Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Every Door Has Two Sides

Gilgal in the Madaba Map-tile-roofed church with 12 stones
by Susan Weinberg

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.