Meir Panim’s Tiberias Free Restaurant not only provides warm meals, but the opportunity to socialize as well.
No time of prayer is more intense than at Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, as we literally pray for our lives, our sustenance, and ultimately, our salvation. Our fate hangs in the balance poised between the gates of mercy and the awesome judgment we fear. No other contemporary sculpture so terrifyingly captures this primal apprehension and hope of the Days of Awe than Jacques Lipchitz’s The Prayer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art seen in the recent exhibition “Jacques Lipchitz and Philadelphia.”
Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973) was born in Druskieniki, Lithuania and after schooling in Bialystok, went to Paris in 1909, then into the cauldron of the modern art revolution. Picasso and Braque, among others, were creating an entirely new way of seeing and depicting the world in Cubism. Lipchitz quickly established himself as one of the leading proponents of
Cubist sculpture. The bronzes shown here, including Sailor with Guitar, Woman With Braid and Bather, all from 1914-1917, are masterful meditations on the multiple perspectives of the Cubist vision that preserve the integrity of the human form even as the figure is reassembled with daring wit and cunning creativity.
Early in the 1930′s, Lipchitz abruptly changed both his style and subjects. His form, whether in stone, plaster or cast bronze, became baroquely expressionistic in what seemed like an organic celebration of life. His subjects were now derived from Greek mythology and Jewish life ranging from Prometheus and Theseus to Jacob and David. The subject of Prometheus, the Greek mythic figure who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind, dominated his work up to the Second World War. His cruel punishment, struggle and ultimate vindication expressed Lipchitz’s concern with oppression and the struggle for liberation as he witnessed the rise of Nazism and rampant anti-Semitism.
As the Nazis invaded France in May 1940, Lipchitz first fled to southern France and then finally was forced to flee to New York in June 1941. He had become a victim (even though he survived) of the vast evil that was consuming Europe, devouring Western culture and the Jewish people. If anything, this was the time for prayer.
The Prayer was first cast from a wax model in a foundry in Long Island City in 1943. Lipchitz struggled with the complex forms that slowly draw us into the composition as we begin to make out a figure of an old man entangled in flame-like foliage. He is clad in a heavy, ornate tallis as he swings a large rooster over his head in the kapparah ritual. He holds in his other hand a book, perhaps a siddur that has burst into flames.
As we look closer the forms becomes more terrifying. The man’s midsection has been ripped open by what appears to be three rams’ heads exposing the form of a fetal lamb, curled up and nascent. It is as if in the very act of kapparah this Jew has been disemboweled, perhaps by the soul shattering blasts of the ram’s horn and has exposed the Azazel that must die on Yom Kippur to atone for the sins of the Jewish people. Lipchitz understood the power of this work explaining that, “The entire subject is the Jewish people, whom I thought of as the innocent victims in this horrible war… I was praying, I was crying when I made this work” (My Life in Sculpture, p. 163).
Further along in the exhibition is a color lithograph, The Sacrifice of Isaac, from 1968. Again, the expressionistic image demands careful study to interpret its meaning. Slowly we can discern a ram’s profile at the bottom and the suggestion of the kneeling figure of Isaac just to its right. Rising above this foundation is the figure of Abraham, knife in his right hand, locked in a struggle with a winged angel. The red ocher, broken color, is unified by a stark, nervous, black line that summarily delineates the figures.
The concept of Abraham struggling with the angel, echoing the Midrash that states that Abraham, even when he was halted, demanded to carry out G-d’s original command, brings us into the terrifying nexus of G-d’s “need” for the test. Abraham understood the need for
some kind of sacrifice so that it could come to atone for the Jewish people throughout the ages. Expiation of sin does not come easily. For Yom Kippur to be effective, we must summon the merit of Abraham’s sacrifice along with our sincere teshuvah, fasting, tzedakah, prayer and weeping as we approach G-d.
As I walked back through the exhibition somewhat shaken as these works of art settled into my consciousness, I came upon a small bronze, Biblical Scene II from 1950. A dramatic figure is poised atop a vertical mass of rock about to strike a ram with his knife. Suddenly I realized that Lipchitz had depicted Abraham’s sacrifice of the ram. Upon closer inspection, I could
make out the figure of Isaac below on the left holding the bundle of wood while one other figure waited even further below. But here, Abraham seems triumphant, almost celebrating the successful completion of G-d’s command to sacrifice. This little sculpture, done only five short years after the liberation of the camps and three years after the new State of Israel fought for its survival, celebrates sacrifice and not the saving of Isaac.
The most meaningful art does not provide answers; it only forces us to confront the most difficult of questions. The rest is up to us, just as after Yom Kippur the real challenge of permanent teshuvah and meaningful change lies ahead. Perhaps the challenge of Lipchitz’s
works is best expressed in a quote from a most unlikely source: “Ready must thou be to burn thyself in thine own flame. How couldst thou become new if thou hast not first become ashes!” (Thus Spake Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche).
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 email@example.com
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Brooklyn resident David Siller, currently studying in Israel at Yeshivat Yesodei HaTorah in Beit Shemesh, was awarded a trophy for finishing 3rd in his age group (14-18) in a 5-kilometer race for the benefit of the Benjamin Children’s Library of Beit Shemesh.
Today is day six without a phone.
Besides for feeling slightly isolated, it’s not too bad.
I’ve been doing things that I know I would not be doing if my phone was sitting next to me, shiny screen beckoning.
Is anyone else alarmed by the way extended warranties are sold on just about anything and everything? It means one of two things – either someone has found a great way of getting consumers to part with more of their hard earned dollars or manufacturers have no faith in their own products. Neither of those options is particularly heartwarming.
As I described Gaon in a review in June 2001 (“In Search of Ancestors, Sculpture by Simon Gaon” at Yeshiva University Museum), his Bukharian Jewish roots are deeply embedded on both sides of his family, echoed in his early yeshiva education.
Let me begin by congratulating my dear machatunim, Soraya and Jay Nimaroff, on being the recipients of the Community Service Award at the Sderot Hesder Institutions 18th annual anniversary dinner.
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Do you remember the good old days when kids were kids and there was never anything to worry about? Those days never really existed, but today there are issues kids worry about that weren’t issues for some adults. They include fear of bullying, natural disasters, divorce, and violence.
In Part I talked about celebrating 30 years of Regesh Family and Child Services providing services to children, teens and families. I shared the agency’s origin and the many lessons I have learned through this journey. As I mentioned, it is my hope that my experiences will add to your toolbox of life skills.
Unfortunately, a map of the Middle East with no mention of Israel is nothing new… It is surprising however, that the world’s largest publisher of children’s literature, Scholastic Books, has joined in this trend.
About six months ago my parents and I started discussing ideas for a mitzvah project in honor of my bat mitzvah. I wanted to do something unique that would be meaningful to me and also do something that my friends could participate in. Immediately I thought of an organization called Sharsheret.
“I’m disappointed that the agreement reached with Iran leaves our unfulfilled our ultimate objective: a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and related activities.
Southern NCSY will be holding a leadership training Shabbaton at the Young Israel of Bal Harbour December 6 and December 7. Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, will be the special guest speaker.
Is there a beginning and an end to the universe? What role can medical breakthroughs play in conception or genetic engineering? Can science help us pinpoint the end of human life? Does the soul emanate from the brain or vice-versa?
The fact that the Jewish Museum’s curator Susan Tumarkin Goodman presents these issues as the inescapable core of her exhibition demonstrates the courage to challenge her audience with deeply discomforting images and concepts.
Lynda Caspe’s current exhibition at the Derfner Museum is an extraordinary event. In this show of 12 bronze relief sculptures and 14 cityscape paintings we have the opportunity to see the full scope of her last six years of work that, as least with the sculptures, marked a radical change in subject matter and technique.
The philosopher Theodor Adorno famously wrote in 1949, “cultural criticism finds itself with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” This statement posited that the Holocaust exposed the unredeemable rotten underbelly of Western culture and therefore the very notion of creating beauty and sensitivity was at an insurmountable impasse. Alas, as cultural history has shown, he was wrong. Strikingly, it might be said that one of the few ways still provocatively available to speak about the Holocaust is in fact through poetry.
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The “book” is a mighty big place these days and the current exhibition at MOBIA, “As Subject and Object: Contemporary Book Artists Explore Sacred Hebrew Texts,” is no exception. Highly mobile ebooks compete with online publications and traditionally bound volumes, scrolls, accordion-style tomes and folios that present equally exciting options for contemporary artists to interact with image and text in one unifying medium.
At the Chassidic Art Institute one artist, Harry McCormick, has rather amazingly fathomed the authentic heartbeat of the individual Jewish life. This exhibition, running until July 25, shows a mere 16 paintings, but six of them reveal a deeply perceptive and sensitive chronicle of Yiddishkeit.
Judaica Auctions and the exhibition that precede them at Kestenbaum & Company are always a cornucopia of aesthetic delights. The sheer variety and overall quality of the ceremonial objects and works of art make the exhibition and catalogue a museum-like experience. The current exhibition is no exception.
Whether it is the disastrous report of the 12 spies or the furious condemnation that doomed an entire generation to die in the wilderness, the Torah narrative in Bamidbar turns terribly grim after the glorious inauguration of the Mishkan in the second year after leaving Egypt. With this in mind, just imagine my surprise at an encounter with two artists who address these (and other Biblical) themes right around the corner.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/lipchitzs-prayer/2004/10/13/
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