In Israel, a new five month scholarship program being offered to young aspiring athletes – one of them could be you.
There once lived a pious old man in Safed. His great grandparents had come from Eastern Europe to Eretz Yisrael, sometime in the 18th Century. He remembered back when the Turks ruled Palestine and then the English came and tried to govern this difficult land. In those years,
Safed was a mix of Arab and Jew, Sephardi and Ashkenazi. Shalom Moskovitz was a watchmaker by trade but also worked as a scribe, a silversmith and even a stonemason. He did whatever it took to put food on his humble table and feed his family.
Then it happened that his workshop was destroyed in the riots during the War for Independence in 1948. All the tools of his trade were lost. What might he do? He turned from the life of a practical craftsman to the life of an artist, first making folk-art toys and then simple paintings. He became, as he was just entering his 70′s, perhaps one of the most original Israeli artists of the 20th Century. He was Shalom of Safed.
Shalom of Safed (1887-1980) was a primitive artist who created, in the last 30 years of his life, a large opus of paintings devoted to the Torah and Jewish life. Collector and patron, Daniel Doron believed that Shalom’s art represents ‘a unique blend between a literary tradition - the Hasidic heritage and the mystical lore of the Kabala - and the artist’s sensitivity to the light and landscape of the Galilee.’
As a pious Jew in the sleepy, insular environment of Safed, he had no knowledge of art history or contemporary art; nevertheless, his work has a surprisingly modernist flavor. It tends to be flat with broad areas of strong, evocative color. Figurative elements are subsumed within a
powerful graphic composition. Textual passages are incorporated into the image echoing some Pop Art masterpieces and prefiguring many Post-modern techniques. These modernist elements are typical manifestations of many aspects of ‘naïve’ folk art. The difference here is that Shalom utilizes these techniques in an extremely focused depiction of the Biblical narrative where the modernism of his form actively reflects and enhances the Torah meaning.
It is easy to begin at the beginning with Shalom, since he seems to have done a painting - sometimes more than one – on most passages in the Torah. Following the account of creation, line-by-line, Shalom envisions the Separation of Light and Darkness, and the Creation of
Lights, in images divided into many different registers (sectioned bands of images one on top of the other). First there is only the intense blue of the waters above and the waters below that sandwich a molten orange sun trapped in primeval magna. Bands of pitch-black darkness are
embedded within the incoherent totality of creation. In another painting, the sun, moon and stars appear suspended over a topsy-turvy landscape.
The Birds of Paradise (1965) march across three registers of tree lined landscapes in yet another delightful image. The invented multi-colored birds are all walking right to left, each approaching a childish flower under a stylized tree. The repeated rhythms of bird/flower/tree
create a peaceful harmony in soft counterpoint to the subtle differences of color and detail as we move up from register to register.
Noah’s Ark provides a fertile occasion for depicting many diverse animals marching two by two, all from right to left, yet again. The register on top shows Noah picking figs and his entire family preparing for the voyage in the ark. In the bottom register they are seen entering the Ark with Shem and his wife entering by a separate door, perhaps reflecting the honor of their descendants, the Jewish people. In the lowest register of the animals one notices that the very last, the elephant, has no partner. When questioned about this, Shalom replied, “Noah would have a space problem so he took only one elephant - a pregnant one.” This creative combination of artistic wit and midrashic freedom characterizes much of Shalom’s work.
The Great Flood was of course the world’s first great tragedy, a watery holocaust for all mankind. The Dove Returns to Noah’s Ark (1963) addresses exactly this conundrum. The bottom sections of the painting are fields of blue gray devastation, barren trees, pits of black
emptiness and corpses floating in shallow pools. The ark is encased in a field of brown mud while Noah grasps the dove that has returned with the olive leaf. The text above Noah tells us that “”Noah knew that the waters had subsided from upon the earth.” As Noah gazes out on this terrible landscape he also knows the consequences of the Flood, the bodies that litter the bottom of the painting. Pointedly, Shalom depicts them all with Hitler-like moustaches and dark hair parted on the side. The world had become filled with corruption, “for all flesh had
corrupted its way upon the earth,” and still one is moved by the gravity and color of the painting, knowing that G-d’s retribution was terrible indeed. He does not rejoice in the annihilation of the wicked.
Shalom does not simply accept the text at face value. Instead he visualizes it in a wide, inclusive view, providing narrative context and midrashic elements that immediately shape the meaning, exposing elements that we have long glossed over or never noticed.
The Tower of Babel (1963) opens up the text “And the whole world was of one language and of one speech” (Gen. 11:1) to the Midrash that explains that “R. Leazar said: ‘of veiled deeds, for the deeds of the generation of the Flood are explicitly stated, whereas those of the generation of Separation are not explicitly stated.’ Shalom creates a massive tower of finely hewn masonry (remember, he was once a mason) situated above the determined populace of contemporary figures in the City of Babel below. Atop the tower, a winged figure menaces the
sky above with an enormous sword, to fulfill yet another midrash that tells us that their rebellion went so far as to attempt to supplant G-d from His Heavenly abode. They said, “Come, rather, and let us build a tower at the top of which we will set an idol holding a sword, that it may appear to wage war with Him? (Midrash Rabba 38:6). Shalom’s bright yellow background against the cool grays of the tower and upper sky casts a brilliant light on one of mankind’s frequent rebellions against their Creator.
Shalom of Safed expanded the world of Torah with his many images. He maintained he did not transgress the Second Commandment since he ‘did not make paintings, but retold the story of the Bible in color and in line.’ Surely, he never sinned in making forbidden images, but just as surely, he did much more than simply retell a story. In his masterful use of text, color, line, form, texture and composition, he adds meaning, elicits questions and reinvigorates our understanding. His creativity, not limited to the artist’s tools, is in picturing diverse elements of narrative, bringing them together so that we must see each parasha anew. He has reportedly said, ‘I am a serious man. I do not paint out of my imagination.’ Certainly not. Rather he paints out of his beloved Torah.
(Quotations, images and background information are from “Images from the Bible” The Paintings of Shalom of Safed: The Words of Elie Wiesel with an introduction by Daniel Doron; The Overlook Press, Woodstock, N.Y. 1980)
Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.
About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Leah Katz, a TeenZone camper at Oorah’s TheZone summer camp and an 11th grader at Midwood High School, read her winning essay about how TheZone changed her views on Judaism at the Jewish Heritage Awards Ceremony held at Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’s office in April. The purpose of the Jewish Heritage Essay Contest is to acquaint public school students with Jewish history and customs and to help foster a deeper understanding of Jewish culture. The contest is open to students of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Leah’s essay is reproduced in full below.
Moshe Sharett, the head of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department, visited Egypt in 1945. In Cairo he met a most remarkable young woman, a beautiful journalist who was the darling of Egyptian high society – from high-ranking military brass, to culture icons and Muslim sheikhs, to the court of King Faruk.
The two proceeded to talk about everyday things and surprisingly her mother-in-law did not find anything else to criticize. This occurred a few more times, with my client changing the topic every time by complimenting her mother-in-law or mentioning something positive about her.
There is always a lot of confusion surrounding sensory processing disorder – mainly because there are many different diagnoses that fall under the catch-all phrase sensory processing disorder (SPD). Among them are three specific subcategories:
The doctor had warned us that even if we did everything right and followed the protocol after the follicle was of the right size, there was no guarantee of success. Fertilization still had to occur, and just like couples do not necessarily become pregnant every month, we had no way to know if we were actually expecting for two full weeks.
The next chapter of the award-winning novel.
Jewish Press columnist Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, founder and president of Hineni, the international Torah outreach organization, recently addressed an overflowing audience at the Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine in southern California. Rebbetzin Jungreis’s address theme, “Making a Good Relationship Magical,” was apropos for the evening’s main mission: raising funds for the Irvine community’s mikveh.
You have probably been planning your marriage since you were about three. Let’s fast-forward to a big milestone– your twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. (Don’t worry, you don’t look a day over twenty one!) Now, would you appreciate your husband buying you a dozen roses that some florist recommended?
As I mentioned in my earlier articles about our family trip to Israel, our night flight went pretty smooth, thanks to my children’s willingness to sleep throughout the flight. I, on the other hand, didn’t sleep a wink and I wasn’t feeling too great by the time we landed. But we were finally in Israel, and just being in the beautifully renovated Ben Gurion airport and hearing all the Hebrew around us was exciting enough.
While all the flowers that grace your Shavuos table will surely be a delight to your eye, these will be a delight for your palette as well. Create them at any level, simple or sophisticated; any way you make them they’re sure to be a sensation.
Welcome back to “You’re Asking Me?” where we attempt to answer questions sent in by people who fortunately have fake names, so they won’t be embarrassed. I don’t know how they got through school, though.
Speechless wonder is the reaction to the beautiful vision seen though the Arch of the Keshet Cave at the Adamit Park in the Galilee. One of the most amazing natural wonders in Eretz Yisrael, the Me’arat Hakeshet — also known as the Rainbow Cave or Arch Cave — can be found up against the Israel-Lebanon border just a few kilometers from Rosh Hanikra and the sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea. It is situated amid the wild scenery on the cliffs of Nachal Betzet and Nachal Namer, on the Adamit Ridge.
In the eyes of the ram lies the artist’s commentary on the Rosh Hashanah piyyut “The King Girded with Strength.” From the Tripartite Mahzor (German 14th century), this illumination simultaneously echoes the piyyut’s praise of God’s awesome power and expresses the terror of actually being a sacrifice to God. The ram is but a reflection of Isaac. It is all in the eyes.
Reaching back in time to reclaim a family for herself and, in a yahrzeit moment, to rekindle lives snuffed out, Diana Kurz’s paintings stand as testaments to victims of the Holocaust. After a successful 20 year career as an artist and teacher, (with a strong feminist bent), in 1989 Kurz happened upon a few surviving photos of her own relatives “who disappeared during the war.” Suddenly her past opened up and possessed her. This spring (April 4 – May 2, 2012) a series of these paintings was shown at the Art Gallery at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY.
Examining a choice selection of drawings done by Itshak Holtz over 30 years ago is a rare pleasure that allows for the appreciation of his unique sensitivity and insights. I was afforded that pleasure at the inaugural exhibition of the Betzalel Gallery in Crown Heights this past May. Although this modest selection of 25 drawings and watercolors of this paradigmatic frum artist ranges from 1963 to 1999, the majority of the works is from the 1970s and reveals a special aspect of his inner artistic soul. The selection of images could easily narrate the fabric of ordinary Jewish life.
Earlier this year I was presenting my survey of Jewish art, “A Jewish Art Primer,” in a West Hartford, Connecticut synagogue and during the intermission a local artist, David Holzman, introduced himself to me. He relayed his rich and fascinating artistic background and then produced a portfolio of 8 black and white prints that he generously gave to me as a gift. As a tantalizing glimpse into recent work, they are truly amazing and I would like to share them with you.
Boris Schatz (1866 – 1932) had a revolutionary vision. He believed that the creation of a new modern Jewish visual culture would become a major force to both articulate a Jewish national identity and sustain the Zionist enterprise. In 1904 he approached Zionist leader Theodor Herzl with the proposal to establish a national arts and crafts school in Palestine and got his blessing. Tragically Herzl died later that year, but the Zionist leadership in Vienna assumed responsibility for the project and its funding.
The exhibitions that precede Judaic auctions are rather special events for anyone who has a feeling for the fabric of Jewish life as it has been lived for the last 500 years. Not only is one afforded the opportunity to see a wide variety of Judaica, books, manuscripts and Jewish art of considerable historic importance, but if something strikes your fancy; intellectually or acquisitively, you can actually handle the objects. For most artwork the thrill is in seeing it up close and judging the brushstrokes and details of a painting or watercolor. One stands in the exact proximity as the creator did.
The auction at Christie’s in Paris this May 11 of a Tuscan Mahzor, created and illuminated in the 1490’s, will be an extraordinary event. This rare example of illuminated Jewish art has not been seen publically in over 500 years and, aside from tantalizing internal suggestions, lacks conclusive identification of the scribe and illuminators. Because the gold-tooled goatskin binding was made about 50 years after the manuscript and has a different coat of arms than those found in the machzor, it is assumed that this prayerbook may have quickly changed hands.
One thing is certain about Robert Feinland – he has shuls on his mind. His career has spanned over 40 years, exploring landscape, cityscape, sculpture and abstraction. For many of those years he has focused on the relentlessly changing urban landscape of New York, feeling the necessity to document and, in some way preserve, the physical fabric of the city he loves. A selection of recent paintings, most concentrating on the Crown Heights community, is currently at the Chassidic Art Institute. Many of the images are of shuls.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/a-simple-genesis-paintings-of-shalom-of-safed/2003/11/28/
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