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.
The problem with G-d is His holiness. After thousands of years of countless trials and many too many unmentionable “sufferings of love” (Berachos 5a) the Jewish people continue to love Him even as many flee His embrace. From the Binding of Isaac to the martyrdom of Rabbi Akiva and the last Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, G-d’s seeming distance, his hester pannim, confounds the masses and sorely tests the pious. When He is the most distant, and therefore the most Holy, the slaughter of innocent Jews that ensues becomes tragically a chilul Hashem, defaming His holy Name.
“Yossel Rakover Speaks to G-d” by Zvi Kolitz and “Death Triumphant” a painting by Felix Nussbaum both struggle with this most perplexing issue of the Jewish people. The first, a short story purporting to be a last testament of the son of a Ger Hasid fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto, refuses to relinquish belief in God. His experiences as a hunted Jew, a survivor from a German air assault that killed his wife, infant child and two children to the terrible depravations of the ghetto that claimed his last three children has left him spiritually exhausted, proclaiming that; “Life is a tragedy, death a savior; man a calamity, the beast an ideal; day a horror, night – a relief.” As a man of faith, the cruelty he has suffered has turned all certainties upside down. He lashes out at the world that seems determined to annihilate him.
Yossel’s accusations encompass Western civilization, bitterly observing that Hitler is “a typical child of modern man. Humanity as a whole has spawned him and reared him, and he is the frankest expression of its innermost, most deeply buried wishes.”
At 43, he humbly states that he “served G-d enthusiastically” only asking to worship Him, “bikhol livovekho, bikhol nafshekho ubikhol miodekho.” After all his deprivations and sufferings his belief has remained unshaken even though his relationship with G-d is deeply compromised. He feels that G-d “owes me something, owes me much.” Claiming that to cite our sins as a reason for this suffering, “G-d is maligned when we malign ourselves.” After all, we are His people and when G-d’s people suffer, G-d’s Name is besmirched.
In his last moments Yossel reflects upon the nature of vengeance, both human and Divine, the very nature of being a Jew and finally the excruciating nature of chosen-ness. He is the last fighter alive in one room in one house in Warsaw in 1943. His desperation elicits a proud affirmation; “I believe in Israel’s G-d even if He has done everything to stop me from believing in Him,” adding that “I bow my head before His greatness, but will not kiss the rod with which He strikes me.” The courageous determination to demand to know when “Youagain [will] revealYour countenance” is unequaled in Holocaust literature.
Mark Altman’s English and Yiddish production of Yossel Rakover Speaks to G-d (staged reading at the Diaspora Drama Group) on June 7th will explore exactly these excruciating themes. The poignant voice of Yossel will ring out that evening, a seminal testimony and clarion call from the grave of 65 years ago. Except for the fact that Yossel is a fictional character created by Zvi Kolitz. This character, invented by Mr. Kolitz for a Yiddish newspaper in Argentina in 1946, took on a life of its own. The story was subsequently published in English and Hebrew without any attribution to Mr. Kolitz and became known as an anonymous testimony from the ashes of the Warsaw Ghetto. Fiction had taken on a life as its own, as Emmanuel Levinas commented; “a text both beautiful and true, as only fiction can be.”
Felix Nussbaum traveled a remarkably similar path to a distinctly different conclusion. Nussbaum was born in 1904 in the German town of Osnabruck. He was characterized from an early age as a depressive personality and pursuing his artistic studies his early work was occasionally characterized by a haunting presence of impending death. The Nazi ascent to power spelled the end of Felix’s aspirations to German artistic achievement. His work from this decade vacillates between a kind of primitive and acerbic social commentary and a more than competent 1930′s realism. His increasing use of symbolism reflected the devastating advance of fascist control across Europe even as he attempted to escape its jaws by emigrating to Switzerland and finally Belgium in 1937. More and more Nussbaum utilized masks and self-portraits to reflect and deflect the impending doom.
Nussbaum, along with his wife Felka Platek, were exiles, refugees from their native land and, more importantly, refugees from the sanity of their past. His art became the art of the refugee; haunted, despairing and wrenching. In 1940 he was arrested and interred at the camp of Saint-Cyprien for four months as a German national. During a selection between Aryan Germans and Jews, he escaped and fled through France to his wife in Brussels, Belgium. The camp, its inmates and horrors, became an unavoidable subject for Nussbaum.
Aside from depicting the all too familiar deprivations of internment camps, Nussbaum did a remarkable painting of Camp Synagogue in 1941. It is a deeply brooding meditation on the repercussions of Jewish faith by an artist whose closeness to Judaism seemed to be mainly enforced by the racism of Nazi rulers. Five men, all clad in talisim, trudge towards a tin roofed building under a dark and foreboding sky. One man is isolated even from his fellow Jews, hunched in solitary devotion, perhaps the symbol of the artist himself.
As a stateless person and a Jew, his status in Belgium deteriorated in 1942, a rope hanging appearing as a symbol of approaching doom at the hands of the occupying Gestapo. In 1942 Nussbaum is given refuge by a Belgian sculptor until he flees underground. Finally in 1943 he and his wife go into hiding. The Organ Grinder (1943) begins the paintings in which the figure of Death has assumed prominence. The Damned, painted in January 1944, depicts a hodgepodge of hidden Jews, now terribly exposed for deportation in the claustrophobic streets of their country of refuge. It has become increasingly obvious that there will be no escape.
His last painting dated Tuesday, April 18, 1944, Death Triumphant, is extensively prepared for with numerous sketches of various skeletal figures, each beautifully draped, playing or holding musical instruments. These drawings are arguably some of the most moving and devastating images of futility ever produced. The dead mock the living with mankind’s pathetic culture, music played with no one left to listen. The quest for life is snuffed out in the whirlwind of anti-Semitic hate.
Felix Nussbaum confronted G-d’s terrible hidden-ness just as Yossel did. Felix could not find a faith to express in his vision, only Death triumphs over all culture, all hope, all life. And yet Yossel knows Felix well. Addressing G-d, Yossel pleads “Do not put the rope under too much strain, because, G-d forbid, it might snap. The test to which You have put us is so severe, so unbearably severe, that You should – You must – forgive those of Your people who, in their misery and rage, have turned away from You.”
The problem with G-d is that in His awesome holiness He has given us a terrible choice. Do we act rationally and turn our backs on Him when He seems to abandon us? Or must we scream through the howling abyss and insist on His answer even as the silence engulfs us?
* * *
Zvi Kolitz, author of Yossel Rakover Speaks to G-d, passed away September 29, 2002 after an illustrious career as a film producer (Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer, 1954, Israeli film) and theatrical producer (Rolf Hochhuth’s ground breaking play, The Deputy, 1963) in addition to works of fiction and philosophy and 32 years as a columnist for the Algemeiner Journal. Felix Nussbaum was murdered with his wife in Auschwitz in August, 1944.
Yosl Rakover Talks to G-d by Zvi Kolitz, Vintage, 2000 (with commentaries by Paul Badde, Leon Wieseltier and Emmanuel Levinas).
Yosl Rakover Talks to G-d; A Reading produced by Mark Altman, Tuesday June 7, 2005.
The Diaspora Drama Group at Common Basis Theater; 750 Eighth Avenue (46th Street); 212 868 4444; www.diasporadrama.org; English version directed and performed by Tony Award Winner Vivian Matalon; Yiddish version with David Mandelbaum directed by Amy Coleman.
Felix Nussbaum: Art Defamed, Art in Exile, Art in Resistance: A Biography edited by Karl Georg Kaster, Rasch Verlag, Bramsche, 1994.
Richard McBee is a painter 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 email@example.com
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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/divine-silence/2005/05/11/
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