Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Water: An Agent of Transformation

Artist Lab 1.0 February 10, 2015 by Meryl Page

Before the artists could begin to discuss water, they first had to slog their way through water in all its frozen forms from ice and sleet to snow to make their way to the JCC. Once the eight artists arrived they immersed themselves in both the discussion of mikveh and the creation of a "soul collage" in response.

What responses do you have to the term "mikveh?" That was the first question posed to participants who wrote narratives or words that they linked to the term. We read the responses aloud and it was clear each participant was knowledgeable and many of the reactions were common among the participants. The thread of the discussion focused  on the mikveh, its development in response to the Torah’s commandments in Leviticus 15:19 and its role today. Why the very detailed regulations in the Talmudic Tractate Toharot? Is this mikveh misogynous? Is it a special spiritual mitzvah for women? What do the terms "tamei" and "tahor" mean beyond the literal English translation of impure and pure? Why was the mikveh as central an institution in Diaspora Jewish communities as the cemetery?

Liba brought the catalogue from The Mikveh Project, an artistic collaboration between photographer Janice Rubin and writer Leah Lax. Participants remembered the exhibit’s arrival at the Sabes JCC and the controversy it stirred. The exhibit made public a ritual that is one of the most private of Jewish rituals.

The artists stayed late as they created soul collages from the materials Liba collected. Each small collage was its own small world. (see photo). The toughest part of the evening—letting go. Each participant viewed the others’ collages in silence. Each seemed to understand the privilege of opening a door into the heart and mind and soul of fellow artists.

Selected bibliography of art works and thoughts:
Adler, Rachel. "Tumah and Tahara: Endings and Beginnings" in The Jewish Woman: New Perspectives. Ed. Elizabeth Koltun. Schocken Books, 1976.
Adler, Rachel. "In Your Blood, Live. Re-visions of a Theology of Purity" in Lifecycles 2: Jewish Women on Biblical Themes in Contemporary Life, ed. Debra Orenstein and Jane Rachel Litman, 1997.
Lewin, Naamah Batya. The Mikveh. Part of a film cycle.

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