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The Synergy Card

A Passover Relic
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 its legacy.
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,” said Beran.

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

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