Friday, March 25, 2016

Envisioning Horror

March 27, 2016  Text by Bonnie Heller, Photos by Steven Heller

Yad Vashem
The day began with a moving visit to Yad Vashem.    Nathan, our guide, pointed out that the establishment of Yad Vashem was one of the first ten laws established  by the Knesset in 1949.  Once called a "cemetery without graves" today's goal is one of education. Thus schools and those training in the army all visit several times, officers up to six times.  In addition,  all dignitaries visiting Israel are required to stop here,  There are no exceptions.  Rabbi Davis tied our visit here to our theme of vision and quoted from  midrash.

Our Yad Vashem guide
While we watched the opening video of everyday life in pre-war Germany, our guide poignantly noted that those in the films had no idea their lives were nearly over.  He noted they could not imagine what was coming and that they would not be here, an important and sobering tie to vision or the lack of it.  We caught a glimpse of Einstein in one of the movie clips reminding us of his foresight in leaving, but most German Jews felt that since 56% did not vote for Hitler, they would be safe to remain.
At the display of burned books we were reminded "When books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned,"(Heinrich Heine)

We were expertly guided through the rooms highlighting racial laws (1935), Kristallnacht, the issue of refugees, then and now, the Nuremberg laws determining who was a Jew, the dilemma of staying or leaving and the establishment of death camps.

We began to concentrate on the arts. One exhibition juxtaposed a propaganda video of the camps with the reality of prisoner  drawings and visual diaries .  The lies of the propaganda films were in great contrast to the realities of the diaries, drawings and paintings.We all agreed that the hand of the artist created the greatest truth.

Many of the artist names are listed here and examples of their work can be found on the Yad Vashem site. Artists included: Rafael Uzan, Marlya Spat, Roman Kramstyk, Felix Bloch, Pavel Fanti, Max Placik, Leo Haas, Otto Ungar, Malva Schalek, Jacob Lipshutz, are Esther Lurie to name a few. It is interesting to us as artists that each of the artists who felt compelled to create the images, signed their names and chronicled their experiences and the faces of friends and family.  As fellow artists, we need to remember their names and work as well.  Many worried that this might be the only testimony of the time.  The works were smuggled out and/or buried, to be dug up later and shared with the world.

End of Yad Vashem exhibition
Charlotte Salomon, a young artist, wanted to leave Germany, but her father felt they were safe.  Charlotte escaped to France, married and made the mistake of registering. She too died in Auschwitz in 1943. During her short life she painted hundreds of works describing her life, family and ultimately the camps.

Petr Genz was a very talented 14 year old whose diaries painted Prague of the early 1940s.  By the time he died in Theresienstadt  at 16 he had furiously chronicled his life in the camps. His painting Moonscape was carried into space by Ilan Ramon, an  Israeli astronaut who died on a tragic voyage. The resulting publicity helped launch the search for the full diary. Sixty years after Petr's death, the visual diary was published. Petr's sister said when she opened the diary, she felt the presence of her brother. Such are two of the thousands of artist related stories found at Yad Vashem.

At the entrance to the art gallery we are greeted by the words of a prescient artist Gela Seksztajn, who in 1942 stated,    "as I stand on the border between life and death, I take leave.  My works I bequeath to the Jewish Museum to be built after the war."

Schechter Institute
The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies brings the message of pluralistic Judaism to communities throughout Israel. Professor Golinkin, President of School and Professor of Talmud, History and Jewish Tradition introduced us to the building, He noted the architect's signature  use of natural light which can be seen through use of skylights and copious windows. Light flowed from floor to floor echoing the goal of bringing the light of Judaism to many.  Professor Golinkin then outlined the components and services of the Schechter Institute. The details of this can be found in the literature we all received. Several books recently published  by Schechter include The Schechter Hagaddah, A New Psalm, David's Psalms, Lovell Hagaddah, and The Illuminated Torah.  We all got a chance to take a quick look and were informed these books are available at Amazon, Geffin House and through the Institute itself.

The Tali program, an enrichment program serving the secular school system, was highlighted.  The purpose of Tali is to teach Jewish peoplehood. We were reminded that there is a resurgence of interest in living Jewishly in a different way than the orthodox --the Tali program teaches "where we came from and where we are going."

Envisioning Virtual Midrash

The Virtual Midrash website contains hundreds of categories, commentaries and pictures for use from Rabbinic, Christian and Muslim sources.  The basic premise is that Biblical art is a form of midrash-filling in the gaps.

Dr Jo Milgrom began by having us write our names four ways.  She then led us in study of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham and the bracketing of Lech Lecha, the going out and going in.  We innocently followed her direction to fold our paper into 8ths, wrote and illustrated 8 emotions with lines only and shared this with our study partner.  She then instructed  us to draw with lines only a turning point in our lives. We then had a partner interpret our drawing and shared our observations.    "Midrash is to bible what imagination is to knowledge" says Eli Wiesel and Dr. Jo shared this with us. "The language of lines", says Dr. Milgrom, "is not to be intimidating. It should never be boring." She shared that new beginnings are fearful and for her of the two turning points in her life--coming to Israel and making art, it was the latter that changed her life the most. Her lively, dramatic presentation probably changed ours as well.

Envisioning  Sound Through Music
Following dinner on our own, we met at the beautiful Jerusalem Theater for a lively, hamesh concert of the Andalusian Orchestra.

This was an especially challenging, emotional day, topped only by Anat's farewell to us.  She spoke of how much she loved our time together in Minneapolis and how appreciative she was of our coming to Israel. Her grandfather , she told us, was instrumental in the building of Israel and now at 97, suffering from dementia, nonetheless  begins each morning by beading necklaces. She gifted those necklaces to the members of our Art Lab and we all hugged our Anat l'hitrahot.

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