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Support for our Jewish Culture and its creative arts – Part 2

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 design@verizon.net

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Beyond Bagels and Matzah ball Soup – Support for our Jewish Culture and its creative arts-WHERE?

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

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Narrative Art Quilts in Public Spaces

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.”

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How Jewish Art Touches the Heart and Soul

by Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D. – Brooklyn, NY Artists define what kind of art they make and art viewers define what they want to see in a work. And what they take home. It’s a dialogue. I learned a lot from questions my viewers ask. I was born in Amsterdam. My parents were children during the holocaust. I taught Jewish studies in Berlin. The holocaust casts its shadows far into the 21st century. It influences my thinking. At every European seder and at some in New York, as well, murdered relatives and friends are missed and mentioned, or there is a booming silence. But growing up in Europe pushed my art exactly in the opposite direction of what many of my American viewers ask about and expect, i.e. “Holocaust Art”. Much of my oeuvre is dedicated to the rich Chassidic world of pre-war Eastern Europe. I am not from a Chassidic family myself, I found Chassidic stories at a young age in my extremely assimilated family’s bookcase. It inspired me to become a baal teshuvah and make a tribute to life, to a living and vibrant world and not to death and destruction. Of course I appreciate any memorial tribute, a yad vashem, to victims and survivors, but my path is different. I deflect my viewers’ thoughts from destruction. Many associate Jews with the war, but our heritage is so much more. Many viewers expect Chassidic art to be a bit kitschy, like a sugary violinist with peyos. My art shows them a different perspective. Viewers are not only confronted visually, they are forced to think about the stories and philosophy behind the images. My “Breslover Tikkun” has inspired and strengthened many who are searching. I am a maggidah, I tell stories, both orally and with a brush in my hand, on paper and canvas. I pass on the light from the early Chassidim. My art drew several people closer to Judaism, gave them hope, inspired them. This can best be explained by my own favorite story about the Kotzker Rebbe. Once, he listened to a chassidic story teller in the street. It attracted him to Chassidism, he became a Rebbe, and he explained: “The story-teller told what he wanted, and I heard what I needed.” That is how many people view my art. That is how I intend my art. To view more of Shoshannah’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.”  

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My “AH – HA” Moments

By Bonnie Cohen I can think of two examples in my career that defined what being a Judaic artist is all about. These special moments were more valuable to me than a great commission, a prestigious award or monetary gain. These “AH- HA” moments were personal experiences that showed me how Jewish Art can inspire a Divine spark and connection with another person. They were simple and precious moments that inspire me every day. The first example occurred when I completed a mosaic ark wall titled “Pillar of Light” for a new chapel. I took a close friend for a “sneak peek” of my artwork before the new building was open to the public. The sun was streaming in through the skylight above the 25 ft.ark wall making the luminous mosaic tiles shimmer. The entire room glowed. My friend looked around the chapel, quietly taking in very detail, and said,” Being in this room makes me want to be a better person.” Wow! I never expected a comment like that nor did I envision that my artwork would illicit such a personal response. I knew I had put my heart and soul into the mosaic artwork and I had hoped that people would be moved by the simple, uplifting design, but I am always amazed by how perceptive people can be. To think that my artwork could inspire someone to be a better person was overwhelming. I could not have imagined a more perfect complement for a Judaic artist. The second example took place while I was teaching a Judaic Art class at a local Hebrew high school. The theme of the class was Hebrew Calligraphy and it was often a challenge to keep the teenagers engaged. To set the mood for the class, I started each session by dimming the lights, lighting candles and saying the prayer for scribes.” Praised be He who has taught my hand to scribe the letters”. In one particular class, the students worked very diligently and I was really impressed. At the end of that class, I stopped everyone at the door and said “you should all be really proud of the beautiful work you did today!” One boy looked at me and said “It was the prayer Mrs. Cohen!” Another amazing moment! I was always thrilled when the kids told me they enjoyed a class, but this was beyond all my expectations. This teenager had made a Divine connection between the prayer and his artwork and that made me stop in my tracks and appreciate that extraordinary moment. These two examples made me realize that Jewish Art can touch people in profoundly spiritual ways. These moments were unexpected and spontaneous and they happened many years apart, but I continue to have faith that I’ll be lucky enough to experience more of these “AH-HA” moments as I continue to try new ways to find inspiration and meaning through my art. To view more of Bonnie’s Art, visit her page here. To view pictures of her ark wall mosaic go to http://bonniecohen.com/gallery/commission/ 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.”

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Beit T’shuvah Tzedakah Box Project

by Paul Rovin Beit T’shuvah is a long term addiction rehab program that provides the recovery needs of alcoholics, drug abusers, gambling addiction and other treatments. Its credo is “to change lifestyle that is destructive and to rediscover passion for life and purpose.” We use the Torah as well as twelve-step programs to achieve these goals. I run an art program that also helps facilitate residents getting out of their heads and finding some outlets through the arts. One of our most recent programs involves building and decorating tzedakah boxes. I created the initial design for the boxes and assemble them, while residents design them using markers, colored pencils and paint. The project was the brainchild of an ex-resident’s mother who challenged the community to buy a box (they are a bargain at $25.00) and to bring the collection from their homes to a larger tzedakah box found on the Beit T’Shuvah campus. You can help support the cause of rehabilitation of addicts by contacting me at Paulrovin@gmail.com and purchasing a tzedakah box. I will provide photographs of the boxes we have available, and you will be able to select one of your choosing. A shipping charge will be added. For more information on Beit T’shuvah, visit http://www.beittshuvah.org/ Note: Although the American Guild of Judaic Art is not affiliated in any way with the Beit T’shuvah program, we are proud to spread the word about this program that facilitates recovery and serves as an outlet to express oneself through the healing nature of art and are fulfilling the commandment of Hiddur Mitzvah.

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2015 Winning Jewish Arts Month Essay

Congratulations/Mazel Tov to member Larry Schloss – this year’s Jewish Arts Month Essay Winner! Jewish Arts Month 2015 Essay Competition Juror Suzi Brozman selected member Larry Schloss’s essay. Larry will receive the book, “The Jewish World: 100 Treasures of Art and Culture” – Skira-Rizzoli publications. Juror’s statement, by Suzi Brozman: I read each essay several times. At first, I was touched by the references to family, Judaism, and the artistic process expressed in each piece. But one essay stuck in my mind, and each time I read all of them, one kept standing out in its expressiveness. That essay is the one by Lawrence Schloss. His language spoke to the creative artisan in me, reminding me of my own struggles with materials, history and emotion as well as the topics I chose to try to portray. I especially felt moved by the artist’s knowledge that he cannot reach inside a viewer’s mind, but has to rely on his own feelings, hoping they can convey his meaning. In a world where anti-Semitism and internal struggle are paramount, Mr. Schloss understands the conflict in seeing, feeling and creating. Even without ever having seen his works, I feel as though I can learn from his sculptures. All of our essayists feel deeply about Judaism and its effects on their art. This essay expresses those feelings most superbly. Identify and discuss how your Judaic art has influenced or impacted the viewer’s feeling about Judaism.  by Lawrence Schloss, Scuptor  I am unable to enter the mind of the viewer, hence my observations regarding how my sculptures have impacted the viewing audience’s feelings about Judaism are strictly subjective. Having established this fact, I will proceed to explain how I would hope my work effects those who choose to visit my Judaic sculptures. My Judaic sculptures do not celebrate the warm and loving memories of growing up Jewish. They are devoid of the wonderful food, smells, sounds and joy of Jewish life in 1950’s Middle America.  Instead, my Judaic sculptures are created in the wake of living in a predominantly Christian culture which more or less tolerated Jews.  In some cases, my sculptures are outright statements of rebellion, lashing out at inherent anti-Semitism which I felt daily from secondary school to college. STAR OF DAVID is a tall, powerful Mogen David which erupts from solid stone and stands proudly despite all the blood shed on its behalf. I would hope the viewer sees the contorted lines; the marks left by history’s persecution of the Jewish people. It is not a happy star, it is a star which has survived. It is a star once yellow, now black and bold. SHTETL is a solid rock sculpture honoring Jews who were forced to live in tiny spaces because no one wanted them around. The tall, winding rock walls protected as well as imprisioned its inhabitants. This is not a nice place to live. It is hell, in fact. But it is home, nonetheless. DANCING RABBIS is my interpretation of the joy expressed by Jews who dance in circles at various holidays and special occasions. I am told it is a beautiful piece which captures energy of the moment. Fine with me. However, the expenditure of such joy must be counter balanced by the horrific history of the Jewish people; and herein lies the irony of the piece.  Perhaps the dancers should be mourning, instead.  Perhaps they should be preparing for the next onslaught of hatred, rather than dancing in circles. Judaic art is a complex endeavor. Most of my sculptures are twisted and contorted, presenting the knottiness of my Jewish identity. Perhaps the viewer sees this in my works. Perhaps not.  

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Artists Explore Their Judaic Souls

by Suzi Brozman Reprinted with permission from the Atlanta Jewish Times, April 22, 2015 What is Jewish art? Who is a Jewish artist? These questions are at the heart of Jewish Arts Month, which was in March, but for each artist it’s more a question of how can a person express himself or herself through artistic means. Art is so personal and inspiration can come from anywhere — religion, family, culture, nature — so it’s next to impossible to pin down a definition. Judaic art can be a ketubah on your wall, a Torah cover in the synagogue, the stained-glass windows designed by Marc Chagall that hang in the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. It can be a seder plate you use at Passover, a collage, a print of a work by a famous artist, or whatever else you prize as art in your life. Back in the 1990s, Rabbi Avi Magid came up with the idea of using art to educate people about the Torah and to connect the community with Jewish artists. His idea, a Jewish art week, gradually morphed into Jewish Arts Month. March was chosen because that’s when we read Exodus, in which we are introduced to Bezalel, the artist/workman who designed and built the Mishkan (Tabernacle). He used precious metals — gold, silver and copper — and supervised weaving and embroidery, metalwork and painting, all in the glory of G-d, to construct and embellish the first house of worship, as described in the Torah. Today, Jewish Arts Month is celebrated and sponsored each year by the American Guild of Judaic Art, which encourages the rich diversity and quality of Judaic art around the world. “The Guild is about mentoring and networking, not just about selling work,” said Flora Rosefsky, an Atlanta-based artist who recently completed her term as the president of the guild. “It’s a community of artists who have a similar passion for what they do, for the ways they express themselves through their art.” The guild is an international not-for-profit membership organization dedicated to the promotion of Jewish art and culture in society. Members exhibit works and lead workshops and residencies encouraging knowledge of and participation in Jewish artwork. The guild is but one of many arts groups, but it’s one with a specific purpose: representing visual artists with a definite Judaic influence in their work. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and the art doesn’t have to be specifically Jewish. At the guild’s website, Jewishart.org, you can acquaint yourself with many artists and view examples of their work. Rosefsky also suggests visiting local outlets, shops and galleries that carry Judaic art. “When you know the artist,” she said, “the work is more personal. It’s good to support those who support art in the community.” Part of the guild’s purpose is to offer an annual online exhibition. This year’s choices include works selected by juror Lisa Alembik; they are exhibited for a year. Many Jewish artists live in the Atlanta area and work in media from paper to paint to pottery to printing to glass to fabric and more. Here are three examples who are members of the American Guild of Judaic Art. Rosefsky (www.FloraRosefsky.com) describes her current art as collage work that uses ephemera (found paper). She has designed Torah covers, stained glass for synagogues, Sukkot art, quilts and much more. She frequently teaches workshops for children and adults, such as a paper cutout workshop she did at the Breman Museum at the end of March in connection with the “Where the Wild Things Are” exhibit. Rosefsky is a self-described folk artist whose work is frequently inspired by her Jewish heritage. Her work has been featured in many solo and group exhibits, and a number of synagogue sanctuaries display her designs. In addition to Judaic work, she loves doing illustrations and cutouts, especially of people and pets. Other work she is proud of includes an art quilt she designed with Anne Mandel. “Justice, We Shall Pursue” was sewn by several members of the Peach State Stitchers, the Atlanta chapter of the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Art. The quilt was donated to the Center for Civil and Human Rights last May and is installed on the first level near the King Papers exhibition area. Ellen Filreis (www.mypetitstresors.com) works in mixed-media collage and assemblage, some Jewish-themed, some not. She’s working on a book for Jewish children, though through years of volunteering with seniors, she believes that this new work also will be beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients, focusing as it does on familiar things. Using mostly miniatures and all kinds of ephemera, each page of the book will deal with one aspect of Jewish life, such as Shabbat and holidays. Filreis is a former finance professional who became a self-taught artist. “I just decided to follow my heart’s desire and do something creative where I can do some good with my creations for the Jewish home and education,” she said. The new Young Israel of Toco Hills building features an eye-catching wall installation by Lynette Joel (www.lynettejoel.com). It’s the shul’s donor wall. Joel, a native of South Africa, lived for a time in Europe, then moved to Boston with her family before settling in Atlanta. She began making clothes and decorating them with silk screening. She progressed to machine embroidery and found herself using her skills to create wall art, often for fundraising. The Epstein School asked her to do a print of Zebulon. That led to Issachar, then Levi and more. Her work is imbued with symbolism, often from Midrash, so much so that educators use her prints as teaching tools. She saw the Young Israel donor wall as a way to honor people giving money to study Torah. “I wanted to use Zebulon, but a print wasn’t good enough,” Joel said. “I wanted something really significant, different. I had the idea of doing a mosaic. I got in touch with Flora Rosefsky. She introduced me to Bonnie Cohen, another member of the guild. We got together to try.” Joel wanted the work to be all white and glass. “I felt color would detract from it.” She and Cohen worked on the project remotely. The first time they met in person was when Cohen came down from Ohio for the Young Israel installation. “It was the first time we met in person,” Joel said. “We got along so well, we couldn’t sleep. It was a real mutual admiration society.” Joel is working on an art book about the 12 tribes, showcasing each one separately and highlighting the meanings through Midrash, so the book can be a learning tool and a coffee table book.

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