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.»

Best iPhone and iPad apps for celebrating Passover

Just like at the first Passover Seder, Jews around the world will gather with their iPads around the traditional festive meal and retell the miracle of our freedom from Egyptian slavery.

OK, maybe they didn’t have iPads at the first Seder, but you can be sure that lots of Jews will have their iPads out at this year’s Seder. Thankfully, there are plenty of apps this year that can keep you connected to the action and otherwise engaged during some of the “less” interesting parts.

The Passover Seder is the meal that involves the telling of the story of the Biblical Exodus from Egypt.  The narrative of the journey from slavery to freedom is called the Haggadah and it is filled with stories, traditional food and blessings and sometimes regional or familial customs.

Ultimate Digital Haggadah

If you want to be “green” this Passover, consider using a digital Haggadah. There are several versions in the App store:

The Ultimate Digital Haggadah, from Downhill Publishing  is really a work of art.  Pages look they came out of a rare illuminated Haggadah (probably because they did) and the Hebrew is magnificent. This one is a bit “traditional” in translations and not exactly “gender neutral” in its God references – but it is beautiful to behold.

Downhill Publishing


80 Eighth Ave., Suite 1107
New York, NY 10011

Tel: 1+(800)203 0612

Ramon Abajo, CEO

Todd Blackmore, New Projects Director

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