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January 2018 Message from the AGJA 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. The grammatical construction with la’asot, to make, suggests future work, but in the same verse G-d had ceased from creating, weshabbat. Several midrashim have commented on this, explaining that from now on, after the seventh day, mankind will be G-d’s partner in creation, continuing what He started. For instance, G-d created grain, but not bread. We, mortal humans, just have seeds of grain. In order to get bread we must transform the seeds, and go through a lengthy process of preparing a field, plowing, sowing the seeds, praying for rain, tending the grain, harvesting, winnowing, grinding, and, finally, baking bread from flour and putting it on our tables. We acknowledge G-d by saying a blessing before we eat it. G-d does not let challot grow ready to eat. We humans must go through the creative trouble to make these challot for Shabbat, in order to celebrate the day G-d stopped working. And what, if we would not want to be partners in creation? Then we would live like animals, eating raw seeds or whatever is ready to pick and eat in nature, like berries and fruit. No challah.   What can we learn form this as Jewish artists? Mankind, male and female, is created in G-d’s image. Humans are the only species on earth endowed with creative power to transform materials to create something totally new, unique. We can make new and meaningful art, for instance, from raw pigments, a piece of marble, a basket of wool, ink, copper ore, etc., there are endless possibilities. But being created in G’d’s image, and on top of that being G-d’s partner, also obligates us to emulate His divine qualities, to make sure that at the end of the day we see “that it is good.” Like HaShem, we, Jewish artists, have to create by transforming, to expand, improve, embellish and refine the world with our art. That is why we have gotten this special talent to make art, to hold up a candle for the world. A little bit of light chases away a lot of darkness. With our art, images, objects, or in whatever mode or form we express ourselves, we make the world a better place. We make it a bit more divine. Mutatis mutandis, a little bit of beauty can chase away a lot of ugliness, it can uplift our souls and bring us and others closer to the divine image we are created in. Not only our own souls, but of all those who use and contemplate our art. Fellow artists, go out and make the world a better place! It’s in your head and hands! Shoshannah Brombacher, January 2018  

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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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