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November 29, 2015 / 17 Kislev, 5776
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Podwal’s Lamentations

Arch of Titus, Rome (81 CE) 
Photo McBee

Arch of Titus, Rome (81 CE) Photo McBee

“They have heard that I sigh; there is none to comfort me. All my enemies have heard of my trouble and are glad. For Thou have done it. You will bring the day that You have proclaimed. And they shall be like unto me.” (1: 21)

All our Treasures (1974) illustration by Mark Podwal
Courtesy National Council on Art in Jewish Life

Between image and text there is the hope of a Torah future in spite of the bitter pain of exile and a home destroyed. Eicha!

And then there is the subject that seems to transcend time, the Arch of Titus (81 CE). For close to nineteen hundred years no greater image of infamy existed for the Jewish people, the arch itself planted in the heart of Imperial and then Catholic Rome. Its central image of the Golden Menorah, pillaged from the Temple and paraded through the Roman forum, existed as an open wound in the Jewish soul.

“The adversary has spread out his hand upon all her treasures, for she has seen that the heathen have entered into her sanctuary, concerning whom You did command that they should not enter your congregation. (1:10).”

Much to our horror, the infamy of our punishment was indeed matched in the Holocaust. Jeremiah’s dirge addresses that tragedy equally well and Podwal’s image shockingly links the two events as storm troopers march in goose-step carrying the same Temple menorah from the Arch of Titus. Here the image reverberates with tragedy for while the six million martyrs came from all walks of Jewish life, especially decimated were the countless pious communities of Eastern Europe, surely themselves a Temple ornament to in the larger House of Yisroel. Eicha!

Mark Podwal’s Lamentations weave ancient sorrow with Jewish history to bring Jeremiah’s dirge into contemporary consciousness. His remarkable images will haunt us for years to come.

About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com

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