Thursday, July 12, 2018

Open the Gates

Our exploration of thresholds has taken us through many gates. As we gathered with the rabbi one last time for this topic, he reminded us of the words for Psalm 24:9  "Lift up your head, oh you gates; lift them up you everlasting doors." Together we sang the words in Hebrew.

The rabbi shared a prayer with us that is said at the close of Shabbat at Havdallah. It identifies all the gates that we hope will open before us as we enter a new week. We each read a gate as the rabbi softly sang.

Gates of light, gates of lengthy days and years, gates of forbearance, gates of blessing, gates of understanding, gates of mirth, gates of greatness, gates of redemption, gates of power, gates of pleasure, gates of knowledge, gates of glory, gates of majesty, gates of relief, gates of a good assembly, gates of perfection, gates of alacrity, gates of song, gates of merits. gates of glow, gates of the splendor of Torah, gates of the splendor of wisdom, gates of the splendor of understanding, gates of knowledge, gates of delight, gates of compassion,gates of grace and kindness. gates of good life, gates of wisdom, (and 35 more! - see handout Gates)

"What gates have you gone through this year? What do you hope to go through?" he asked.

Many shared deeply emotional gates: supporting a friend at the end of their life, allowing the support of others as they dealt with challenges, letting go, moving out, moving on. I offered the gate of the unknown. Letting things unfold in their own way and time and embracing the unknown, always a feature of thresholds, but one we often fight. One lab member noted the range and specificity of the prayer and the fact that we go through gates all the time, but seldom give voice to the occasion. Life is full of gates and our topic forced a kind of mindfulness about each crossing.

#3
The rabbi offered us an interesting perspective on gates through the frontispiece of Jewish books through time (see handout Frontispieces). Many included pillars as an element, forming the entrance into the book, into knowledge. This was not true of the first publishing of the Talmud in 1512, a very simple frontispiece with only text. Several of the books  (#2, #7) indicated the city in which it was published on the front, but we learned this is often misleading as below it is often the statement "in the style of" followed in the noted cases by Amsterdam or Vilna. There were styles unique to respected presses in those cities and the mimicry was designed to raise the stature of the book. Copying the actual imagery is found in #5 done by a non-Jewish artist in 1811 who lifted the design of #4 from 1698 which was done by a convert to Judaism. Image #3, a bible published in Vilna makes use of Jewish imagery including Moses and Aaron, the five books of Moses at the base and at the top, the ark and cherubim as described in Exodus.

There was one puzzling book among them. There stood Venus on the shell, surrounded by cherubim. Apparently the book was published in 1630 by a non-Jewish press which didn't employ a design that was sensitive to its audience. Many tore out the frontispiece making an intact copy quite rare.

The large image noted as being published in 1924 in Poland (Vilna) notes "this is the gate of God, the righteous will pass through it."  Here the gate represents the gate of learning.  The large image with the tree is a Mishnah published in Israel. The two boxes at the top are titled Yachim and Boaz, the names of the two pillars at either side of the temple. I find it interesting that the gates take on such anthropomorphic form. We call on them to lift their heads and we go so far as to name them.

We returned to our Gates Handout where on the second page we found a drawing of the temple complete with the names for the two pillars. Also in this drawing is the Holy of Holies in the back which is called dvir/shrine. Within it rests the two tablets of stone that Moses brought down from Horeb. Devir means "book of the palace."

Prof. Ismar Schorsch proposes that the survival of Jews in exile after the destruction of the Temple was made possible by transforming the holy from a place to a book, making the sacred portable and accessible to all.

We closed our discussion by speaking of the gate of uprightness, one which we all passed through as part of the lab. We each came together as a part of a community to learn and ultimately to present our response both visually and in words. With that we moved into the second part of our session, sharing our artwork with the others in the lab. You can view our work and the related text on our virtual exhibition.



Tuesday, May 1, 2018

What Are You Doing Jewishly? Lots!


We gathered for our last lab of the season both for artist presentations and a special interview session by Josh Awend. Josh is participating in 248, a network focused on Jewish doing. What that means is that it is focused on doing rather than practice. It is not concerned with whether you keep kosher or celebrate Shabbat.  Rather it asks the question: What are you doing Jewishly, ethically, morally? What Josh has chosen to do is create podcasts on Jewish identity to which he hopes others can relate. In this way he explores what it is like to grow up as an American Jew.

So why 248? 248 signifies the number that represents the name of Abraham. It also represents the number for the Hebrew word for particle. We are each particles that form a larger whole in concert with each other. And finally 248 is the number of positive commandments in the Torah. One of our members came up with one additional interpretation, associating it with 24-7, plus one, a step beyond.

An element that 248 focuses on is the growing divide between American and Israeli Jews and its efforts are directed at closing that gap by increasing understanding across these two groups. As a new generation of leadership emerges, it is especially important that there be an understanding of each others' lives and the challenges each faces.


Sheri Klein's visual journal of this session
Several of us volunteered to be interview participants for a podcast and Josh asked us questions related to our Jewish experience throughout our lives. What was your first Jewish experience? he asked. I remembered my grandmother doing the Shabbat blessing, memorable because it was only during the two years that she lived with us that it was said in my home. She was losing memory, but held firmly onto that deeply-embedded blessing. Years later, for a show on family history, I painted her saying that blessing, Memory of Blessing I called it, both hers and mine. I always stood  sideways before that painting as I took my seat at my childhood table. Others remembered a transition from the Unitarian church to a Jewish temple, small Jewish communities where there was not much Jewish practice in the home, dinner with kugel or pot roast, but not labeled as Shabbat dinner and countering comments on Jewish stereotypes when living in environments with few Jews.

What did you experience as a teen? Several of us spoke of confirmation classes in Reform temples, enjoying the exploration and the space to discuss freely, not being told what we had to believe.  Josh concluded with a question about thresholds that we have crossed in sharing Jewish identity. Many spoke of their work for the upcoming exhibition on this theme. My threshold crossing related of course to interviewing elders and creating artwork on their stories, telling the stories of our Jewish community. It has been a threshold I've been crossing for many years as I began to explore Jewish identity and gradually have become a part of the Jewish community.

I was especially struck by the fact that several participants, including myself, came from a more secular vantage point, a topic which we had not discussed directly before. I suspect it is a different world to some extent even to some of our fellow lab participants, growing up in a community with few Jews and often limited Jewish practice. Some of our panel were products of mixed marriages or married a spouse who wasn't Jewish. I thought of the focus of 248 on doing, rather than practice. Practice excludes this significant segment of the Jewish population, doing includes, finding the common ground that unites us.

You can find the podcast here.

For the second half of our session we had two artist presentations. Rochelle Woldorsky focused on the idea of Jewish artists working from their Jewish heritage.The painting that came to mind for her was the work of Larry Rivers, The History of Matzah.
Larry Rivers - The History of Matzah
She shared two projects which temporarily allowed a measure of freedom to Terezin prisoners.  Both had to do with the role that Terezin served for the Nazis in creating propaganda films on the camp. One is Making Light in Terezin, a project that was supported by Rimon. Aired on PBS, this film followed a Minnesota theater group to the Czech Republic where they performed a cabaret piece originally performed in Terezin. The arts provided a threshold to a kind of freedom even within the walls of a concentration camp.

The other project was Liga Terezin, a film project that focused upon the soccer games of the Jewish prisoners, most of whom were ultimately murdered. Juxtaposed with these games are the antisemitic expressions of modern viewers as well as interviews with survivors.

Naamah, Hagar, Sarah, Rebecca
Dina O'Sullivan shared her exploration of the women in Judaism who each represented qualities that enabled them to contribute to the Jewish story. She took us through the stories of Eve, Naamah, Sarah, Hagar, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Ruth, Miriam, Esther and Deborah. sharing artwork on each. As she did so, she spoke of the unresolved questions their stories raised for her. All of these women crossed thresholds, facing the unknown, swallowing hard and moving forward. Esther when she told the king of her Jewish heritage and asked for his support, Naamah when she came to terms with her
Leah & Rachel
Queen Esther
husband Noah's crazy plan to gather animals together and head out to sea and Eve when she took that first bite. Along the way they modeled many admirable qualities for the women of today.

And so concludes our final session for the 2017/2018 lab. While the formal labs have concluded we have two important dates that lie ahead, our opening June 21 and a gathering around food on July 12th to share our artwork's story with our fellow lab participants.



Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Every Door Has Two Sides

Gilgal in the Madaba Map-tile-roofed church with 12 stones
We are at the season of Passover, a time when we focus on the Exodus, yet every door has two sides. As we exit one world, we enter another and so we entered the world across the Jordan and examined both entrance and how we mark its significance.  “Why, when, where do we set up memorials?” asked the Rabbi.  “At the site, to remember, to honor, educate and pass on traditions,” we replied. Memorials connect past to present and become places to which we return to remember.

Memorials are often constructed of durable materials, but sometimes they are temporary. Pain and sorrow give birth to shrines of flowers and reminders of someone suddenly lost.

Not all memorials are welcomed. I think of a friend who has had stumbling stones made for family members who died in the Holocaust. Antwerp, where they once lived, will not allow her to place them.

Some memorials have become a relic from earlier times and past beliefs. What do we do with the Civil War memorials that commemorate the Confederacy?

And for some we actively discourage memorials. Osama bin Laden was buried at sea to assure there would be no site of commemoration.

Some memorials are unintentional. In the Prague cemetery tombstones sprout like jagged teeth, honoring the many layers of people buried there, a community bonded together in death across time.

A memorial suspends time, bringing the event to life. Because of its significance, it is especially upsetting when desecrated.

We turned our attention to Joshua (handout-Joshua in Jordan), the leader of the Israelites as they crossed the Jordan near Jericho (Joshua 3:6-3:17).  In an echo of the Red Sea, the waters parted when the feet of the priests with the Ark dipped into the water. The Israelites then crossed on dry land in the middle of the Jordan. 

After crossing, the Israelites are instructed to create a memorial (Joshua 4:1-24) of this event.  Joshua instructs the representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel to each take a stone and lay it as a memorial where they encamp for the night. He too takes twelve stones and creates a memorial at the center of the Jordan.  This event is foreshadowed in Deuteronomy 27:2-8 when Moses declares that when they cross the River Jordan, they will set up great stones, plaster them and write upon them the words of the law.  Similarly, it echoes the twelve pillars erected by Moses in Exodus 24:4.  (handout-At the Threshold of the Land)  Ein Yaakov, (Sotah 7:15) proposes that there were three sets of twelve stones, those erected by Moses, those in the middle of the Jordan and those on the other side of the Jordan. Like trail markers these stones trace the journey from the Exodus and the entrance into the promised land. The stones are a powerful image incorporating the physical act of moving stones, echoing the very act of movement that they commemorate.

So what is written on these stones? It is proposed that the words of the Torah are recorded on the stones, much as a mezuzzah does so on a gate. The stones are to generate a retelling and much like at Passover, we are commanded to tell the story when children ask, "What is the meaning of these stones for you? (Joshua 4:6)

We closed our discussion by considering a threshold we had crossed and how we would commemorate its significance.

The second part of our session included two artist presentations. Alison Morse shared with us the evolution of her work with Rachel Breen as expressed in the new exhibition The Price of Our Clothes at Carleton College (Reception April 12: 6pm). Her exploration with Rachel marries poetry, visuals and performance art to examine the common threads between the Bangladash Rana Plaza collapse and the Triangle Factory Fire. Alison's poetry steps into the voices of both the factory workers and the voices of things. Just as Rachel uses collage in her artwork, Alison uses collage in her poetry, integrating poetry and artwork into a seamless whole. Her poetry reading enlists fifteen people in a live chorale reading, an excerpt of which she had several of our group perform. Having heard her moving presentation at the Tychman Shapiro opening, I was surprised at how powerful even an unpracticed version felt.

2017-18,  8 x 8 in, mixed media. Tzedek, 2009
Sheri Klein shared her work from 2009-18 which often involved an exploration of Jewish identity.  When she left full-time teaching she began to do visual journals, making use of collage, chalk pastel and acrylic. She also did a series on clothes that she wore throughout her life. Of particular interest was her artwork on our monthly sessions in the lab where she created a visual journal representing her response to the material.  Using images and collaging parts of handouts, she created a personal and vivid reaction to the topics we explored. 
p. 2 of the journal titled About Thresholds),

As often happens our artists' talks echoed the rabbi's material, each commemorating their respective themes, creating echoes and amplifications of the material to lodge it in memory.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Thresholds of Time


There is a sixth dimension beyond what is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears, and the sunlight of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination.

Many of us grew up with this rather poetic statement from the Twilight Zone delivered in a timbre of voice that we can still hear in our mind. We’ve talked in the past about twilight as a liminal place, the space between day and night. In this passage it is defined as a place of imagination, perhaps a place of creativity engendering both fear and possibility.

Our discussion today focused on thresholds as they relate to time. The rabbi asked us what our favorite time of day was. Many defined that time relative to light, often preferring morning light or light at dusk. Some preferred early morning when no one else is around, perhaps when they could be most present to themselves without distractions. "When is night?" he asked as we sought to find that arbitrary moment that constituted night.

The concept of time thresholds is deeply embedded in Judaism to an extent I had not fully appreciated.  Times are detailed for the earliest use of tallit, the latest shema, afternoon prayers and of course when Shabbat begins. Today we can google this information, but what did they do before watches and clocks? When my watch was recently being repaired, I couldn’t go an hour without looking at that empty wrist. How did we determine time without an instrument, be it a watch or an iphone?

We turned our attention to the Talmud where we learned that twilight is called bein hashemashos, the time from sunset until three medium-sized stars appear. Since we don’t know whether this period belongs to day or night, we treat it conservatively and are not to light Shabbat candles during this time.

Halakhah, Jewish law, often sets the times when holidays begin or certain acts must occur. To this end they make use of the proportionate hour. The number of hours of light are divided by 12 to arrive at a proportional hour.

We turned our attention to our handout (Bameh Madlikin-Shabbat) where we discovered three measures of time in the ancient world. R’Yehuda tells us that bein hashemashos has arrived when the bottom of the sky has darkened, but not the top. When both are equivalent in color, night has arrived. R’Nechemyah proposes that after the sun sets, night arrives in the time it takes for a man to walk a half-mil, a Roman mile, which takes approximately 9 minutes. R’Yose asserts that it is in the blink of the eye and we cannot determine day from night. Rava tells us to light the Sabbath candles when the light is still visible above the palm trees. I assume time zone adjustments account for different trees of the region or we would be waiting a long time. On a cloudy day we are to look to the rooster or ravens or a wild gourd that bends towards the sun.  The natural world guides those without watch pieces.

The Pirkei Avot 5:10 teaches that ten things were created on the eve of the first Shabbat at twilight, a time of ultimate potentiality. Each contributes to significant transitional moments in our history.  There is the mouth of the earth, the well and the donkey, the rainbow, manna and Moshe’s staff, the worm that helped build the temple, letters, writing and the tablets of the ten Commandments, Moshe’s burial place, Abraham’s ram and some say the tongs that made tongs. It is as if a writer mapped out all their plot points prior to creating their story. (handout-Halakic-Times)

We concluded with two thought-provoking poems on the theme of time, A Man in His Life by Yehuda Amichai and A Prayer for Twilight by Devon Spier.(handout-Halakic-Times)  The rabbi left us with a question to consider. What is the bein hashemashos for us as artists when we find creative inspiration?

The second part of our discussion was artist-led. Noam Sienna explored the threshold between art and scholarship, a place where he resides. Noam spoke of how each area informs the other through a feedback loop. He spoke of how he grew up in that world as both of his parents are engaged in art and scholarship. It was a short step for Noam to focus on the bridge that connects these two areas. By making his own paints and cutting his own quills, he felt that he developed deeper insight into his understanding of manuscript creation. He shared with us some of his work on micrography and his re-creation of damaged ketubot. Rather than passing through the threshold to a new world, Noam lives between two worlds drawing from both of them.


Sarah Routman led the second part of the hour with an exploration of the broken heart. Sarah’s training is in photography and creative writing. A divorce after 34 years, caused her to consider the threshold of being broken and how we reassemble ourselves after being broken. She introduced us to an exercise where we were to select a heart that she had created out of various found materials. We were asked to write of a time we felt broken, then break the heart. I struggled with two pliers, ultimately cracking my heart in two. We then were given an opportunity to mend it. While hoping to wrap mine in wire into a thing of beauty, my heart had other desires and kept splitting apart. Finally I sheathed it in a fishnet bag, a figurative net under its fall in this world to capture its broken pieces.  I found myself hearkening back to a line in the poem by Spier that seemed quite appropriate to our task, “And the fall and climb out of the breach, that break us and assemble us whole in the same breath.”

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Women at the Threshold

Most of the religious literature has been written by men. Their eyes, their experience, their pre-conceptions, color even the most thoughtful analysis. In today’s session the rabbi sought to draw out the voices of those who are often silenced, the women.

As with many of our sessions, we began with a question. Imagine you are standing at the entry to God’s tent. What is it like? What do you feel?

Now when he spoke of God’s tent, he was referencing the ark which was carried through the wilderness, the earthly residence of God. Each of us considered our idea of the divine as we stood on its doorstep. Frightening, anxiety-producing, exhilarating, naked and exposed, we replied.  I was slow to respond as I tried this idea on, having a hard time conceiving of God personified. Instead I contemplated the Universe, as close to a God concept as I can get. It is a place I find mysterious and surprising, frightening, yet affirming, an unknown that invites us into its mysteries. Yes, that would have to do. Each of us must face the unknown beginning with our birth, ending with our death. It is a series of gateways and thresholds.

So what role do women have with the tabernacle? The people gathered and brought supplies with which to construct it. We turn to Exodus 38:1-8  (handout-Women at the Entrance to the Tent) which tells us of the materials from which it was built. Shittim (acacia) wood, horn and bronze formed the altar and utensils. But when Bezalel came to the laver, the container for the purifying water that the priests used to wash prior to their priestly duties, he drew on copper.  And copper that came from a most unusual source. The women who gathered at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting contributed their copper mirrors, transforming reflection into a container holding yet another reflective and purifying substance, water.  The women also brought goat's hair to weave the curtain that covered the tabernacle (Exodus 26:7).

We get a surprising glimpse of the role of women through these small clues, contributing reflection and the separation between God and the people.  Rabbi Elyse Goldstein reminds us that communal leaders often value the actions and lives of only those most like themselves. Women's experiences are often written out of the collective memory and history.

We ended our session by exploring the midrash as it considered the role of women in Exodus 38: 1-8 and I Samuel 2:11-12, 22-25. Aviva Zornberg suggests the midrash functions like the unconscious, revealing layers of meaning that can alter and destabilize the primary story.  Each rabbi took a different view of the women in the story: generous, seductive, pious, a force, violated, inconvenienced or unfulfilled.  Perhaps this reveals more about how men view women than the women themselves.

The rabbi closed with this passage by Rabbi Goldstein: "As women become more visible and active in contemporary communities, as our roles expand, how will we tell our communities' stories, and how will future generations remember them and tell them? Will there be those whose participation is absent or limited? Will there be those whose place in our history is consciously erased or diminished?"

For the second half of our session, Rachel Breen joined us to share her collaboration with Alison Morse on "The Labor We Wear," a show that will be at the Tychman Shapiro Gallery from February 13-March 1.  Rachel shared her history as a series of thresholds, from community organizing to an MFA to the path a sewing machine took her on the day it ran out of thread.  Mark making by sewing machine became her art form, a path that led to the concept of repair and Tikkun Olam. Her efforts to stitch the world together took on new life when she heard about the factory collapse in Bangladesh.  It connected with her as a Jew through its association with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  The threshold it took her through was a decision to do something new with her artwork. When Alison posted a poem connecting the two events, Rachel connected with her and a new threshold was bridged, a collaboration. She noted that a collaboration is challenging as you give up some control to allow it to happen as you go down a new path to the unknown.

After the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire there were many changes in the laws to provide greater protection to workers. Since that time; however, the clothing industry has moved overseas. I was surprised to learn that in 1960, 95% of clothing was made in the United States. Today it is 2%.  In 1960 clothing purchases represented 10.4% of the household budget, today it is 3.5%. As the price of clothing drops we buy more of it, filling our landfills. I think ruefully of the bags I gather for Goodwill each year. It also means that all of those hard-won worker protections that grew out of catastrophes are for naught and the catastrophes have just moved overseas with the clothing industry. Brands take little responsibility because the plants are owned by Bangladeshi businessmen who are involved with politics. That gives them great latitude as a result.

We are all wearing clothing from many other countries, seldom the United States, and hence bear some responsibility to advocate for issues such as worker safety.

Rachel and Alison's project continues to evolve. A Rimon grant enabled them to go to Bangladesh where Rachel discovered piles of scraps around the clothing factories. She took this negative space, the remaining scraps, and fashioned it into new artwork. Her work has moved into sculpture and performance and continues to evolve.

Stop by the Reception at the Tychman Shapiro Gallery Feb 15 6-8pm and catch the Poetry Reading at 7pm.  Rachel will be doing a performance event on Friday February 23, 12-3pm.




Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Exploring the Technicalities

“What do you think of when I say Halakhah (Jewish law)?” asked the rabbi. Discipline, focus, rules, guidelines were the more neutral responses.  “Restrictions,” offered another.  We began to expand on the idea of “restrictions,” with its negative overtones.  “It segregates you from the world around you.  It requires accommodation.”  

One lab member who recently returned from a trip noted how much she had to plan ahead to allow for keeping kosher while traveling. Suddenly we did a u-turn to a more positive coloration.  It was suggested that “It takes a lot of thought to live intentionally, mindfully.”   

It should be noted that our group is mixed in our practice. Some keep kosher, restrict their use of cellphones on Shabbat, pay attention to the restrictions within Halakhah. Others of us find those practices quite foreign and not part of our everyday life. Being in this latter category, I was curious how we were going to address this topic.

The rabbi introduced us to Hayyim Nahman Bialik, a Jewish poet who was a pioneer of modern Hebrew poetry. Bialik examined the distinction between ‘‘Halakhah and Aggadah (story, folklore).’’ The halakhah is ‘‘severe, strict, hard as iron’’ and the aggadah ‘‘compliant, merciful, softer than oil.’’ The halakhah is ‘‘piety, fossilized, duty and yoke,’’ wearing a ‘‘stern face,’’ whereas aggadah is ‘‘eternal renewal, freedom, leniency,’’ wearing a joyous face (handout-"Revealment and Concealment")

These two aspects work in tandem with Halakhah laying down the foundation, the scaffolding on which the law is structured, while Aggadah interprets the meaning and the values.

With that introduction, we began to explore the distinction by way of two elements of Halakhah (handout- "How Hot").  The rule is that on Shabbat we are not to heat either oil or water to the point where the hand spontaneously recoils. The question that then arises is when is that?  The Gemara considers that not all hands are equally sensitive to heat, thus the conclusion was that any water that could scald a baby’s stomach would cause a hand to recoil.   The sages then arrive at a range of heat ranging from 104 degrees Fahrenheit to 176 degrees while I contemplate how many babies were scalded in arriving at these degrees of precision.

And yet another element of Halakhah. As cooking is prohibited on Shabbat eve, what can one do earlier in the day that may not yet be completed by Shabbat eve?  But first we considered why cooking is prohibited.  It is considered a creative act in that it is a transformative process. Similarly, heating water also meets this test and hence this prohibition.  A niggling inconsistency was raised: “Having sex on Shabbat is considered a mitzvah. How is that not a creative act?” Obviously, men wrote the rules we retorted. (A bit of exploration post-lab and I came up with the explanation that the creative acts that were forbidden were those involved with the building of the tabernacle or their derivatives.)

But enough of sex, let’s return to food. The Mishna establishes that the meal must be at least mostly completed while it is still day.  And how do we define completion? If a cake or bread, it must form a crust while still day. A more entertaining criteria was established based on the bandit, Ben Drosai, who was always on the run, hence only cooked his food one-third through. Ben Drosai is immortalized by Rashi who codifies this, noting that we can keep food on the stove if it is already cooked one-third through, like Ben Drosai did. Rambam sets a more conservative standard at half-cooked.  I am beginning to understand why there are so many Jewish attorneys.

With a surfeit of attorneys, Hayyim Nahman Bialik proposes that what we need are more creative artists to bring Hallakhah to life. 

For the second part of our session, Jonathan Gross focused upon the details that often trip us up with the black box of digital imaging. From raster graphics to pixels, from RGB to CMYK, he introduced us to the underlying elements that we seldom deal with directly even though we often struggle with their result.  He explained mysteries such as why digital may seem over-exposed relative to film (the chemical reaction stops at some point and resists over-exposure) and the distinction between additive color (RGB) and subtractive color (CMYK). Those of us with I-phones have HDR, high dynamic range. It actually takes three images at different settings and combines them. I always wondered what HDR meant! He also suggested we might want to explore gimp.org, free software relatively comparable to Photoshop. If you use raw files you will need to download a free add-in.   For those who would like to more carefully consider this content you can find the presentation here.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Miracles of Survival


With Hanukkah fast approaching we turned our attention to the menorah (also known as the hanukiya).

"Where do you place your hanukiya?" asked the rabbi. This was a question that had never occurred to me.

"Somewhere that won't start a fire or drip wax in hard to clean places, " I thought.  Apparently this is a question that has drawn considerable thought.

Living rooms by windows seemed to be the most common place with one placed outdoors on a rock next to the door, actually the closest to the recommended location.  Mine sits on a table in my kitchen before a bay window.

Those of us who were asked to describe Hanukkah to our grade school classes knew well that Hanukkah was a minor holiday, elevated to balance the scales with Christmas.  The reality is that of sixty-three volumes from the rabbis, Hanukkah warranted a paragraph.

So let's take a look at what we do know. Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple after the Maccabean Jews regained control of Jerusalem. It celebrates a miracle of one day's worth of oil burning for eight nights. The Hanukkah menorah derived from the menorah in the Temple which had seven branches, but the one used for Hanukkah has eight and the Shamash, used to light the other candles. In the tent of the tabernacle it was placed on the southern wall (Exodus 40:24). I quickly considered the direction my menorah faced - south! -quite by accident.

The first Temple had ten candelabras. Perhaps one of the best known images of the menorah from the second Temple is the image on the
Arch of Titus in Rome.

We  get a few more instructions (see handout- Windows on the World). We are to place the menorah near the the entrance, but outside or in a window that can be seen by the public.  Anticipating dangerous times when one might not wish to be so public,  we are told that it is sufficient to place it on a table. The menorah should be arranged from east to west and was to be opposite the mezuzah. An unresolved debate ensued between the rabbis as to whether it should be to the right or the left of the door. We are to light the menorah at home instead of only at the synagogue and we are to light it at the threshold of the house.

Why do we light it at home? This isn't a religious holiday so we may not go to synagogue and the home is the center of Jewish life.  We light it at the threshold or place it near a window to publicize the miracle. And why opposite the mezuzah?  So we are surrounded by mitzvot. According to Kabbalah, on the right we have chesed, God's kindness. On the left we have the sign of strength, the Maccabees. When we walk across the threshold we are surrounded with each mirroring the other in a balance of opposites.

The second part of our session was an artist-led session by David Sherman on the Transfer of Memory project.  David photographed forty-four survivors and paired his photographs with a brief text of their story written by Lili Chester. The project has traveled widely and was designed with portable walls that lend themselves to that concept. David took us through the dictionary definition of survival, continuing to live despite difficult circumstances. He then turned his attention to the people he photographed noting the different ways that they defined survival from fighting back to finding a safe haven, to the kindness of a friend to being saved by a stranger.  He did both color and black and white photographs, but decided to go with color as it created a sense of the people as being part of society. He noted that the black and white photographs seemed to freeze them in time and create a more documentary feeling. The photographs were done in their homes and he sought to keep the nuances that created a sense of the person. For example, in the image of George Sirosi (left) he left his glasses hanging from his shirt, no doubt a common habit.

David still hopes to publish the black and white images which offer a different artistic quality.  There are some upcoming exhibitions at the Lindbergh and Humphrey airports if you would like to see the work.

David closed by talking about the 2017 [Re] Telling exhibition at the Tychman-Shapiro Gallery which was a response to the artwork of Holocaust artist Fritz Hirschberger. Hirschberger worked from an original Auschwitz photograph that he turned into a painting. David then retold it by converting it back to a different kind of photograph.

It occurs to me as I write this, that David's topic of survival is a very appropriate partner to our discussion of the Maccabees. To survive extreme hardship and keep one's spirit intact is certainly something to celebrate, whether it is the Maccabees or survivors of the Shoah.