The Haggadah, Symbolically Speaking

Steve Lipman ● The New York Jewish Week

On the cover of Martin Bodek’s new book about Passover, three small pictograms set against a stark white background catch the reader’s attention: a man speaking, a sea shell and a ram.

Welcome to “The Emoji Haggadah.”

For the graphically challenged, here’s the translation: “Haggadah” literally means “the telling,” hence the speaking man. The shell stands for the shel in “Haggadah shel Pesach,” Haggadah of Pesach. And the ram, of course, represents the lamb that was sacrificed by the Israelite slaves in ancient Egypt on the eve of the first seder meal. Put it all together, in emojese, and you get a book that provides the blueprint for the Passover seder, but without a single word of text.

A 43-year-old language aficionado and IT specialist who lives in Passaic, N.J., Bodek is the author of five previous books (which include a King James Bible-type of the George W. Bush presidency and a putative diary of the Bible’s Noah). He calls his Haggadah the first one completely in emoji. The symbols, designed in 1999 by Japanese programmer Shigetaka Kurita  (emoji means “picture character”), are used to add emotional punch to text messages and e-mails and have become the language of choice for a generation reared on texting and smartphones.

Bodek’s “1.0” self-published Haggadah, is a 128-page, full-color nothing-but-emojis version; an expanded, 184-page “2.0” version published by Ktav comes complete with a “how-to” guide, glossary and some other explanatory notes in standard English. It includes all of the traditional Haggadah text, says Bodek.

The idea for “The Emoji Haggadah” grew out of his synagogue’s Purim party two years ago. At the party, his wife and three young children all were dressed as various emoji figures. It caught Bodek’s imagination, so he set out to create an all-emoji synopsis of the Megillah. He then asked himself, “What’s next?”

“The first thing that entered my mind was a full-length Haggadah,” Bodek says, calling emojis the modern form of hieroglyphics — pictograms that convey a message. “It’s a universal language,” if not one that is totally comprehensive — there are no specific emoji symbols for exodus, or Purim.

Bodek says it was hard coming up with acceptable emoji symbols (he says there are about 3,000 of them) for some of the seder’s rabbinical names and Pesach concepts. Like charoset.

Bodek put his imagination, sense of humor and poetic license to work.

The traditional seder food represents the brick and mortar used by the Israelite slaves, so he finally decided on the mortar board worn at graduation ceremonies.

For the Four Questions, four question marks; for rabbis, rabbits; for “forever,” the number 4 and an evergreen tree. As for God, the emoji symbol is the one for “the name,” the literal meaning of Hashem, traditional Jews’ name for God. 

Bodek plans to “absolutely” use his Haggadah at his seders this year. His daughter Naava, 13, says her friends enjoyed looking it over. “They picked it up” at the Bodek home. “They ‘got’ it.”

So they’ll surely get the bright red circle and the crashing wave (Red Sea) and the person walking, the outbox arrow and the flag of Egypt (the exodus from Egypt).

But even they (and surely their elders) will likely have to work at the brain-teasing string of six emojis — inbox arrow, calendar page, smiley face, ram, inbox arrow and flag of Israel — that marks the yearning of Jews around the world at the end of the seder: Next year in Jerusalem.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s