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Art & Spirituality

2017 Jewish Arts Month Essay Contribution: “Identify and discuss how creating Judaic art defines, enhances and expresses your spirituality.” Art & Spirituality As a papercutter, ketubah artist and Hebrew calligrapher, I have always been drawn, no pun intended, to Judaic art.  There is something innately magical about Hebrew letters, and when I put pen to paper and form those    letters I connect to something ancient and powerful, adding my creative voice to a long line of scribes, rabbis and teachers that stretches back thousands of years. In my work, I strive to give contemporary meaning to ancient Jewish texts and hopefully, offer a new perspective on old teachings.  Most of my Judaic work takes the form of visual midrash, a visual commentary on a specific idea or text in two or three dimensions, and in that sense, creating it is a spiritual act.  Grappling with text that has served for centuries as history, mythology, legal precedent and tradition is an honor and a challenge.  It brings out my creativity, reminds me of my roots, and ties me to my tradition and people in a way that few things can.  Just as Jewish music fills my soul, creating Jewish art fills my need for making art with meaning.  I have long been guided by the words of Felix Mendelssohn who once wrote, “Art can rise above mere handicraft only by being devoted to the expression of a lofty thought.”  In that vein, I strive to make my work meaningful, something not only visually pleasing but beyond the merely aesthetic, something a viewer can look at multiple times and perhaps, find something new each time.  As a ketubah artist, I have the honor and privilege to work with couples who are embarking on a new chapter in their lives.  I work together with them to create a document that symbolizes and sums up the couple’s hopes and dreams for their relationship and the home and marriage they will ultimately build together.  It is a humbling experience, and a challenging one.  The skills necessary to create a custom ketubah are very similar to ones used in marriage counseling: learning to listen to each others’ preferences and needs, exploring each other’s hopes, dreams and goals for the future, and clarifying priorities in the marriage.  I like to tell couples that if they can agree on a ketubah text that both encapsulates their priorities and is visually agreeable to each of them, then they are half-way towards a successful marriage.  The conversation that develops is an exercise in listening and compromise, and engaging in this creative endeavor can be a transformative experience.  I count myself lucky to be part of the beginning of their spiritual journeys, and in a way, it is a spiritual experience for me as well.  Just recently, I celebrated the 25th anniversary of my business, Cutting Edge Creations.  My hope is that, in my endeavor to create cutting edge creations, I will ultimately bring a little more beauty and meaning to the world of Judaic art in particular, and to the greater community in general.  To my fellow artists, may we all go from strength to strength!  Have a good and meaningful Pesach.    Lisa Rauchwerger Cutting Edge Creations www.lisarauchwerger.com

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Wrapping Oneself in Creative Prayer

2017 Jewish Arts Month Essay Contribution: “Identify and discuss how creating Judaic art defines, enhances and expresses your spirituality.” Wrapping Oneself in Creative Prayer Hiddur Mitzvah- literally the beautifying of a mitzvah is expressed so perfectly in a handmade prayer shawl- a tallit. I’ve been making them for over 20 years since my oldest became a Bar Mitzvah. It was my dream to make one for my four sons and other family members, so that there would be several rows filled with family wearing my handmade tallitot. Over the years I’ve taught dozens of women and one man to make them as well. It brings such joy to the maker and the receiver! It can enhance and elevate the spiritual experience of wearing a tallit during prayer when there are personal messages, music , meaning and memories infused into the fabric and design. My teacher and huck mentor, Ellen Temkin created the idea of a huck fabric tallit made with Swedish Weaving and designed a Torah and and a Star of David stitch I often use and experiment with. She also showed me how to do MUSIC on a tallit- that has opened many ideas for me! A young student of mine created her own tallit for her Bat Mitzvah and put the music for Hatikvah on her tallit. I made one with musical themes that included my grandfather’s Adon Olam on it. I recently made one for my daughter in law and put the first lines of Billy Joel’s song, “ She’s Got A Way” which was the first dance with my son at their wedding. I also just completed one for a family whose grandfather sang the song, “ Hey There Delilah” to his granddaughter, and that song is now on her Bat Mitzvzh tallit. Wearing a tallit with meaningful music on it truly envelopes you in song and spirit. You can feel the love from the moment, from the music and it surely becomes it’s own prayer. Another way to enhance spirituality in a handmade tallit is to add fabric from a deceased relative, or from childhood. I added small squares of a beloved baby blanket on two of my son’s tallitot for their Bar Mitzvah. When they hold the four corners together they are reminded of their childhood- it must be a sweet and nostalgic moment!  When my “new” rabbi arrived a few years ago I wanted to make him a tallit of course! I knew his mother has passed away recently and I asked if there was any meaningful fabric I could incorporate into the tallit. His father, ( also a rabbi) brought the jacket she wore to her son’s Bar Mitzvah! I was so moved to use this incredible fabric that represented a moment in his life that was transformative and memorable. I used the button holes on the inside four corners for the tzitzit to go through.  I then created a tallit bag using more of the fabric, and then made a baby quilt for his first son using scraps of the jacket, as well as a bookmark. There is still fabric left for future life cycle events- truly living out the wonderful children’s book and story, “ Something from Nothing”. Using fabric and music helps bring us closer to our authentic selves, our own history, and uplifts our prayer. Truly surrounded by a handmade tallit infused with meaning is a spiritual experience. It is an honor to help create these prayer shawls and share them with people I love. Cantor Deborah Katchko-Gray www.cantordebbie.com  

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2017 Jewish Arts Month Essay: “Identify and discuss how creating Judaic art defines, enhances and expresses your spirituality.”

By Flora Rosefsky Over the years, I often define myself as being a “spiritual” person, feeling the presence of God in my life, sensing the comfort of someone watching over me whom I can not see, like a parent to a child. Jewish traditions and rituals preformed each year, as well as written words from Torah, Mishnah commentaries, , prayers said in synagogue or at home all resonate as inspiration to take those concepts to express them into my personal visual art. Jewish traditions value memory, to remember those who personally influenced us while acknowledging historical events that impacted our life in other ways. Creating collage and mixed media art that uses ephemera (found paper) from my father-in-law Harry Rosefsky, of blessed memory, or using glossy family photographs become ways to show my own spirituality in a meaningful way. Even though at first some work may seem to be abstract, a hint of a narrative often appears. If one were to define spirituality as feeling a closeness to a higher power, or to God, perhaps each of my Judaic inspired works expresses that concept. Other artists, whether they are musicians, composers or visual artists may feel the same way, Even on a subconscious level, where there may not be a carefully laid out plan before composing a new work, like a dream, images come alive as colorful shapes take on their own spirituality, My “Ritual Series” of mixed media collage work is a good example of how I take personal experiences interacting with various Jewish festivals, holidays or rituals to use my own visual language with paper cutouts, Powerful feelings I have for the rich traditions expressed throughout the Jewish calendar year – like a special “road map” through time and space, come to the surface. Two themes that I continuously explore are those of Shabbat and welcoming the Sabbath Bride in the Kabbalist point of view, and the Festival of Sukkot, where there is a distinct spirituality manifested between humankind and God as we carry out the commandment in Torah to “dwell in the Sukkah for eight days”, appreciating a safe sanctuary when the world around us can be so chaotic. Putting these concepts into visual art strengthens my own spirituality,never tiring of finding more ways as an artist to express the relevant meanings of the words of Torah, written over 3,000 years ago

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HASBARAH  (P.R.) Where is it?

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.

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JUDAIC ART: NEEDED TOOL FOR JEWISH CONTINUITY

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.

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