By Avrum Ashery, Visual Communications Advisor to the U.S. Congress- Retired Recently, A friend of mine mentioned that he was very impressed with an Israeli film he had just seen called “Beneath the Helmet which attempts to humanize the young IDF soldiers contrasting the slanted press the IDF and Israel have received from around the world. I asked him where he had seen the film? and he responded…at the DC JCC- so there we are again… talking to the convinced- ourselves! This again begs the hasbarah question… where is it? Where are the creative, impacting messages geared to the American public in the media about the many Israeli accomplishments in energy, medical advancements, new agricultural advancements for developing countries enabling them to feed their people, all the accomplishments that would impress most Americans, just by their own cultural orientation- achievement. In the Jewish community we are often talking about the bad wrap that Israel has received in the media, but I am now feeling that our Jewish community has yet to really understand what defines media outside of newspaper editorials and slanted TV news broadcasts. The vital question is how do we create impacting media messages for American public consumption? I watch TV, listen to radio, notice outdoor billboards when on the road, read ads in newspapers and magazines, see poster ads on sides of buses, in subway stations and airports and I have yet to see any messages about Israeli accomplishments, no less short creative and impacting. This is how you reach and educate the American public. Today they still remain unenlightened about Israel and still given the slanted view by the TV news and biased newspaper editorials. Last spring I attended a lecture at Beth El Congregation in Bethesda where former Israeli Ambassador spoke before 500 attending. When asked about…Where is the Israeli hasbarah, as all the people nearby murmured,” yeah, there’s nothing out there!” he responded – “We don’t do that type of hasbarah, but depend on our American friends and their organizations to do it for us or with us.” I could see everyone’s mouth drop open-“WHAT?” Maybe I oversensitive to this because visual communications and media are my profession beyond Judaic art, but it’s very clear to most that there is a major need for all our Israel advocating organizations come together of one mind and create the needed P.R. that has yet to exist building a wonderful image of Israel not to American Jews again, but to the American public, using all possible media tools. The results will be gaining the needed American support in times of calm as opposed to us REACTING in times of crises, the typical Jewish limited media effort.
By Avrum (Avy) Ashery Often I have heard from other artists about their work of art—-“it’s an expression of my feelings and one day it will hit you and maybe you will understand.” I come from a school of communications and was trained to create a visual, either in graphic design or in the fine arts that sends a message, sometimes strong with impact. For the past 40 years, I have attempted to accomplish just that, using my training, both in my secular and Jewish designs/illustrations. It has been my desire and goal to use my work in creating visual messages that inspire Jewish interest, pride and identity…today all problematic factors in the Jewish community. As a Jewish educator, my hobby for over 40 years, I have come to know and understand that there is now a big challenge to our Jewish future and at its core is our Jewish educational process. Understanding and appreciating such factors as our history, philosophy, traditions and values can be highly successful tools as we attempt to inspire our community- both young and not so young in promoting Jewish continuity as they grasp just how unique our Jewish way of life has been in civilization and human history. Often these Jewish life factors need inspiration both inside and outside the classroom. As a Jewish educator, I have observed just how effective Jewish music has been used as a tool of inspiration as we sing in Hebrew, Ladino and Yiddish. This has not been quite the case for Judaic art/craft outside of Judaic craft used ritually. Other aspects of the Judaic visual art has too often been seen with a crayon mentality by Jewish educators and leadership, yet rarely seen as a serious inspirational tool in Jewish learning. I wonderful educational tool for showcasing Jewish values and creativity is the JUDAIC ART GALLERY which could be an integral part of the learning process in a Jewish day school, or synagogue religious school, federation community facility, adult learning programs or Jewish Community Center, but such is not the case today. Judaic artists today are now starting to hear…”we no longer have a priority for Judaic art, but rather Jews creating any secular art or just secular art itself.” Or the Judaic art gallery that was …is no more!. When Judaic art is properly marketed and promoted to both Jewish and non-Jewish communities, it can be a fine extra revenue source as well as a good symbol of Jewish continuity when being given as a gift for the home. Having experienced this personally and observed this in too many Jewish communities with other Judaic artists, I have now taken to the road to reach out to the American Jewish community to educate, explain and guide them down a more constructive direction in establishing meaningful needed Judaic art galleries that will serve as important tools for Jewish education and inspire needed Jewish identity and continuity.
Have you ever been to a circus? Well, I went to a wonderful one this past weekend. At Moriah Congregation, the 11th biennial All-Judaic Art & Jewelry Fair was held in Deerfield, Illinois from February 25-28 and it was kind of like a circus. As an active participant in making this event a success, and now as the current president of The American Guild of Judaic Art, I can reflect on the excitement and the sincere appreciation of Judaic art by Chicago area collectors who attended the Moriah show. Some AGJA members joined other talented contemporary Judaic artists to showcase their beautiful and meaningful work. The AGJA’s Online exhibition is another example of bringing more of this kind of art to a wider audience year-round. On Sunday morning on February 21st, Moriah volunteers and staff walked into a totally empty building that magically became transformed. All of the furniture had been removed from two major rooms in the building which became completely bare. A troop of men and women came in to measure out the booths and laid the tape. Next, rooms were wired for electricity, each booth had its own lighting and clip on lamps so that work displayed would be well lit. On Monday, all of the many grids went up in the various rooms and on Tuesday, tables, waste baskets, chairs, and most important of all, boxes of magnificent art went into the booths. Wednesday, the artists began arriving and opening the boxes and putting up the fabulous art which would be for sale beginning the following evening. Thursday, all of the artists arrived and finished their booths. The show began for our donors on Thursday evening, but before they arrived, those of us who had worked on the show took a moment to simply open the doors to the rooms and revel in the magnificence of the Judaic art and jewelry which surrounded us. It was like being in the most wonderful castle, surrounded by beautiful things, hannukiot; candlesticks, mezzuzot, challah coverings, challah boards, tzdakah boxes, a complete sukkah, wall hangings of various scenes in the Torah and in Israel, seder plates, matza plates, omer counters, dreidels, and every other ritual or thematic Jewish object one could imagine, in any medium one could imagine, all surrounded by the most beautiful jewelry which could be imagined. Then came the crowds. There were times when we literally couldn’t get down the aisles. And then it was over. The artists began taking down their masterpieces which weren’t sold and re-packing them to go to their next show at the 2nd Annual All-Judaic & Jewelry show held at the Hebrew Educational Alliance which began on March 3rd in Denver and continues through March 7. Taking down the show takes much less time. We are left with an empty room again, but with such fond memories of both the artists and their work. It was a glowing moment. The American Guild of Judaic Art was well represented at both shows and we are delighted to announce that we have two new AGJA members already and are hoping for many more. This year’s on-line exhibition was curated by Arthur Feldman of the Arthur Feldman Gallery of Judaica in Highland Park, Illinois. What I said above about the art which was shown at Moriah at the end of February is indicative of the magnificent art which was submitted by our members – many of whom were participants in the Moriah show. Thank you for participating the AGJA’s 2016 On-Line Exhibition and for being a member of the Guild. Should you ever have any questions about the Guild feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website: www.jewishart.org Karen Walanka, AGJA President Arthur Feldman, 2016 AGJA On-Line Exhibit Juror
What area of Jewish Life, from Jewish tradition or from Jewish text, is most important to you to pass on to future generations with your works? Juror’s Statement by Lawrence Schloss. MA ‘English The question raised by the assigned essay topic affirms the positive point of view that art possesses the intrinsic quality and force to effect change; that Jewish artists can draw from Jewish tradition or text and create art for a variety of viewing audiences. The 3 essays I read are imbued with a sense of hope, sincerity, insight and knowledge relative to the importance of passing on to future generations integral elements of Judaism, each essay citing specific and concrete examples of how the writer’s art serves to fulfil this important function: One essay broaches the idea that the artist’s intention is to reveal, “The intrinsic beauty of our year round traditions.” The writer goes on to state that she hopes her, “children, grandchildren and those who viewed the works, would better understand how Judaism can bring joy into one’s life.” The essay is a beautiful expression of her desire to convey, “The message of appreciating the intrinsic beauty of Jewish concepts and traditions, which would bode well for future generations.” The essay concludes with the noteworthy desire that her art, “May be a spark to illuminate its (Judaism’s) significance and beauty.” How inspirational! A second essay proudly proclaims that, “Jewish artists are truly blessed….A long, rich cultural Jewish history spanning nearly the whole world…” The writer presents a brilliant explanation why she chooses to create Chassidic art as opposed to, say, art reflecting images from the Holocaust. Her description of Chassidic art, “a fading line between harsh reality and what the mind and soul need” is a manifestation of the writer’s profound sensitivity to history, art and Judaism. It concludes with the wonderful assertion that, “Art makes the world within visible…especially the Chassidic world.” The essay reflects a keen insight into art and Judaism; the tone and voice is quite remarkable! A third essay is a powerful, personal expression of the writer’s 40 year commitment to use, “my work in creating visual messages that inspire Jewish interest, pride and identity… today all problematic factors in the Jewish community.” He goes on to state that Jews face, “a big challenge to our Jewish future and at its core is our Jewish educational process.” The essay maintains a vibrant and consistent point of view, as clearly stated in the title: Judaic Art, Needed Tool of Jewish Continuity. It is a moving and brilliant plea for the increased role of Jewish education. I am moved by the writer’s obvious passion regarding art, education, and Judaism! As Juror, I am highly impressed by each of these fine essays: they are passionate expressions of the role of Judaic art relative to Judaism. Each essay possesses its own voice, tone, illustrations, and insight relating to the assigned topic. May I congratulate all three writers! The winner of the 2016 essay contest is Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D. Shoshannah’s Winning Essay: Jewish artists are truly blessed. A long, rich cultural Jewish history spanning nearly the whole world offers us a plethora of subjects to choose from. What we show the world depends on our tastes, preferences, experiences and backgrounds, where we are now, both spiritually and artistically. As a Western European Ashkenazy Jew who grew up in Holland, lived in Berlin and moved to New York, people often ask why I don’t make Holocaust art? Much of my work depicts the Eastern European Chassidic world before it vanished in the Holocaust. I discovered Chassidic stories in my father’s study in Holland. They are about human nature, aspirations, adversaries and adversities —about never giving up. They embody the supernatural, magic, a fading line between harsh reality and what the mind and soul need and crave. Chassidic stories speak to the heart and soul! This is the kind of Jewish heritage I want to pass on to others, like a torch. Like Beethoven’s music, Chassidic stories are alive and inspiring, no matter what time or country we live in. You will often see an antique shabbat lamp hanging in my drawings, a so-called Judenstern. Its oil-lights fan out like a star to all sides, bathing the room in the peaceful glow of Shabbat. Outside, wolves howl in the cold darkness; inside, there is an island of peace and serenity. A little light can disperse a lot of darkness. That is what I want to pass on to future generations – our heritage, our pride. We are still here and very much alive! My artist statement is based on a story about the Kotzker Rebbe, who had no Chassidic background. One day, he heard a story-teller in the street talk about the Besht. Despite his ideas about those “buba-mayses,” (simple children’s stories), he stopped, listened, became a follower of the Baal Shem, a famous Chassidic Master. I am not a Rebbe. I am an artist. But I understand how he felt. That’s why with my brushes I light the lamp to bathe my canvas and my world in a golden glow… “Art makes the world within visible. My art is a tribute to music and to our heritage, especially the Chassidic world. The Kotzker Rebbe listened to a story-teller in the street and stated: ‘He told what he wanted and I heard what I needed’. That is art.” Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D., Maggidah Brooklyn NY
SECTION 3 OF 3 We will need to take a deep breath and start teaching our Jewish leadership- Lay, Rabbinical Educational and organizational to take a new more serious look at what we do as it surely a basic ingredient for Jewish continuity, Identity and pride…. and they all need as much help as possible! I know this coming from a rabbinical and educational family first hand. We as Jewish creators will need to roll up our sleeves even higher than in the past to start generating new life and appreciation for all that we have done and continue to do for hidur mitzvah not only for philosophical, spiritual reasons, but for very pragmatic reasons as well… such as generating extra needed revenue when marketed properly to all the community beyond their own membership. A quality Judaic art gallery can be an excellent extra teaching tool for their religious/day school teachers. A well marketed quality Judaic art gallery can enhance the profile and stature of the institution in the community, not with the exhibits, but when the guest artist lectures and presents workshops that can be covered by local cultural arts newspaper editors. Question: Do you think starting early before the holidays or using “Jewish Arts Month” would be a good time to start educating ? This would include synagogues, federations, JCCs, Jewish day schools and Jewish organizations. Avrum (Avy) Ashery 301-279-0648, Rockville, Maryland, Asherydesign@verizon.net Website: asherydesign.info
Beyond Bagels and Matzah ball Soup – Support for our Jewish Culture and its creative arts Section 2 0f 3 parts So how do we turn this direction around to help us and our American Jewish community stimulate interest, appreciation and even love what the creative Judaic artist does to enhance and beautify the many aspects of Jewish living? All those who have experienced this present state of Jewish cultural arts frustrations need to roll up our smock sleeves and start down the road of being shlichim, emissaries, teachers, promoters, speakers wherever possible within our Jewish community institutions. We need to connect to our synagogues who don’t have Judaic art galleries (not permanent art displays that never change), to Jewish day schools who also don’t have Judaic art galleries, Jewish organizational facilities as in Federations, Hadassah, B’nai Brith, university Hillel facilities that can not only serve the need to display the latest in quality Judaic art/craft but also serve as extra needed educational tools to their Jewish studies teachers, a fine source to generate extra needed revenue and an opportunity to invite the many Judaic creators to be guest speakers on their lecture series besides authors and political personalities. There will be a need to encourage our many Jewish educators to use our Judaic art as serious academic tools for learning in the same mind set as the work on Gemarah, Talmud and Jewish history. Often the Judaic arts is overlooked as an academic teaching tool in many Jewish educational institutions, except for using crayons and coloring paper. I have found that Judaic art can be very effective teaching tools to our non-Jewish friends and churches in cultivating understanding and respect, again rarely used by our leadership. In my community alone- The Washington, DC metro area (The District, Virginia and Maryland), where we have 94 congregations, 5 Jewish day schools, 3 JCCs and a few national Jewish organization facilities, I count 3 JCC art galleries with no priority for Judaic themes, 2 large congregations that do have wonderful exhibit space but don’t care to use the space for Judaic art exhibits and one large congregation near me who had a Judaic art gallery 6 years ago after I showed them how to set one up. Recently, a congregational leader called me after hearing one of my lectures on this topic, He asked me to help him convince his fine arts committee to return back to Judaic art exhibits from the secular shows they have been showing the last 4 years. He felt a known Judaic artist would convince them sooner than he, a physicist, could do. This conversation continues. Question: Would you be will to be part of this educational outreach movement in your own community? I would think it needs to start with Jewish leadership…Rabbinical, cantorial, educational and lay to open some doors and stimulate and educational change. Avy Ashery, Rockville, Md. 301-279-0648, Ashery email@example.com
SECTION ONE OF 3 PARTS Beyond Bagels and Matzah ball Soup – Support for our Jewish Culture and its creative arts -WHERE? In recent years many Judaic art creators have now experienced low art/craft sales within our American Jewish community- a very frustrating feeling as we put out our best creativity to help enhance Jewish living for our Jewish families and even non-Jewish friends, synagogues and Jewish organizations fully expecting to earn a modest living from a beautiful works in the same manner other respected professions do. In our frustration, we would do well to try and search out some of the reasons why this is happening and also find some pragmatic ways to help turn this around to the former years when Jews felt excited to own a work of Jewish content well beyond the usual shul gift shop which cause enthusiasm and pride to see and use such a Judaic piece that related to their Jewish history and ancestors as far back as 3000 years, while also relating to Jewish life today. When we notice the floor beneath our feet start to crumble, we need to lift up the floor and study the possible cause of the trouble. Observing the foundations and supports from below we might see some erosions at our base for the past 10-15 years that translates from our Jewish identity, pride, Jewish identity and other aspects of Jewish values- BUT WHY? Could it be that one main root cause of this slow erosion has been our American Jewish educational systems – the Classic Bar Mitzvah factory system most went through, but with few getting past. Most often, the system still used today produces many who were just able to read enough Hebrew to chant their haftorah with not much more than childish Bible stories and with scant interpretation of derived values, real history and philosophy of a people, their people, who created a civilization far more advanced than many people living near them, such as those who accepted human sacrifice as a normal way of life. A day of rest, their totally new concept was introduced when all others were worked to the bone. Having this major learning deficit and not having much more continuing Jewish education with in depth understanding, thus grows a major disconnect from Jewish life, values from the most liberal/progressive to the more traditional/observant and all the in between. Yes, some manage to get through these deficiencies, but very few, as we look at our total Jewish numbers. This has been confirmed by the recent PEW report. How do I know this? Having been a Jewish educator, I have spent over 40 years in our Jewish educational system all over the U.S. observing this sad reality. At the same time I have been a professional graphic designer in media and a Judaic artist/designer. Question: How do you feel about this issue? Any of you had similar experiences, either positive or negative? Avy Ashery, Rockville, Md. 301-279-0648, Asherydesign@verizon.net
By Flora Rosefsky How can a work of art express the joyful expressions of the calendar of Jewish festivals and holidays all at once and have the viewer feel a sense of pride about their connection to Jewish tradition? The opportunity for me to design a large community art quilt for The Jewish Community Center of Binghamton, New York in 1990, showed me how visual art could enrich the life of those who worked on this kind of project, but also for the hundreds of children, teens and adults who saw this work of art installed in a JCC public space. Calling the work Threads of Tradition, many of those who sewed my applique designs were brought back to their Jewish roots. Working with fabric cutouts, and piecing them together as a group, meeting once a week over a period of several months proved to be a way to reconnect with Judaism, especially for one particular participant who had retrenched from the her synagogue, yet came back to feeling good about Judaism again because of the JCC quilt project. For those more familiar with Judaism as well as non-Jewish people – seeing the art quilt with many holidays visualized in one place, was a step to deeper understanding and appreciation for the Jewish religion and our traditions. The Roberson Center for the Arts & Sciences in Binghamton borrowed the quilt to be on view before it was more permanently installed at the JCC. When moving to Atlanta, I brought the concept of a community working together on a quilt to The Jewish Family & Career Services, The Breman Museum, and The William Breman Jewish Home. In each project, just as what happened in Binghamton, those who worked on these quilts often ended up feeling closer to their Jewish roots, while those who saw these quilts in a board meeting room, a lobby or museum gallery public space area, came to further appreciate the beauty of Judaism and Jewish life. With artist/friend and colleague – Anne Mandel, we recently designed an art quilt where many members of The Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework – Peach State Stitchers, Atlanta Chapter did the sewing and fabrication. The work titled, Justice, We Shall Pursue was recently donated to the new Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. The Jewish value of appreciating diverse cultures, world religions and human rights for all is inherent in the quilt’s vision to highlight those who made a difference while inspiring new generations to build an even brighter future. As visitors come to the CCHR, one can see them stopping to take in the quilt’s powerful messages – and perhaps feeling the ethic to love thy neighbor as thy self. Being a part of these narrative art quilts that are installed in public spaces has personally been fulfilling, especially when I see how their visual impact has touched so many lives. To view more of Flora’s Art, visit her page here. This essay was a submission for the 2015 Jewish Arts Month Essay Competition in which members were invited to: “Identify and discuss how your Judaic art has influenced or impacted the viewer’s feeling about Judaism.”