“Breaking Free,” A Few Words On Yaeli Vogel’s New Artistic Haggadah

In my secular home in small town Ontario, we always did a Passover Seder. The wine wasn’t kosher, and neither was the rack of lamb. But the plate that sat in the middle of the table was porcelain and decorative, and the Charoset was sweet and delicious. My mother would take 4 sips of wine instead of drinking 4 cups, and we never once finished reading the Haggadah. The Artscroll children’s version was my best friend and throughout the years I found great joy in looking at the pictures and pretending I had some understanding of the Exodus story. But the story was not enough to keep us at the table for more than an hour. After flicking some wine on our plates and eating way too much, we’d retreat to the couch and look around the living room for hidden Matzah.

Many Jews spend the Passover Seder anticipating their own Exodus from the table. The Haggadah can feel so long and is filled with plenty of confusing rituals that we often don’t fully understand. It’s nearly impossible to keep an entire family engaged so late at night while the food gets cold in the kitchen and the Four Questions become the Sixteen Questions as each youngest child at the table asserts their right to say them. Even at this age, as the Seder drags on and on, it is often the artwork in the Haggadah (yes, I still use the kids Artscroll addition) that is just physical enough to recenter my focus on the purpose of the evening.

Yaeli Vogel is a self-taught full-time painter who is originally from Israel. Her mother is an artist, and she was always drawing and coloring in an effort to imitate her. When Yaeli got married and finished a degree in special education, she soon realized that the field wasn’t for her. She felt stuck, like she was “living in a body that didn’t belong to her.” She was advised to paint, and that’s what she did. Yaeli started off by creating artwork for her apartment, and one year, for her Sukkah. When her friends and family saw her work, it became clear that her only option was to pursue painting professionally.

Yaeli’s art is “full of layers, depth, movement, and color.” Yaeli learned to paint by watching YouTube videos and by trying out a number of techniques and mediums such as acrylic and oil painting. Through her preferred medium acrylic and brush, she has created a plethora of Judaic inspired art pieces, all of which are high quality and available to purchase on her website. Each piece is extremely unique, spiritual, and flooded with colors. Her painting is an expression of her creative Jewish soul and she takes her work as a full-time painter very seriously.  

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This year Yaeli created an Artistic Haggadah entitled “Breaking Free” which features her own original paintings throughout the pages. Yaeli boldly described the Passover Seder as “brutal and extremely boring.” “I’m always the person to flip through the pages and count how many are left,” she said when we spoke on the phone. She wanted to create something beautiful that people can really enjoy looking at. Yaeli lamented over how long Passover Dvrei Torah can be and how much the Seder can drag on. A lot of the written text can be dense and hard to understand, and while there is the potential for questions to flow like wine, the paintings in the Haggadah effectively offer something else. Much of the artwork in the Haggadah is abstract and open to interpretation. There is plenty for the imagination to do as the paintings open the door for a lot of interesting conversation. The theme of “breaking free” refers to the idea of breaking free from the mind and going within. Yaeli often feels the need to let go of her thoughts in order to let her paint brush run free. Freedom is an integral piece of her artistic process, an idea that is integral to the Passover story as well.

magid, the artistic haggadah

The Artistic Haggadah is much more than a book with illustrations. The Haggadah is a vehicle to showcase artwork. It’s not overly stuffed with paintings, and the paintings vary from literal portraits of Seder materials such as wine cups and Egyptian taskmasters, to abstract interpretations of the plagues and the splitting of the sea. The paintings add a creative twist to the Haggadah and a colorful way to spice up the text we read year after year.

the third cup, the artistic haggadah
yaeli vogel

When Vogel made the decision to paint professionally, she took it very seriously. In the creative world, “money and career are dirty words”, she proclaimed. Vogel doesn’t think this way. While she says that creating art is not about the money, she still treats her business like any professional in any field should. “Once I put my mind to it, it grew very quickly.” The idea to create a Haggadah, of all things came to be when Vogel decided she wanted to create a more tangible product for those who can’t necessarily afford prints. Her artistic Haggadah is the perfect home for her unique and enlightening Jewish art. My heart flew as I flipped through the colorful pages and imagined how fun it would be to have a book of art at my Seder table, perhaps even both nights. Vogel has done a beautiful job of making the Haggadah her own. She’s extremely excited about her unique piece of art, but like many Jews, she’ll be much happier to speak about it after Passover ends.