Hallel, but number of pages were an issue. I selected the Psalm verses that I most frequently hear when the Hallel is chanted on the Festivals. We abbreviated the step, knowing that many (us included) do not recite it in its entirety. I felt that it was important to have a layout that would inspire and facilitate singing of the remaining text.
Pg. 127 / HALLEL
We abbreviated Nishmat Kol Chai.
 Pg. 134 / NIRTZAH
It seemed reasonable to me to delete the Hebrew text in the one-page passage It Happened at Midnight.
(The text is in English translation only.)
Pg. 134 / NIRTZAH
We highlighted the well-known Karev Yom phrase (referring to the End of Days) as it has become a separate song.
(We added transliteration, and English translation.)
Pg. 135 / NIRTZAH
Likewise, it seemed reasonable to me to delete the Hebrew in the one-page passage the Passover Sacrifice.
(The text is in English translation only.)
Pg. 140 / NIRTZAH
We did not include transliteration for Chad Gadya!


· I use an apostrophe for the sounded Sh’va.
· I use an apostrophe before a vowel to indicate the letter ‘Ayyin.
· I do not use an apostrophe for Alef.
· I use apostrophe between an a vowel sound and an Alef within a word. (Example: ha’adam.)
· I do not use hyphen within a word.
· I do not use two apostrophes next to each other. (Thus, sometimes it is not clear what the one apostrophe indicates.)
· I use ah for Kamatz-Hey endings of singular, feminine nouns and adjectives, and in the accusative of direction.
· I use kh for Khaf and Kaf Sofit.
· I use i instead of ee.