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.
As one enters the theater, the stage is seen dominated by three levels of scaffolding that fills the entire proscenium behind a gray scrim. Plunged into darkness as the lights go down, a single face is illuminated on the stage by a bolt of light. Smoke swirls at her feet as she starts to rhythmically recite; “I lost a sock. I lost my umbrella. I lost a sock. I lost a tooth. I lost my teeth. I lost a leg… I lost my father. I lost my voice… I lost the keys… I lost my wits. I lost my way. I lost my tongue.” This haunting meditation on the tragic and the mundane is now repeated by a chorus clad in black that slowly appears, filling the entire breadth of the stage behind a scattered pile of objects… lost objects. The voices struggle against the long slow cords from the 25-member string orchestra that appears over them on the second level of the scaffolding.
Words appear on the transparent scrim to the rising sounds of violins, double basses and timpani, scrolling down from the top and covering the backlit orchestra and chorus. The projected words of the libretto seem to unfold with the same hypnotic rhythm as the singing of the chorus and orchestra, gaining urgency as the meanings unfold. “I lost my balance. I lost my mother. I lost my shoe… I lost his number. I lost my desire… I lost my fear. I lost my land. I lost my resistance.”
Lost Objects, a collaborative musical work in 14 parts by Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe with a libretto by Deborah Artman, was performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music late last year and was easily one of the most exciting evenings of performance in recent memory. It promises great hope for a modern Jewish music.
This eclectic oratorio is directed by François Girard and includes the Bang On A Can Lost Object Ensemble, New York Virtuoso Singers, the Concerto Koln (a baroque orchestra) and the electric guitar, bass, keyboard and drums of DJ Spooky. It is intensely textual as it quickly expands its exploration of things lost into the Biblical text of offerings in Vayikra 1: 1-9; 4: 13-20; 6:5 and the Talmudic text of Baba Metzia.
The entire opening of the stage, top to bottom, is used as one shallow surface that vibrates with music, lights and text that appears on one side, then on the other, as we alternate first listening and then reading what is sung. In “Passenger Pigeon,” the thin soprano voices mourn: “Thousands of pigeons… no matter how long it is gone… the bird will always come home…” And of course, never again, for they too are lost, a lost technology. The text scrolls hundreds of obsolete technologies, an hourglass, sundial, typewriter ribbon, telegraphs, languages, each one that has slipped into a cultural oblivion. The thin voices merge now with the plaintive strings of an electric guitar on the top scaffolding and the orchestra below.
Suddenly, the voices change into the pounding chant “When Any Man,” punching out the text of a burnt offering in Vayikra: :You shall bring your offering… he shall kill the bull before the Lord… shall burn the whole on the altar… a pleasing odor to the Lord.”
The stage and uppermost level is throbbing with voices and music, drums keeping a merciless beat as all three levels of the scaffold are filled with color and light, intense shifts from crimson to ominous silhouettes and back to blood red. The boldly projected text proclaims when “the whole congregation of Israel commits a sin… a young bull… before the Lord… the blood he shall pour out… with the bull and they shall be forgiven… the fire… it shall not go out. It shall not go out.”
At the end of this riveting section, the audience bursts into a thunderous applause, shocked by the animal sacrifice and then the realization that tragically, the fire has gone out… an awesome kind of loss; of ritual, sacrifice, Temple, atonement, and finally the loss of closeness to G-d.
This oratorio, the Italian word for prayer hall, echoes the 16th century Italians who gathered to pray, read Scripture and sing hymns of praise. Lost Objects engages us because in some strange way it mirrors a Jewish experience so familiar that we have practically forgotten how special it is. Every Shabbos and Yom Tov we take out the Torah and publicly read. Our prayers are musical, repetitive, and ascend from the ordinary (hand washing, clothing, shoes) to soaring praises, the solemn affirmation of the Shema and finally the intimacy of talking to G-d Himself.
Reading the Torah breaks that rhythm and introduces pure text into our devotions. This text is read, indeed proclaimed, not individually but congregationally to all assembled. And then it is elevated and displayed for all to see, “This is the Torah that Moses placed before the Children of Israel…” We are participants in a well-rehearsed performance every Shabbos and Yom Tov, a performance of musical prayer that has as its centerpiece our text, our sacred text the Torah displayed and read as a measure of our devotion.
Halacha is introduced by the high artificial voice of a countertenor from the uppermost level of the scaffold. “I found my enemy’s ox… I found my neighbor’s ox… I cannot withhold my help, I cannot hide myself.” Again the text is arranged in our vision, this time with the verses from Baba Metziah in a block over the orchestra, a vision of broken words and insistent responsibility that flows relentlessly on through the music, voice and light. Every lost thing can, indeed must, be found. The high-pitched song tumbles into a pounding beat that demands “Missing Child. Please look… I am asking you, begging… If you hear anything, please. All prayers are appreciated.” An urgent soprano insists on help as an enormous head is projected, a child’s face smiling until she turns her head in anguish, the anguish of that which is lost, that which we all care is lost until the text itself evaporates, disappears and leaves us bereft.
The Talmud is again almost violently invoked, spare drums, urgent male voices and sopranos soaring over their pounding. “Two are holding onto a garment. This one says… This one says… and they will divide it.” Full of musical contention and clashing urgency that reflect the divided texts, now four projections each proclaim ownership of the text, each insistent until huge letters resolve the conflict. The fear of that which is lost threatens in “Not our Darkness that we fear…but our light” to strident drums until a rock guitar reveals the terrible fear of finding.
In what was until now a deeply engrossing narrative of loss and Jewish content, the libretto shifts to the mundane world and asks, “Amelia where are you… Somewhere.” While still moving, the last section about Amelia Earhart lacks urgency so deeply felt in the rest of the piece.
Loss is clearly a central motif in Jewish history and continues to function as an operative dynamic. What is so striking about Lost Objects is the expansion of our understanding of loss into the realm of presence and absence, tragedy and, finally, navigating human affairs. We are a people of the Diaspora, seemingly in a continual state of loss. What will we do once we have re-entered the land, reclaimed our lost faith and rebuilt our lost nation? Will we ever be able to lose that which was lost?
Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.
Lost Objects (2001) Oratorio; music by Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe; libretto by Deborah Artman; directed by François Girard, performed by the Bang on a Can Lost Objects Ensemble, The New York Virtuoso Singers, Concerto Koln conducted by Daniel Reuss and DJ Spooky.
Available on CD at www.bangonacan.org
About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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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.
Jewish Press columnist Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, founder and president of Hineni, the international Torah outreach organization, recently addressed an overflowing audience at the Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine in southern California. Rebbetzin Jungreis’s address theme, “Making a Good Relationship Magical,” was apropos for the evening’s main mission: raising funds for the Irvine community’s mikveh.
You have probably been planning your marriage since you were about three. Let’s fast-forward to a big milestone– your twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. (Don’t worry, you don’t look a day over twenty one!) Now, would you appreciate your husband buying you a dozen roses that some florist recommended?
As I mentioned in my earlier articles about our family trip to Israel, our night flight went pretty smooth, thanks to my children’s willingness to sleep throughout the flight. I, on the other hand, didn’t sleep a wink and I wasn’t feeling too great by the time we landed. But we were finally in Israel, and just being in the beautifully renovated Ben Gurion airport and hearing all the Hebrew around us was exciting enough.
While all the flowers that grace your Shavuos table will surely be a delight to your eye, these will be a delight for your palette as well. Create them at any level, simple or sophisticated; any way you make them they’re sure to be a sensation.
Welcome back to “You’re Asking Me?” where we attempt to answer questions sent in by people who fortunately have fake names, so they won’t be embarrassed. I don’t know how they got through school, though.
Speechless wonder is the reaction to the beautiful vision seen though the Arch of the Keshet Cave at the Adamit Park in the Galilee. One of the most amazing natural wonders in Eretz Yisrael, the Me’arat Hakeshet — also known as the Rainbow Cave or Arch Cave — can be found up against the Israel-Lebanon border just a few kilometers from Rosh Hanikra and the sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea. It is situated amid the wild scenery on the cliffs of Nachal Betzet and Nachal Namer, on the Adamit Ridge.
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/lost-objects-found/2005/03/16/
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