Chillul Tefila Bifarhesia, as well as halachicly challenged verbiage and dress, are external manifestations of a critical lack of personal yiras shomayim which has lethal consequences.
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Two of Alan Falk’s biblical paintings immediately assault us aesthetically and thematically. Isaac Blessing Jacob (2009) and The Cry of Esau (2010) document the famous stolen blessing of Beraishis 27 and its consequences. The ancient Isaac is clad in a white nightshirt, raising his bony hands in blessing over his two sons. In one, Jacob has donned a curly-haired brown Afro deceitfully offering his blind father food, while in the other, Isaac’s trembling hands attempt to bless the hysterical Esau at his feet. The cartoonish figures are caught in a melodrama of high-keyed color and exaggerated gesture that casts the biblical tale into an unfamiliar and strange realm.
Alan Falk’s long and fruitful career has taken a complex course over the past 55 years in his search for the best way to comment on the endlessly fascinating human condition. His earlier paintings, probing the complexities of human interactions, were engaged with literal descriptions of various scenes of figures set alongside suburban swimming pools and bucolic seasides. Over time he became dissatisfied with the beautiful technique he developed because he felt it got in the way of the essence of what he was trying to express. Much experimentation ensued, in many different mediums, until over the last ten years, he developed a unique approach utilizing the Biblical narrative to fully explore not only the complexities of the human condition, but also the ramifications of spirituality implicit in a Jewish life.
The Binding of Isaac (2002) showcases Falk’s new style of simple bright color with pronounced outlines to present the startling image of the heavenly angel being simply another aspect of Abraham’s personality halting the sacrifice. The artist’s take on this archetypical story is not merely psychological; it also posits that it is the Divine aspect of Abraham who acts, pointing to the Heavens for authority and confirmation.
More recently his interpretation of the Four Passover Sons (2009) brings them firmly into contemporary Jewish society. The Wise Son is seen as a Holocaust survivor, his own parents who perished in the Old Country still present on the wall behind him. His wisdom is founded in the historical experience of the Jewish people. The Evil Son is a flashy businessman; expensive suit, cufflinks and big watch testifying to his wealth as much as the picture of the racehorse behind him. Noteworthy is the yellow Divine glow emanating from his face and hands, distorted by his garish expressions of success. The Simple Son is bound up in popular culture; a pin-up competes with a baseball picture and his New York Yankee yarmulke. He wants to participate but can only see the Seder through the icons of his time. Finally the Son Who Doesn’t Know How to Ask is at a loss, aimlessly typing on his computer, lost in a pixel maze of digital dots. It’s clear that we must address the Seder to him to help him find his moorings and bring him back to Jewish life.
The Four Passover Sons (2009),
oil on canvas by Alan Falk (Courtesy the artist)
Returning to the paintings we first encountered, we can understand Falk’s use of contemporary dress and comic book inspired sequential scenes to explore Isaac’s dilemma. In the first painting the intense red behind Isaac is his thought of Esau slaughtering his favorite meal while in the second painting the same intense red of Esau expresses not only his violent nature but also his devotion to his father. Isaac in these paintings seems to be caught in a surreal universe of deception and betrayal that he has no power over. His shaking hands and eyes rolled heavenward are perhaps the only rational response, far from a cartoonish fantasy. While we normally consider this episode as the stolen blessing, Falk’s paintings dramatically reorient us to understand that this is actually Isaac’s last test.
True to his postmodern modality, Falk frequently misdirects the viewer, establishing the real point of his narrative investigations at the margins of the image. In Abraham and the Strangers (Hagar & Ishmael) (2005) the three strangers establish a rhythm of three figures clad in spooky white robes as Abraham dutifully washes their feet. While at first glance it is a celebration of Abraham’s kindness and welcoming nature, the painting is actually delving into the all-important sub-plot that the stranger’s arrival will explode. In the lower left the skeptical profile of Sarah watches the scene. Her gaze extends through the visitors to the figures of Ishmael and Hagar in contemporary Palestinian dress. With perfect biblical hindsight we can well understand that this episode will effectively eject Hagar and Ishmael from Abraham’s family, thereby turning the stranger’s arrival to the beginning of their exile and alienation from the descendants of Abraham. Our contemporary conflict with the Arabs began at that moment.
Abraham and the Strangers (Hagar & Ishmael) (2005),
watercolor by Alan Falk (Courtesy the artist)
Given a bit of patience and the understanding that Falk sees a direct connection between the Biblical narrative and the contemporary world, his work seems less strange and more engaged with the heart of our core narratives. The Scapegoat Again (The Azazel) (2009) hones in on a major motif in his explorations: Consequences. Central to the Yom Kippur service is sending the scapegoat to Azazel. The death of this goat, combined with our proper repentance, will expiate our sins. Of course we no longer have this Temple-based option, and must depend on the three-fold formula of Repentance, Prayer and Charity to remove the terrible decree against us as Yom Kippur draws to a close. But the scapegoat lingers in our memory and Falk presents him close-up. He stares at us with unnerving goat-eyes, the red string that condemned him in the first place still attached to his horns. And yet he is trapped in barbed wire behind his neck and in his mouth. For Falk it is the barbed wire of the Holocaust that traps our ancient expiation of sin. Could the murder of millions somehow expiate our sins? What are the consequences of their martyrdom that portend for us, for our sins? Because of them and what they suffered, must we lead better Jewish lives?
The Scapegoat Again (The Azazel) (2009),
watercolor by Alan Falk (Courtesy the artist)
An artist’s job is to ask questions, questions that will startle and gnaw at our complacency. That is the role in Falk’s art, a kind of anti-aesthetic drawn from comics, popular film and anime illustration. He is looking to highjack our sensibilities into asking uncomfortable questions about our Jewish lives. Our discomfort is a measure of his success that is much to our benefit.
Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at email@example.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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Dear Dr. Yael:
Do you really believe that the Internet is the reason why the divorce rate is so high among young couples? This may be so in some cases, but what about the fact that many singles are pressured to get married at a young age despite not having any idea what they are looking for in a mate? And add to that the fact that many are pressured to make a decision about marriage after dating for a very short period of time.
From the moment they stand under the chuppah, newlyweds have two years to enjoy the special bliss that new love brings. This new finding, reported by the New York Times, is based on a study undertaken by American and European researchers. 1,761 people who got married and stayed married over 15 years were followed. The research shows that after two years the couples moved into a more companionable state in their relationships.
Shel Silverstein’s 1974 poem “Where The Sidewalk Ends” is intended to paint a magical picture of a world of peace and serenity far away from the “black and dark streets.” At the time, perhaps the end of the sidewalk was a place that was “measured and slow.” Today, however, for many parents, where the sidewalk ends can feel like a scary place.
The next chapter of the award-winning novel.
Florida is famous for sparkling water. We have the beautiful Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico surrounding our coast. We have bays, lakes, canals and, of course, an incredible abundance of swimming pools in homes, resorts, apartment complexes and city parks.
The buzz is back as Camp Gan Israel Florida Overnight gears up for another fantastic summer, CGI Florida style. What makes CGI Florida so different from all the other overnight camps? It’s all in the details.
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.
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/arts/alan-falks-lessons/2011/08/17/
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