The following is an interview with Ari Goldman, author of the commentary on the In Every Generation: The JDC Haggadah.
Q. What is something you would like readers to come away with after reading your book?
Ari Goldman: We don’t have pictures of the Exodus; we only have the words of the haggadah to tell the story. But what if we could see the Jews leaving Egypt? What would they look like? Open this haggadah and you’ll see. You’ll see people oppressed coming to freedom. You’ll see people hungry being fed. You’ll see the naked being clothed and the sick being healed. The message of this haggadah is that the Exodus didn’t only happen in ancient times. It is happening in our lifetimes, too.
“In every generation, one is obligated to consider him- or herself as if he or she had been liberated from Egypt,” the haggadah tells us. In a more literal sense, in every generation we are liberated. And even more than that, in every generation we are obligated to help liberate the oppressed. I hope that this haggadah motivates readers not only to remember but to act.
Q. Which teachers/educators/writers have had the greatest impact upon you?
A.G.: Rabbi Chaim Siegel was my rebbe at Mesifta of Crown Heights. With gentleness and humor he taught me to love Judaism and Jewish texts. Mr. Leo Taubes was my English composition teacher at Yeshiva University. He made me believe in myself as a writer. I studied comparative religion at Harvard with Professor Diana Eck. She taught me that to study other religions is to enrich the understanding of your own.
Q. Which biblical character do you most admire or identify with?
A.G.: Jacob. He bent rules. He tricked his father, outwitted his brother, but he still gets to be a patriarch. Good deal.
Q. What books are you currently reading and/or studying?
A.G.: My reading tastes are rather eclectic. My wife is reading the works of the Italian writer Alberto Moravia and she gave me his novel Conjugal Love, which I just finished. Before that I read A Devil to Play by Jasper Rees, a memoir of a middle aged man re-learning to play the French horn. I am now reading Oscar Hijuelos’s Mr. Ives’ Christmas, a novel about faith in the face of loss.
Q. What advice would you give to authors writing a book in the same genre as you?
A.G.: I write in different genres but my advice is the same for each: read, read, read and then draw from your own experience. This is true of journalism, true of literature and true of commentary. For the JDC Haggadah I like to say that I drew on 120 seders because I recently turned 60. Something from nearly every seder that I attended is in this book.
Q. What is your next writing project?
A.G.:I am writing a book called The Late Starters Orchestra, about playing the cello as an adult alongside my teenage son.