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March 29, 1996 - Image 15

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-03-29

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Am*

When The lifikomen'
Is A Haggadah

411111 -7---

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PHIL JACOBS EDITOR

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A page from the 700-year-old Haggadah.

0

n Passover, Jewish chil-
dren customarily search
for the afikomen.
When they find this trea-
sured piece of matzah, the result
is typically a prize.
For photojournalist Edward
Serotta, the treasured object of
his search was not a piece of
matzah, but the Haggadah itself
— in this case, a locked away,
rarely seen Haggadah, a 700-
year-old Spanish edition of the
Jewish exodus from Egypt.
For the Muslims and Serbs as
well as the Jews of Sarajevo, this
Haggadah holds a message
of hope and freedom that makes
the volume of sacred impor-
tance. For collectors, the Hag-
gadah is valued at nearly
$10 million. As a symbol, it
is important enough that
Mr. Serotta's search was rife
with governmental roadblocks,
discouraging bureaucracy and
even well-armed security
guards.
His search for the Haggadah
is the subject of an April 2 ABC
"Nightline" television program.
Mr. Serotta visited Detroit as
well as other American cities
last year while promoting his
book, Survival in Sarajevo: How
a Jewish Community Came to
the Aid of Its City, which chron-
icles the lives of Sarajevo's Jew-
ish community,
The "Nightline" project hap-
pened after Mr. Serotta met Ted
Koppel, the program's host, in
Berlin.
"While he and I were strolling
around the Soviet war memori-
al, he asked me what I was
working on. When I told him
that I didn't think it was exact-
ly TV material, he insisted that

it was more than TV material;
it was great TV material."
The Haggadah was hidden by
the Muslims from the Nazis.
When war returned in the
1990s, it once again vanished.
Last April, Bosnian President
Alija Izetbegovic showed the
Haggadah briefly to the inter-
national press in the city's sole
remaining synagogue. Since
then, rumors circulated that the
government had sold off the
Haggadah.
When Mr. Serotta finally re-
ceived permission to see the
Haggadah, it was at an undis-
closed location under the watch
of heavily armed security
guards. The guards were even
hesitant to permit the filming of
the Haggadah. Professor Enver
Imamovic, the director of
Bosnia's national museum, took
the leather-bound volume out of
a sealed box and permitted Mr.
Serotta less than a minute of on-
camera viewing.
In that viewing, Mr. Serotta's
cameraman clearly captured the
vibrancy of the colors of the
printed images and the bold He-
brew type on the leather pages.
"The search wasn't really
about the book," said Mr. Serot-
ta. "It was the message. This
was about a 1,000-day seder,"
he said in reference to the siege
of Sarajevo. "Jews were active
in taking care of Muslims and
Serbs and this city during that
time.
'When you see the Haggadah,
you think, 'Gee, it's awfully
small. Are they sure they got the
right book?" It's so small to be so
highly prized. But you also have
a certain awe because of the way
these people cling to it." 0

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