Writings

The Sarajevo Haggadah The Choice of Images

Written on March 27, 2003

The Synagogue, illuminated manuscript, pages 33 & 34, ink and color on vellum (ca.1350)

The Rylands Haggadah A Cry from Catalonia, Part II

In the late 1300’s a masterpiece of Jewish Art was produced in Northeastern Spain in Catalonia. Over the years this Jewish community had been subject to increasing hostility from their Christian rulers in the form of repressive decrees, forced sermons and conversions. In 1391 lawless mobs attacked and massacred Jews in Barcelona and many other Spanish cities. The Rylands Haggadah (the original is currently at the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, England and a facsimile was published in 1988) represents a unique insight into the tumultuous Medieval Jewish world of Catalonia and Provence.

Mordechai the Jew

Written on March 10, 2003

Esther and Mordechai

Three Works of Jewish Art

"And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee…(Devorim 28:66). Rav interpreted this as applying to Israel in the time of Haman (Esther Rabbah, Proem). This time may be upon us. There can be no certainty when war is imminent and constant terror threatens our homeland. Three very different artists understand various shades of this perspective as they explicate the role of Mordechai in the Book of Esther.

Fine Judaica at Kestenbaum & Co
imes Of Hope, Seasons Of Despair

Written on March 05, 2003

Gilt Tooled Leather Binding; Chumash published in Antwerp, 1573, (Lot 53) Courtesy of Kestenbaum and Co.

The auction of fine judaica at Kestenbaum & Company unfolds a quilt of diverse Jewish history. As they are auctioned off to the highest bidder, the saga of the Jewish people is traced in these objects and in their stories; from the most scandalous accusations to the most fundamental hope.

Biblical Contentions Paintings by Janet Shafner

Written on February 19, 2003

I'm Here

36 Paintings

Janet Shafner is one of the most exciting and intelligent painters I have come across in many years. As an observant Jewish artist she has chosen Tanach, Midrash, Talmud and its commentaries as her inspiration and subject matter. In crafting her complex images she utilizes a talmudic visual paradigm offering midrashic and/or modern images as a kind of "counter text" that contrasts with her biblical depiction that forms the main visual "text" of most works.

Reflections of Biblical Texts Bradford

Written on December 24, 2002

Twelfth Amidah Theme: Punish Heresy: Jepthah (2002)

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.

Hyman Bloom's Journey

Written on December 18, 2002

Rabbi with Torah

A creative life is laid out before us, how do we understand it? And since it is definitely not finished (the artist is ninety and still painting in a newly constructed studio in Nashua, New Hampshire), it is a travesty to attempt a summation. But we can certainly review what has gone before and speculate how he got to where he is now and what might come next. That is the challenge of the retrospective, Color & Ecstasy: The Art of Hyman Bloom, at the National Academy of Design until December 29, 2002.

The Inner View of Isidor Kaufmann

Written on November 14, 2002

Portrait of a Young Boy by Kaufmann

The Portrait of a Young Boy by Isidor Kaufmann, offered at auction on November 12, 2002 by Kestenbaum & Company, is one of many singular paintings by this unappreciated master of Jewish art. This modest little portrait, only nine inches high by six and three quarter inches wide, has a disproportionate power and can be seen as an example of how art can challenge prejudice and criticism leveled against Orthodoxy both in the beginning of the twentieth century and now.

Hasidim of Williamsburg - Irving I Herzberg

Written on July 24, 2002

Kitaj Jewish Rider

The Choice of Photography

What makes a great photograph? Is it something that merely warms the heart or unlocks the memory? Or might it be something more? Great photographs rise above our individual loves and ethnic interests and exhibit at least four essential elements; compelling composition, clarity of image, engaging subject and technical excellence. Without these components you end up with a "nice" picture that remains a snapshot relegated to a shoebox of memories. The image, Succoth, Man with a Prayer Shawl, Bedford Avenue 1965 by Irving I. Herzberg is intriguing. Much more is here than mere familiarity, in fact this grand photograph answers each categorical imperative of good photography in the affirmative.

Jewish Photography?
New York: Capital of Photography at the Jewish Museum

Written on June 04, 2002

Kitaj Jewish Rider

"I think there are two kinds of photography - Jewish photography and goyish photography. If you look at modern photography, you will find, on the one hand the Weegees, the Diane Arbuses, the Robert Franks - funky photographs. And then you have the people who go out in the woods. Ansel Adams, Weston. Its like black and white jazz." William Klein, veteran photographer, quoted in the New Yorker May 21, 2001 by Anthony Lewis, thinks Jewishness is distinguished by a predominately urban consciousness somewhat akin to the 'funky' side of "real jazz."

Mirroring Evil at the Jewish Museum

Written on May 08, 2002

Enfants Gates

Sacred, Profane or Art?

Mirroring Evil - Nazi Imagery/Recent Art, which opened at the Jewish Museum on March 17, consistently elicits either passionate denunciation or thoughtful praise. Edward Rothstein, commenting on the show in The New York Times, characterizes this phenomenon as a result of two distinct approaches to the Holocaust. One sees the Holocaust as a horrifying event among many in mankind’s sordid history.

Archie Rand and the B’nai Yosef Murals Part 3

Written on April 22, 2002

I'm Here

The Painted Shul

In 1978, almost a year after Archie Rand had finished the upstairs murals at the B’nai Yosef synagogue in Brooklyn, he was invited to create additional murals downstairs in the two study halls. The pomp and ceremony of the Holidays and Sabbaths were represented upstairs in an open and expansive space, but downstairs was a weekday, down-to-earth affair. In these rooms, enclosed and intimate, there was a constant flow and presence of male Jews in over ten consecutive minyans conducted every morning, noon and evening. The study hall, occupied all day by men learning Torah, is the creative hub of Torah knowledge in this and every synagogue complex. In this different environment Rand altered his aesthetic strategy. What he created was a sanctuary of security and beauty.

Archie Rand and the B’nai Yosef Murals Part 2

Written on April 16, 2002

I'm Here

The Painted Shul

“Stylistic unity is blasphemy in synagogue decoration. Such unity becomes an act of hubris on the part of the artist,” declares artist Archie Rand, explaining the aesthetics of the wildly diverse murals at the B’nai Yosef synagogue in Brooklyn. His unique artistic and theological vision arises out of a volatile mix of late Modernist aesthetics known as Postmodernism, Rand’s fascination with esoteric religious symbolism and his weakness for Pop Art irreverence.

Archie Rand and the B’nai Yosef Murals Part 1

Written on April 08, 2002

I'm Here

The Painted Shul

At the corner of Ocean Parkway and Avenue P in Brooklyn stands Congregation B’nai Yosef, a distinguished Sephardi synagogue affectionately known as the “Painted Shul.” From the street it is an unremarkable structure; a freestanding early nineteen-seventies building sporting a three-story brick façade. But once you ascend to the main sanctuary one flight up you have entered a transformed space.

Counting

Written on March 20, 2002

Omer Counter Schwartzbart


Anticipation is a powerful emotion indeed! When we count the omer, we are anticipating the holiday of Shavous and the re-enactment of receiving the Torah. We count each day, knowing full well that on the next day we will count again until forty-nine. We are confident as to where we are going, knowing that anticipation is a form of faith. Counting for observant Jews is really an act of devotion. We cherish each and every day that spans our trek from the constraints of Egyptian slavery to our liberation at Har Sinai. As an expression of hiddur mitzvah Jewish artists make omer counters to guide our way along this path of devotion.

Purim Ballet
The Casting of Fate Gyor National Ballet Theater

Written on February 26, 2002

Jews Mourning - Purim Ballet - National Ballet of Hungary

The Gyor National Ballet Theater of Hungary production of Purim: The Casting of Fate, presented at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan, is a powerful retelling of Megillas Esther transformed into dance. This modern ballet, fueled by a musical score by Ferenc Javori, the founder of the Budapest Klezmer Band, pulsates with energy and joy. It is a successful combination of vibrant klezmer music, striking set and lighting design, evocative costumes and sensitive choreography. The staging artfully combines abstract dance idioms and more concrete devices of props and pantomime.