Writings

Rembrandt Etchings

Written on February 06, 2005

Abraham Entertaining the Angels (1656) etching and drypoint by Rembrandt National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Walking out of the US Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C. the stench of mass murder was overpowering. Western Civilization, that hubristic culture celebrating man's highest aspirations, seemed obscene. Stately government buildings that bespoke American power and beneficence only reminded me of American rejection of Jewish refugees before the war and refusal to bomb the rail lines during. America knew from the extensive newspaper coverage between 1934 to the end of the war of the Nazi murderous intent to annihilate the Jews. This alone made my beloved America an accessory to the crime. My country essentially did nothing. And what about God? Why did He hide His face?

Rand's Prayer

Written on December 28, 2004

Twelfth Amidah Theme: Punish Heresy: Jepthah (2002), acrylic on canvas (48 x 64) by Archie Rand

The Nineteen Diaspora Paintings

Why should we bother with art? A waste of time, bitul Torah, perhaps even a lure into apikores....viewing art, not to mention making it, could be viewed as a can of worms best left unopened. Alas, our tradition is to follow the ways of our forefathers and since Bezalel, the Jews of Dura Europos, Bet Alpha and countless other pious Jews for two thousand years have partaken of the visual arts, it becomes our sacred duty to explore both our inheritance and those who continue to create Jewish art.

Maus Part I

Written on December 10, 2004

Vladek on the Exercise Bike, pg. 12

Maus: Flash Back to the Present
Survivor Memory into Holocaust Art, Part I

History's Limits

Elie Wiesel encapsulates the problem of Holocaust art by insisting that “Auschwitz defies imagination and perception; it submits only to memory. It can be communicated by testimony, not fiction.” Art as an approach to the Holocaust would seem to be seriously misguided if not transgressive of memory. Nevertheless he admits that even a survivor's attempt at retelling “escapes language,” and therefore, if “we are incapable of revealing The Event, why not admit it.” Yet there are demands of historical responsibility that survivors feel compelled to answer. Finally, in despair Wiesel demands that survivors must rise above such doubts because “the future depends on our testimony...we invoke the past to save the future...[in a] commitment to life and truth.” (Wiesel; “Does the Holocaust Lie Beyond the Reach of Art,” New York Times, April 17, 1983).

Maus Part II

Written on December 10, 2004

Time Flies, pg. 41

Maus: Flash Back to the Present

Survivor Memory into Holocaust Art; Part II

The Negative Heart of Maus

Last week we examined the first volume of Maus, A Survivor's Tale, by Art Spiegelman. It is a complex and engrossing work that combines the testimony of a Holocaust survivor, the author's father Vladek with Art Spiegelman's process of telling the story in a ‘graphic novel' that depicts the Jews as mice and the Germans as cats. The two-volume work of close to fifteen hundred comic book style frames was published in 1992. Now we will consider the second volume.

La Juive, the opera by Jacques Fromental Halevy
Desecration or Sanctification:

Written on December 04, 2004

Neil Shicoff as Eleazar, Soile Isokoski as Rachel, and Eric Cutler (on back) as Leopold in Halevy's

The curtain rises to reveal a towering wall of translucent glass behind which the chorus sings “Te deum laudamus, You are God, we praise you,” to the provocative chords of the church organ. The massive presence of Christianity bears down on Eleazar and his daughter Rachel as they are accused by the hostile crowd of desecrating an Imperial celebration with the profane sound of his silversmith's hammer.

Frederic Brenner Photos

Written on October 30, 2004

Commemoration of Mourning for Deceased Son Whose Picture is on the Wall (1990) Oni, Georgia, U.S.S.R. Fiberbase gelatin silver print (19 x 16) by Frederic Brenner
Jews with Hogs (1994) is the first image one encounters in Frederic Brenner's exhibition of photographs of contemporary Jews from around the world currently at the Brooklyn Museum. In over one hundred and forty black and white photographs the exhibition seeks to document the “multiplicity of Jewish identities.” Throughout the exhibition diversity is the keyword. Diversity...hum.

Natan Nuchi Untitled

Written on October 27, 2004

Figure 4

View from the Shoah

A well-known Midrash tells of the destruction of Jerusalem and how the Divine Presence removed itself from the holy precincts of the Temple. Stage by stage the Divine Presence retreated from the holy land of Israel as the Land was defiled and the Jews were exiled. We are told, as a kind of consolation, that the Divine Presence has gone into exile with us and metaphorically awaits redemption.

Chanan Getraide Photos

Written on October 27, 2004

Bales of Wheat

Marking the Land of Israel:

Photographs of Chanan Getraide

What makes the Land of Israel so special? Given to us by God this wonderfully diverse corner of earth is much more of a “gift” than meets the eye. It is a gift that carries responsibility as an inheritance to be treasured even as it is trod upon, marked, possessed and inhabited by the Jewish people. The real meaning in the gift of the Land of Israel is in how the Jews use it. In the utility of the Holy Land we will become a holy people. The extraordinary photographs of Chanan Getraide in the “Promised Land” currently at the Hebrew Union College Museum evoke the material reality of the Jewish people on their Land.

Mikveh Project

Written on October 26, 2004

Waters of Contention
The Mikveh Project; Photographs by Janice Rubin, Text by Leah Lax

For many modern Jewish women there is no more contentious image than the waters of the mikveh. The ‘ritual bath' is fraught with notions of uncleanliness, impurity and inferiority that traditional male dominated Judaism has imposed upon Jewish women. The curse cast upon menstrual blood is seen as a primitive and punitive denigration of the female body.

A Simple Genesis
Paintings of Shalom of Safed

Written on October 23, 2004

Where are we?

There once lived a pious old man in Safed. His great grandparents had come from Eastern Europe to Eretz Yisroel sometime in the eighteenth century. He remembered back when the Turks ruled Palestine and then the English came and tried to govern this difficult land. In those years Safed was a mix of Arab and Jew, Sephardi and Ashkenazi.

The Divine Ecology of Janet Shafner

Written on October 04, 2004

Compassion for the Mother Bird / Out of the Whirlwind

New Paintings

“When the Holy One, blessed is He, created the first man, He took him and led him around the trees of the Garden of Eden and said; ”Look at my works! See how beautiful they are – how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy my world, for if you do, there is no one to repair it after you...” (Koheles Rabba on verse 7:13). Creator and created became partners in creation, sharing responsibility. Janet Shafner takes a long hard look at this mutual responsibility and how it connects us back to the Garden of Eden in her new series of paintings; “The Divine Ecology.”

Lipchitz's Prayer

Written on September 07, 2004

Lipchitz's Prayer

No time of prayer is more intense than at Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur as we literally pray for our lives, our sustenance and ultimately, our salvation. Our fate hangs in the balance poised between the gates of mercy and the awesome judgment we fear. No other contemporary sculpture so terrifyingly captures this primal apprehension and hope of the Days of Awe than Jacques Lipchitz's The Prayer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art seen in the recent exhibition “Jacques Lipchitz and Philadelphia.”

The Last Jew
A Tragedy by David Pinski

Written on May 05, 2004

One hundred years after David Pinski's (1872-1959) “Di Familye Tzvi” was written the scathing examination of the Jewish world that the play depicts is neither dated nor out of touch with contemporary Jewish life. Also known as “The Last Jew,” this play was completed in New York just fourteen months after the infamous Kishinev pogrom of April 1903 in Russia. It depicts one family, headed by grandfather Rabbi Mayshe, his sons and grandsons, friends and various community members at the very moment that the terrible pogrom is starting.

Nossig's Antics

Written on April 28, 2004

Stuart Rudin as the Old Man (Nossig?) in Nossig's Antics Photo by Jonathan Slaff

“Are you Alfred Nossig?” the waiter asked the middle aged man at the table. “Yes.” Bang! Bang! Bang! He shoots him dead. “Are you Alfred Nossig? Yes, Bang! Bang! Bang!” “Are you Alfred Nossig...” Three times Alfred Nossig, the brilliant Jewish-Polish playwright, sculptor, philosopher and Zionist is assassinated by three different assailants in the bizarre opening moments of Lazarre Simckes' new dark farce.

A Bitter View
Auschwitz: A Graphic Novel by Pascal Croci

Written on March 31, 2004

Can't You See the Angels?

Pascal Croci's graphic novel, Auschwitz, begins with a question to a witness from Auschwitz-Birkenau; “How long have you been keeping all this to yourself?” The answer, “Fifty-two years,” is shocking. The novel that follows provides a glimpse into the reason why these experiences are almost impossible to speak about. And in doing so Croci uncovers more than a terrible history, he points to an intolerable present.