AGJA Blog Archives

The Artist and the Chain

What defines a Jewish artist in the true sense of the word? One definition is: that’s an artist who plays the very important role of connecting our present with our long past, inspiring us with enthusiasm for our Jewish life and traditions through visualizations. Last week I was at a shiva for such a Jewish artist. I saw paintings and drawings on the wall featuring a shtetl artisan and Eastern European Jewry.

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The Ushpizin and the Chassidic Rebbes in the drawings and paintings of Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.

It is customary to invite guests to one’s sukkah on the Festival of Sukkot. During seven days and nights, people sit, eat, and if possible sleep in their sukkah with relatives, friends and neighbors. According to the Zohar, each night of the Festival a group of seven prominent Biblical guests (the Seven Ushpizin) is invited, in a fixed order: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef, and David.

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What’s in a name? Making art for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

From time to time, I am asked to create a personalized work of art for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. This is a joyous occasion and I love the opportunity. Usually, I stick to the following procedure. I paint the bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl with symbols or objects that are associated with the occasion, like a tallit, sometimes tefillin—but many ceremonies take place in the synagogue on a Shabbat, when donning tefillin is not permitted—or Shabbat candles.

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Is one drawing enough? The story of Channah and Shmuel.

In 2002, right before Rosh Hashannah, I decided to make a series of drawings about the biblical story of Channah and Shemuel (I Sam. 1, 2) which is read as the haftarah of the first day of Rosh haShannah. This beautiful and moving story has all the ingredients an artist could ask for.

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  • JCC Takes ‘Journey’ With 28 Jewish Artists

JCC Takes ‘Journey’ With 28 Jewish Artists

Five Atlanta-area residents are among 28 Jewish artists whose work is on display through May 10 at the Marcus JCC’s Katz Family Mainstreet Gallery.

The juried exhibit, “A Journey Through Time: Works of the American Guild of Judaic Art,” includes paintings, weavings, quilts, sculpture, jewelry and photography.

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The same but different: Three portraits.

This column is written in honor of the Rebbe, who passed away on Gimel Tamuz, which is next week.

Few rabbis have been portrayed as frequently as Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the famous Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Many of these portraits are based on photographs and have a (hyper-)realistic style but there are also portraits in, for example, pop-art style, like Rabbi Yitzchok Moully’s work.

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It is May, the year 2020. Our lives have been drastically changed since March. The city of New York is in lockdown. My neighborhood in Brooklyn has been hit hard by the corona virus. The safest option is to stay at home, drink coffee next to the house—weather permitting— and make walks around the block. People are shopping at the supermarket at night, when there are fewer people, and always with a face mask and gloves.

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Tisha BeAv

We are “in the nine days” preceding Tisha BeAv, which commemorates the two times in history that Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed—the first time by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the second time by the Romans in 70 CE. After the first destruction, ten of the twelve Jewish Tribes were exiled from the Northern Kingdom of Israel. According tradition, they ended up behind the legendary River Sambatyon, which flows six days a week but stops on Shabbat.

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People are fascinated by portraits of both the living and those long gone. Portraits make it possible to stand eye to eye and face to face with people who are dead, absent, unreachable or unapproachable. Thanks to portraitists we know how historical personalities looked, and sometimes we can deduct their character or behavior from certain details in their portraits.

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On anachronisms. What time is it?

Dear fellow artists,

I am writing a book about the treatise of The Seven Paths of the Torah of the medieval kabbalist Avraham ben Shmuel Abulafia. Born in Spain, he traveled around the Mediterranean (Italy, Greece), visited Eretz Yisrael in search of the legendary River Sambatyon, taught Kabbalah on Sicily, and died in 1391 on Comino, a small island near Malta.

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Swinging chickens.

In a few days we celebrate Yom Kippur. It is a day of repentance, forgiveness, and atonement, many people fast, go the synagogue, and reflect on their life and their relationship with other people and with G-d. Before Yom Kippur, we ask those we know for forgiveness for intended and unintentional offenses and wrong doings. To ask people we don’t like (or worse) is more difficult, but we make every effort to enter Yom Kippur with a clean slate.

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An artist’s challenge: how to paint a Trial with G’d?

Dear fellow artists and art lovers,

In the past, I have posted an article about Rabbi Aryeh-Leib, aka the Shpoler Zeida (Grandfather from Shpola), a Chassidic Master who lived in the Ukraine from 1724-1811.

In the year 1780, a terrible famine struck the Ukraine, making the lives of its Jewish inhabitants even more miserable than they were already due to antisemitism, pogroms, a horrible bureaucracy, bad winters, and grinding poverty.

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A message from the president:

According to our tradition, G-d created the world with Ten Words. These are the ten times G-d spoke, as described in the first chapter of the Torah, and as a result the world got created, expanded, improved with new features and creatures, embellished and refined. And at the end of each of the six days of creation “G-d saw that it was good”. On the seventh day weshabat mikol melakhto asher bara El-him la’asot, and He rested from all the work which Elohim had created to make.

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Me-avdut la-cherut. From slavery to freedom. Counting the Omer and the journey to Har Sinai.

In my last column I talked about my Pesach haggadah, but now we are in a different stage of the story. We left Egypt, crossed the sea, and are in the desert on our way to Mount Sinai. There we will receive the G-d’s Torah from the hands of Moshe Rabbenu. But in order to shed our slave mentality from Egypt we have to wait 49 days—that is 7 weekstill the Festival of Weeks, Shavuot. Every day we count the Omer (Sefirat ha-Omer) for 49 times until we are ready to exclaim as free people at har Sinai: “We will do and we will hear.”

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Birkat Habayit, a Blessing for the House

Most of us are familiar with the Blessing of the House, a Hebrew blessing for peace and prosperity for the inhabitants of a house. It is usually painted, written, calligraphed, printed, sculpted, engraved, embroidered or woven, accompanied by decorative borders or art work, on metal, paper, leather, material, canvas, tiles, clay, wool, and the like. A beloved theme for these blessings is a picture of Jerusalem. Sephardic versions are often shaped like a chamsa, a hand, to ward off the evil eye, and many have a box filled with tiny blue stones.

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Fleeting memories and loneliness.

Many artists travel to get inspiration. Some move their studio from city to city, from place to place to find new artistic perspectives, new galleries, an inspiring new environment, or new love. And some don’t. I mention two of my favorite artists who had very different lives. Rembrandt, who was born in Leyden (Holland), moved to nearby Amsterdam and stayed there until death took the brush from his hands.

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G-tt fun Avrohom. A Yiddish prayer for Havdalah

The language that Jews all over the world have in common when they pray is Hebrew, the ancient language of our people from biblical times. It has been revived as an everyday language in the twentieth century in our country, Israel. But it is inevitable, that Jews living outside of Israel have been influenced by the culture and languages of the countries where we landed during our long Diaspora, which started two millennia ago.

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The dream of the kabbalist. Would this be any different in better times?

Last winter, I was in Jerusalem, planning to go to the North to visit the mystical city of Tzfat with its 15 th -century Abuhav Synagogue, one of the most beautiful and spiritual places I know of, and the nearby hill-slope cemetery with the cerulean blue gravesites of revered kabbalists, like the Arizal, the Holy Lion. I hadn’t been there in over thirty years. I never made it, though, because of an unexpected phone call that came from Holland: my mother had suddenly fallen critically ill.

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Portraits 2 – The left Panel: Israel and Canada

Last week I spoke about the family history of the Kadish-Epsteins and discussed the panel on the right side, of Eastern Europe and South Africa. Now we look at the panel on the left side with Israel and Canada. How are these two very different countries connected in one drawing?

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Portraits by Shoshannah Brombacher, PhD, Part 2

Shoshannah Brombacher paints her portraits with many of the ideas discussed in the first part if this blog in mind. Let’s look at her approach with some samples.

1. The lovers was made in the early years after her marriage, which brought her from the academic world of Berlin to the (Lower) Eastside of New York. Moving to America had a deep impact.

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