- Posted March 22, 2013 by
NEW YORK, New York
Inquisition shame Spaniard to create stunning illuminated Haggadah App for Passover
The idea for the Haggadah began when Spanish scribe and software developer Ramon Abajo, 56, fell in love with the illuminated manuscripts of Medieval Spain. Abajo wanted to recreate that beauty for the modern age, so began studying the best examples. "As a calligrapher, I thought some of the most impressive work in Spain's history were the beautiful Passover Seder books, haggadot. They were created in cooperation by both Jews and Gentiles, everyone bringing their skill to tell the amazing story of the Exodus."
But just as these Passover books reached their highest excellence, they were swept away by the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and the Inquisition. "This was the beginning of a decline in so many arts," says Abajo, "and if I wanted to revive illuminated manuscripts in a modern digital form, I decided that I also needed to bring back the collaboration between Jews and Gentiles."
Abajo reached out to famed Jewish haggadah collector and expert, Ben "Bentsi" Cohen who owns more than 2,000 haggadot in his private collection. At first Cohen thought the idea was strange, but when he saw the quality of work being crafted by Abajo and his team of artists at Downhill Publishing, he became their official advisor and helped to direct the creation of the text for the Ultimate Digital Hagaddah.
The result is stunning, a resurrection in look and feel of the great illuminated manuscripts of Medieval Spain. The iPad app is 107 pages (doubling that on iPhone and Android), including 100 original Biblical illustrations from artists Esther Pinto and Alberto Fernandez that juxtapose Biblical scenes with famous New York synagogues. This style follows the rich tradition of ancient illuminated Spanish haggadot which often placed Biblical miniatures near Spanish palaces and castles.
But technology is not only making this sumptuous experience accessible, it aims to improve upon it. The Ultimate Digital Haggadah 2.0 allows the reader to watch as each piece of artwork is illuminated step by step, sharing in the creation process. In addition, the App comes with a full narration by Walter Krochmal and beautiful Sephardic Jewish music by famed musician Gerard Edery.
"The Haggadah App is a delightful method of bridging the old and the new," says Rabbi Hayyim Angel, Chief Rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel, "the painstaking efforts to beautify our sacred texts are nothing short of breathtaking. And harnessing this tradition to build community is a worthy effort."
Working on the Haggadah has had a life-changing effect on Ramon Abajo. "I have lived in the United States for 26 years, but the area I came from in Spain was historically Jewish. Who knows if my ancestors were Jews? Working on the Haggadah has been like coming home." Abajo has become an active member of ASEI (Spain-Israel Solidarity Association) and the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain. He has even enrolled his son in a Jewish day school.
Now Abajo hopes his creation, the Ultimate Digital Haggadah, will allow others to experience what made him fall in love with Jewish heritage. "The interface, the narration, the music, the biblical animations, the feel and look invite users to submerge themselves in the spirit of Passover the minute they start up the application on their iPads, iPhones, or Android devices."