Jonnie Schnytzer
Constantly between shtetl & avant-garde.

Hitler’s Haggadah & the Black Holes of Jewish Education

If you have never heard of a book titled Hitler’s Haggadah, read on. If you have never heard of it and find the title offensive, all the more reason to read on. Rest assured, Hitler didn’t own a Haggadah and even if he did, a book hasn’t been written about it. This is a piece about the black holes in our Jewish education. I am tempted to cut to the chase, to tell you all about this book I found called ‘Hitler’s Haggadah’ and about the crowdfunding campaign I initiated to revive it, because you could never guess who wrote it or where from. Its dramatic and comical and awe inspiring.

I grew up in the Israeli orthodox educational system. There are many ways to describe what that means. One of them is to say that I learnt near to nothing about North African Jewish thought. Jews have inhabited North Africa for at least two thousand years and the area has produced many towering figured worthy of a monograph at the very least. In much the same way, most of the drashot I hear in synagogue revolve around the same names, time and again. Rashi, Nahmanidies, Hirsch, this Rebbe or that. If your lucky, you’ll be told about an unkown kabbalist. That pretty much sums it up. Not once did I hear or was I taught the teachings of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira, a legendary Moroccan figure of incredible depth, or say, the teachings of the grand Tunisian Rabbi Moshe (Khalfon) ha-Kohen or even a ‘vort’ by the larger-than-life Chief Rabbi of Libya, Yizhak Hai Bukbeza. If you’re Ashkenazi and know of all three, I’ll buy you a coffee and cake.

Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira

That’s the black hole, or one of the black holes (I haven’t even started on Iraq or Persia yet) facing the Jewish educational system. In truth, this is a problem which concerns every Jew regardless of their religious affiliation or cultural background. After all, what does it mean to be Jewish if not to constantly learn and be inspired from the story of our past, a story woven with multicolored fabrics from all over the world? I guess what I am saying is that my Jewish identity does not start and end in East Galicia. True, it is a source of great inspiration and a part of where I come from. But surely the picture is bigger than my shtetel. Isn’t it about time that we all started practicing what we always teach? We always talk about how we come from many different places and now, now that we are back home, whatever happened to learning, adopting and being inspired by the other parts of our mosaic?

A couple of years ago, I was given the incredible honor of being ‘Chatan Torah’ in my synagogue. How or why they chose me is beyond me, but they did. As a result, I took upon myself a cool project. I decided that I’d upload a weekly YouTube video about the Torah portion. I am proud to say that they were brief, bilingual and I never missed a week. Once I finished my first year, this year’s project took an even cooler turn. Each week, I introduce a different North African Jewish Giant and their take on the Torah portion. We are now in the second book of Exodus and I cannot even begin to express how much I have learnt, how much of a black hole my Jewish identity had experienced beforehand. If you check out my videos, you’ll be amazed to see that some of the figures don’t even have a Hebrew Wikipedia page and more don’t have an English one.

For Hebrew speakers, there is no excuse. Many of these texts are online (although a great many are still waiting in the form of a sea, no, an ocean of neglected manuscripts) and more and more books are being published. Though to be honest, it seems that there these revived publications are the sole interest of Jews who come from North Africa and I must say, that is perplexing. Aren’t we the least bit curious to learn about one another? To be given the opportunity to take the best of both worlds? As for Anglo Jewry, far less attention is given to these black holes in our Jewish education.

Enough about the negative, let’s move on to the positive. So, beyond the videos, or perhaps as a result of my research into North African Jewish thought, I came across a remarkable text, one unlike anything I personally had ever seen before. A text called Hitler’s Haggadah.

Hitler’s Haggadah was published in Morocco, in Judeo-Arabic, around 1944. An anonymous author does what the sages told us we should all be doing. We should see ourselves as if the story is about us, about what is happening in our very generation. And indeed, while sticking rigidly to the classic structure of the “Magid” section of the Haggadah, the author rewrites it to tell the story of World War Two, the Holocaust and the Allied victory over the Nazis – all from the view point of a North African Jew. The text is deep, dramatic and sometimes comical. Above all, it carries an inspiring message of Jewish unity, solidarity & a shared fate. So for example, in Hitler’s Haggadah, the ones being kicked out of Egypt are the Italian soldiers and this time it is their Macaroni dough that doesn’t have enough time to rise.

One might think it is tasteless to have chosen such a title but bear in mind that Hitler’s Haggadah was not a traditional Haggadah but more of a supplement, giving a rewritten take, a modern reading of the Magid section. More importantly, a look into the cultural context proves that there were many such similar texts. To mention one – Hitler’s Megillah, the same idea but for Purim and it was actually intended to be read in synagogue!

I decided to translate this fascinating text into English and publish an edition with a Hebrew and English translation along with artistic illustrations. To do so, I initiated a crowdfunding campaign to secure funding for the project. If you would relate to the words I have written, and if you would like to support this campaign and receive a beautiful copy of this historic text, click here –  http://bit.ly/2vsNyCc

p.s. I hope to publish a book based on the YouTube videos, weekly commentaries on the Torah from North Africa. Stay tuned!

About the Author
Jonnie Schnyzter, author of Mossad thriller The Way Back, is probably the only PhD candidate in Jewish Philosophy who can say that he once beat the head of the IDF Naval commandos in a swimming race. Previously, Jonnie has served as Advisor to the CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel, taught and led Israel advocay delegations with StandWithUs and directed the strategic partnerships of the Israel-Asia Center. Jonnie is a passionate Essendon Bombers supporter.
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