La Jolla’s Galeria Jan is home to several copies of the Sarajevo
Haggadah, a Passover manual with the history of the Jewish diaspora in
By Zach Reff
In Galeria JAN, a small art gallery next to La Jolla Cove, a treasure
hides among the brightly colored paintings. While examining the contemporary,
Eastern European masterpieces this gallery features, don’t be surprised
if you hear whispers of tragedy and salvation, hope and remembrance in
the air. Galeria Jan, you see, houses copies of an illuminated manuscript
of the story of Passover that miraculously survived centuries of war and
struggle. Biljana Beran, the owner of the gallery, is herself a refugee
from Bosnia who fled during wartime.
The Sarajevo Haggadah is not only one of the most treasured Jewish volumes
in existence, it is also one of the most valuable books in the world.
In 1991 the book was appraised for a value of $700 million, although to
many, it is priceless. Today it lies safely stored under lock and key
thousands of miles away in the National Museum in Sarajevo, Bosnia.
Because of its tremendous historical value, the Haggadah is on permanent
display to the public. The National Museum owns all rights to reprinting
the Haggadah, and even the few thousand copies they have reproduced are
rare and sacred objects.
It is through Beran’s effort and connection with her former home
that the gallery has numerous copies of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah on
display. “I wanted to bring something from Sarajevo that I really
know,” said Beran with a mystical glimmer in her eyes. She was able
to view the actual Haggadah once while her husband was filming a documentary
researching Jewish history in Bosnia. “It was a very rare opportunity,”
The Sarajevo Haggadah was commissioned and created in Spain around 1350
C.E. for a wealthy Jewish family who likely had connection to nobility.
The work is beautifully handwritten on calfskin similar to the material
used for Torah scrolls. It opens with 34 pages of illustrations depicting
the biblical narrative of the creation of the world through the death
of Moses. These illustrations are remarkable and are one of the chief
reasons the book is so important. “All historians who have studied
this book have said that it is not the oldest, but it is certainly the
most beautiful,” said Beran.
Since its creation, the Haggadah has lived a storied existence and survived
many close calls with destruction. It likely left Spain with the hordes
of fleeing Jews in 1492. From notations in the margins, historians have
determined that it surfaced in Italy in the 1500s. It later made its way
to Bosnia and was sold to the government in 1894, but not before a young
girl used some of its pages to practice her homework.
During World War II the Nazis tried to seize the book, but were foiled
by a Muslim museum curator who, at risk to his own life, hid the Haggadah.
Later, during the Bosnian war of the mid 1990s, it was rumored that the
government sold the book to purchase arms. Luckily, these rumors were
false. The Haggadah resurfaced after the war and was later restored and
put on exhibit, where it now rests.
Beran wanted to show the book at her gallery to prove that there is still
beauty after the war; that Judaism still survives. Just like the story
of Passover itself, the Sarjevo Haggadah is a powerful reminder that we
are a people who endure, even through the most trying of times.
Galeria JAN has a number of copies of the Sarajevo Haggdah on display
to the public and for sale. To learn more, or to visit the gallery, call
them at (858) 551-2053 or visit them online at www.galleriajan.com.
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