The Prayer of the Orchard Street Shul

Written on December 19, 2009

Tekiah (2009) oil on canvas (64 x 38) by Alan Falk Courtesy Cultural Heritage Artists Project, New Haven

In America it happens all the time.  Immigrant Jews arrive, build a community, more Jews come, and then prosper and move on to a better neighborhood and finally the suburbs. In the old neighborhood non-Jewish immigrants take their places and suddenly the once thriving shuls are empty.

Singer’s Artists

Written on November 21, 2009

Dance with Kerchief from Satan in Goray by Ira Moskowitz Courtesy Diana Gordon Collection

The illustrator stands in an oft-denigrated position, scorned by modernists and traditional purists alike.  For both schools of thought the sublime of art cannot be rendered literal.  On the other hand, illustrators are curiously accepted if not celebrated by those in a postmodern disposition.

Synagogues in Spain

Written on November 09, 2009

El Transito Synagogue, Eastern wall Toledo, Spain

A few weeks ago we stayed at a hotel in Seville, Spain called Las Casas de la Juderia, literally the houses of the Jewish Quarter.  It was beautiful, right next to an old church called Santa Maria la Blanca that was in medieval times a synagogue.  We had a terrace that overlooked the old church and the early morning air was filled with doves cooing.

Leipzig Machzor: A Vision from the Past

Written on October 22, 2009

Leipzig Machzor (ca.1300) Detail Eitan Courtesy Leipzig University Library

Seven hundred years ago in a synagogue in southwest Germany near the Rhine River, the chazzan opened a new machzor on Rosh Hashanah as he began Kol Nidrei.  The congregation glanced up and gasped as they saw the new prayer book he was davening from.

Kupferminc’s Wanderings

Written on October 06, 2009

Four Who Entered the Garden (2006), 15” X 24”; etching-aquatint by Mirta Kupferminc Courtesy Hebrew Union College Museum

Mirta Kupferminc is an artist who has made her artistic mission a search for meaning in a world profoundly unstable, problematic and filled with the terrors of memory not entirely her own.  As the child of Holocaust survivors, uprooted from Europe and planted in Argentina, one prevailing motif for her is that of a witness to the Holocaust one generation removed.  A prominent text panel quotes Saul Sosnowski: “…to be a witness who loves unconditionally; daring to judge God over Auschwitz and find him guilty; and pray to him still, even there, even in Auschwitz.”

Reinventing Ritual at The Jewish Museum

Written on September 23, 2009

Fringed Garment (2005), cotton: stitched and appliquéd by Rachel Kanter Courtesy The Jewish Museum

Why would one want to reinvent a Jewish ritual when it had been working perfectly well for hundreds if not thousands of years?  Ah ha, perhaps all is not as well as traditionalists would like to think.  There is the disquieting phenomenon that perhaps the majority of the Jewish people have little or no engagement with Jewish practice.

Rosh Hashanah Love Letters: Illuminations of David Moss

Written on September 12, 2009

Goldberg Ketubah (1974) Acrylics and ink on paper by David Moss Courtesy “Letters of Love” by David Moss (2004)

How should we approach Hashem at this time of teshuvah? Surely with fear because we understand that our lives hang in the balance.  But another element needs to be incorporated.  Love.  Yes, love must define our relationship with the Merciful One as we declare on Yom Kippur: “For we are Your people and You are our God…we are Your friend and You are our Beloved.”

Derfner Judaica Museum and The Art Collection

Written on August 26, 2009

Matzah Bag, embroidery by Ita Aber and Tsirl Waletsky Courtesy Derfner Judaica Museum

The inaugural exhibition, Tradition and Remembrance: Treasures of the Derfner Judaica Museum, at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale is a stunning presentation of close to 250 objects that sweeps through Jewish art history from the eighteenth century to contemporary times.

Esther’s Swoon Revealed

Written on August 10, 2009

Esther Before Ahasuerus (1548); detail:  Esther Swoons; oil on canvas by Tintoretto Courtesy Royal Collection, Windsor Castle, Windsor, England

Earlier this summer I went up to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to see the blockbuster exhibition, “Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice.”  While rarely have I seen as many masterpieces collected together in a traveling show, one painting stood out for both its Jewish subject and the surprising way it narrated the dramatic story of Esther appearing before Ahasuerus.

Ten Imaginings of Sarah and Hagar
A Play by Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

Written on August 09, 2009

Susan Moses as Sarah; Kimberly Fairbanks as Hagar Photo by Jordan Cassway

When we peer back through the millennia whom do we see?  Two women standing at the very beginning of our history, Sarah and Hagar.  Sarah conspired to overcome her barrenness and provide Abraham with an heir through her maidservant Hagar. From the start their tumultuous relationship effectively cast Abraham to the sidelines, so much so that Hagar went on to become a matriarch of her own people, the Ishmaelites.

Joel Silverstein
Brighton Beach Bible

Written on July 26, 2009

Babel, 1998 (acrylic on wood, 5’ X 6’) by Joel Silverstein Courtesy the artist

“We are in effect changing the rules as to what is aesthetically acceptable….It is exciting precisely because we are changing the discourse [about Jewish visual expression and contemporary art].”  Joel Silverstein made this startling proclamation in these pages three months ago in his exhibition essay Tzelem: Presence and Likeness in Jewish Art (May 6, 2009).

Kupferstein’s Collection

Written on July 09, 2009

This is My Job, oil on canvas by N. Bingham Courtesy the Kupferstein Collection

Mr. Tibor Kupferstein has a dream.  He would like to create the first Jewish Art Museum in Brooklyn.  It doesn’t seem too farfetched considering that the borough hosts the largest concentration of Jews in the New York metropolitan area.  And yet making his personal collection of Jewish art accessible to the public has been fraught with all kinds of bureaucratic roadblocks and technical snafus that seem determined to turn a beautiful gift into a sad unfulfilled saga.  It doesn’t seem fair.

Dialogues with the Unknown
Anette Pier and Michael Hafftka at YUM

Written on June 21, 2009

Honi ha Magil, oil on canvas by Michael Hafftka Courtesy Yeshiva University Museum

Two deeply idiosyncratic exhibitions at Yeshiva University Museum warrant close inspection if only to show how the diverse richness of biblical and Judaic subject matter can inspire contemporary artists.  The very eclectic nature of both artist’s works speaks volumes about the possibilities available when artists take Jewish subjects seriously and subsequently embrace them with their own demons.

Way to Heaven by Juan Mayorga

Written on May 10, 2009

Little Girl played by Samantha Rahn Way to Heaven written by Juan Mayorga

An unshaven man stumbles on stage, clad in a raincoat covering his pajamas.  He is barefoot and shuffles among the dried leaves that litter the stage area, a long rectangle set between the audience on either side.  It is a most intimate performance area, uncomfortably so.  He tells us he was a Red Cross representative, stationed in the Berlin suburb of Wansee, sent to inspect a civilian internment camp in Nazi Germany.

Moses und Aron
A Movie by Jean-Marie Straub & Daniele Huillet (1975)

Written on January 28, 2009

Moses und Aron the Movie

In German with English subtitles
New Yorker Films

How can the artist presume to make art when every stroke, every effort at creating an intelligible and beautiful object, might be construed as an affront to the wholeness and perfection of God and His handiwork.  Every one of the artist’s images could be seen as a potential idol, a potential Golden Calf.