Writings

Shoshana Golin’s Windows

Written on October 05, 2005

Rosh Chodesh, 2005, etched glass windows by Shoshana Golin Young Israel of Hillcrest, Queens

Shoshana Golin’s cycle of etched glass windows at the Young Israel of Hillcrest fill the fifty year old sanctuary with light and textual meaning that transforms the synagogue space, illuminating a new environment for the congregation.  The window cycle begins with the three windows in the women’s section, Creation, Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, and continues on the lower level of the men’s sanctuary with four tall windows that elucidate the Yom Tovim and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Thus the entire Jewish cycle of creation and celebration is represented in natural light filtered and shaped in the medium of glass.

Shoshana Golin - Etchings Of The Masks Of Esther
Masks of Esther

Written on October 05, 2005

Esther’s Child: Epilogue (2001)

All of us, sometime or other, hide behind a mask. Whether it is a strange new identity we momentarily assume for Purim or simply filling the public role of father, mother or child, teacher or even artist. The mask, which represents the ideal role we are expected to play, might be the first thing anyone sees until the reality of our personality manages to appear. Masks are something we all wear, but here in America, we also almost always take them off. Here we feel that we have less to fear from the outside world and can let our guard down. This isn’t always true. For example, Persia in the time of Mordechai and Esther was not a good time for the Jews.

Yet Another Test: Ushpizin, the Movie

Written on September 25, 2005

“Moshe's Anguish,” Shuli Rand Ushpizin directed by Gidi Dar, written by Shuli Rand

 

“And God tested Abraham...” It seems that He hasn't stopped testing the Jewish people ever since. Abraham already had nine trials to boast of, Isaac was sorely tested in choosing between his two sons and Jacob stoically withstood the test of losing his favorite, Joseph. The Children of Israel famously endured ten trials, all of which turned out fairly disastrous (Arachin 15a). Nonetheless, God is patient, continuing to forgive us even as He examines us and sends more tests. Ushpizin, a new Israeli movie by Gidi Dar, depicts just such a test. Happily both the movie and the main characters pass with flying colors.

Everything Is Illuminated

Written on September 11, 2005

Sunflower Field

“Everything Is Illuminated,” a new movie directed by Liev Schreiber opening September 16th, is a deeply moving and highly engaging film based on a curiously flawed premise. The notion that if we can but understand our past somehow our present will become “illuminated” is a foible particularly prevalent in our troubled times. Jews especially cherish Holocaust studies and Holocaust heritage tours in Eastern Europe as gateways to ethnic identity. It is exactly this pursuit that the film examines. And yet in spite of its questionable thesis the film is a classic road movie, tracing the transformation of its characters as they tumble towards their goal and, presumably, enlightenment.

A New Perspective on Jewish Life
Paintings by Lloyd Bloom

Written on August 20, 2005

Jacob at Luz, Lloyd Bloom

Perspective is crucial to understanding.  When Jews greet one another with “vos macht a yid?” it means something entirely different than the jeers of ‘yid’ in the streets of Berlin.  The one point perspective in early Renaissance painting defined an individualistic centered universe of humanism.  In soaring ceilings of the Italian Baroque illusionist visions of vast heavens make the viewer feel insignificant and powerless, overwhelmed by the Counter Reformation Church’s total authority. Modernism’s chaotic points of view charted a culture in collapse, a fracture we are still struggling to mend.  It all depends on where you stand.  Perspective not only controls meaning but helps determine who we are as viewers.

Yad Vashem's Art

Written on August 09, 2005

Kadishman

Obscenity is not the usual province of art. And yet behind almost all Holocaust art lies the obscenity of the crime, the stench of genocide. This simple fact makes it singular in the history of art, a deep contradiction of art's traditional civilizing role even as its horror fuels the artwork with power and urgency. We cannot afford to ignore it.

Postcards

Written on July 24, 2005

Figure 4

Art lies. An object depicted is not the actual thing, a person or relationship in art is but a fiction, an intellectual conceit that attempts to emotionally tempt us into a narrative insight. As much as art proclaims its purpose to be truth, it remains but a lie that is a means to an end.

Rephidim A Painting by John Dubrow

Written on July 24, 2005

Figure 4

A Painting by John Dubrow

From 1997 to 1998 John Dubrow got to know the World Trade Center fairly well. He made many paintings from a high vantage point on the 91st floor in a temporary studio granted him by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. His heavily worked cityscapes built solid compositions out of urban structure, color and space and define an important body of his work at that time. After September 11, 2001 he was, like most New Yorkers, devastated by the attacks and the destruction of the World Trade Center. He wondered how he could return to cityscapes after his city had been so violated and his artistic milieu shattered. In the wake of the smoke, ash and collapse he groped for an artist's response to this mass murder.

Lights at the Israel Museum

Written on July 11, 2005

Amnon and Tamar

From ‘Let there be Light' of Biblical fame to yesterday's sound and light show, the notion of light as a metaphor or aesthetic tool is worn and tedious at best. Even as pietists, who claim dominion over Divine emanations, battle with modernists who assert visual primacy, nonetheless as a serious metaphorical concept ‘light' is cliched and superficial. Therefore it is with considerable courage that curator Amitai Mendelsohn at the Israel Museum has fashioned a surprisingly handsome exhibition of forty artist's works that address the problematic subject of light.

Why Pictures?

Written on June 06, 2005

Moses Striking the Egyptian (detail) Amsterdam Hagadah (1695) Courtesy Kestenbaum & Company

Most Hebrew books have no pictures. Nobody misses them. In fact most books have no pictures, Hebrew or otherwise. The authority of the text is more than sufficient to communicate the ideas, sensations and emotions that literature specializes in. Picture books are ultimately different. The presence of pictures can serve to decorate, illustrate, elaborate, comment or perhaps contradict the adjoining text, thereby making picture books potentially much more complex because of the constant interchange between text and visual, both of which clamor for our attention. So the question arises why should certain Hebrew books have pictures...i.e. what is accomplished?

Missing Women of the Book

Written on May 30, 2005

Pentimento XV/Hamsa

Jews and books...as natural a combo as love and spring, wine and cheese, and for sure God and His people...they are meant to be together. Proud to be known as the People of the Book we parade the Torah, Talmud and countless writings as our special inheritance. And beyond simple piety, the contemporary Jewish contribution to secular literature is legendary, marking us as a nation who both read and write voraciously.

The Problem with God

Written on May 03, 2005

Death Triumphant (detail) (1944), oil on canvas by Felix Nussbaum Felix Nussbaum Collection, Osnabruck

The problem with God is His holiness. After thousands of years of countless trials and many too many unmentionable “sufferings of love” (Berachos 5a) the Jewish people continue to love Him even as many flee His embrace. From the Binding of Isaac to the martyrdom of Rabbi Akiva and the last Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, God's seeming distance, his hester pannim, confounds the masses and sorely tests the pious. When He is the most distant, and therefore the most Holy, the slaughter of innocent Jews that ensues becomes tragically a chilul Hashem, defaming his holy Name.

Manhattan Mincha Map

Written on April 04, 2005

Eagle Paper Minyan black & white photograph by Jaime Permuth

Fleeting Prayer
Manhattan Mincha Map: Photographs by Jaime Permuth

Mincha is the most fragile of prayers. It is typically caught on the run, sandwiched between a hurried lunch and return to the ordeals of the workday. Even if prayed somewhat leisurely after work in the late afternoon or early evening, it nonetheless must share the spotlight with the evening prayer that is ennobled by the awesome Shema. One might say mincha is the poor cousin of shacharis and the younger brother of maariv. It is in this context that Jaime Permuth's photographs at the Yeshiva University Museum explore the textures and atmosphere of what is easily the most naked prayer of the entire day, mincha.

Lost Objects Found

Written on March 06, 2005

“When any Man...” from Lost Objects by Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe with a libretto by Deborah Artman performed at BAM

As one enters the theater the stage is dominated by three levels of scaffolding filling the entire proscenium behind a gray scrim. Plunged into darkness as the lights go down a single face is illuminated on the stage by a bolt of light. Smoke swirls at her feet as she starts to rhythmically recite; “I lost a sock. I lost my umbrella. I lost a sock. I lost a tooth. I lost my teeth. I lost a leg...I lost my father. I lost my voice...I lost the keys...I lost my wits. I lost my way. I lost my tongue.”

Shalom Y'all
The Southern Jewish Experience, Photographs by Bill Aron, Text by Vicki Reikes Fox

Written on February 16, 2005

Avram Aizenman, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Photograph by Bill Aron

Imagining the tempting aroma of pecan pie and fresh challah the age-old rhythms of Southern Jewry unfold before our eyes in the seductively handsome exhibition of photographs, Shalom Y'all, currently at the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach. The show artfully fulfills the museum's fundamental mission of presenting exhibits of Florida Jewish life, past and present. The enormous Jewish community in southern Florida (625,000; 3rd largest Jewish community in the U.S.) is home to many who originated in southern states.