Szyk took pride in his Jewish heritage and explored Jewish themes continuously throughout his long career. The literature of The Bible—The Song of Songs, The Book of Ruth, and The Book of Job—provided the perfect complement to his beautiful illuminations. Historical heroes like Moses, Judith, and David, underdogs who defeated tyrants to secure a better life for their people, inspired some of his most memorable work. And his masterful Passover Haggadah is, of course, his greatest work of Judaica.
Yet Szyk’s interest in his heritage was not limited to the triumphs of the past. He was equally moved by the bravery of contemporary Jews, whether they established settlements in Palestine, fought the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, or declared independence for the State of Israel. To emphasize the continuity between the heroes of history and those of the modern world, he fused past and present in the same image. For instance, his masterful Statute of Kalisz places contemporary Polish-Jewish soldiers alongside 13th century kings. In the Szyk Haggadah, the white-bearded, muscular Moses faces down swastika-wearing Egyptians. In Szyk’s tribute to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Jewish fighters are like modern-day Samsons.
Szyk saw his own accomplishments as an outgrowth of his love and devotion to his people. As he once said, “I am but a Jew praying in art, and if I have succeeded to some degree, if I have gain the power of reception among the elite of the world, I owe it all to the teachings, traditions, and eternal virtues of my people.” By extension, the Jewish people owe the most spectacular Judaica of the 20th century to the hand of Arthur Szyk.