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January 30, 2015 / 10 Shevat, 5775
 
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Jewish Women Artists – Commentators on Contemporary Jewish Life


The Chosen (detail 1), 2008, ink on paper by Ariel Schrag Courtesy Yeshiva University Museum

The Chosen (detail 1), 2008, ink on paper by Ariel Schrag Courtesy Yeshiva University Museum

In Schrag’s “Artists in Their Own Voices” interview, she says she took advantage of the simple black and white of the comic and cast her sister and herself inside a shadow, outside of the broker’s circle of light, expressing her feelings of being left out. Schrag feared a similar reaction from the new broker. She wanted to feel accepted by him. So she cuts out the details her sister previously offered and replies with a simple “Yes!” Schrag reveals to us what this whole experience was like for her. Her simple yet meaningful message is that everyone wants to feel a part of his or her chosen group, even if it’s for a short while. After Schrag told the broker ‘yes,’ she says her “whole body tingled with the narcotic feeling of belonging.” In an earlier interview by Leah Berkenwald (Jewish Women’s Archive: Jewesses with Attitude, March 21, 2011), Schrag is asked, “How does your Jewish identity influence your work?” She answers, “It doesn’t especially. I’m half Jewish, the wrong half at that, but I look Jewish (imagine what you will) and I have a Jewish name (first and last) so I FEEL very Jewish. And actually have quite a strong Jewish identity for myself.” The comic ends with the cartoon character of Schrag smiling inside the circle of light, instead of the shadow: her role has been reversed. She is looking up at a Menorah on a shelf of her apartment and says, ”… for at least those two weeks, I had been one of The Chosen.” It is clear that no one was going to take away her “half” Jewish identity.

We Are On Our Own, 2006, Pencil on Paper, by Miriam Katin Courtesy Yeshiva University Museum

Miriam Katin survived war-torn Europe during WWII to immigrate to Israel in 1957 and served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a graphic artist from 1960-63, which is the setting of her comic titled, “Eucalyptus Nights.” It was commissioned in 2006 by a Jewish publication: “Guilt & Pleasure” for their “Fight issue.” When Katin was asked in an interview by Leah Berkenwald; “What’s its story” (Jewish Women’s Archive: Jewesses with Attitude, March 21, 2011), she says, “…tension between the Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews of that period.” This tension is expressed in the story of an encounter she had with Sephardic solider named Obadiah. In her “Artists in Their Own Voices” interview Katin tells us that she met Jews of Sephardic and Mizrahi origin for the first time in the IDF. After becoming, as she put it, “romantic” with Obadiah, she was horrified that her Ashkenazi family and IDF supervisor who survived the Holocaust, looked down on “these Jewish people of the Middle East” and discouraged her from the relationship. Katin feels that this issue has not fully been resolved and that Israeli society needs a way of coming to terms with this conflict that dates back to the founding days of the country.

The comic artwork from Katin’s book, We Are On Our Own, was not on the walls of the exhibit, but it was in the reading area. The book details her experiences escaping the Holocaust as a child with her mother. Katin writes, “And Then One Day God Replaced the Light with Darkness.” A series of 6 images peering out a window show the view of a beautiful blue sky over the city, slowly being eclipsed by the red and black Nazi flag. By the 6th image all you see is the black of the swastika through the window. Katin is referencing the verses from Genesis 1:4-5, “And God saw the light that it was good, and God separated between the light and between the darkness. And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night, and it was evening and it was morning, one day.” Katin’s window is our world; by saying “one day” she is connecting to “day one” of Creation. By telling the viewer that “God” is replacing light with darkness, Katin is questioning God’s actions. Katin was asking God the same question many have asked for centuries: why do bad things happen to good people?

About the Author: Jacob Mezrahi is a New York based artist, educator and writer. Contact him at jake271980@aol.com


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More Articles from Jacob Mezrahi
The Chosen (detail 1), 2008, ink on paper by Ariel Schrag Courtesy Yeshiva University Museum

Everybody reads comics. From the New York Times to the Post there is hardly any periodical published that doesn’t sometimes feature a cartoon or comic; some kind of drawn image with text to entertain or provide commentary. Even the Jewish Press. When most people think of comics they immediately think of fictional comic books that kids read or the comic strips in the daily newspapers for adults.

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