In Israel, a new five month scholarship program being offered to young aspiring athletes – one of them could be you.
Walking out of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C. the stench of mass murder was overpowering. Western Civilization, that hubristic culture celebrating man’s highest aspirations, seemed obscene. Stately government buildings that bespoke American power and beneficence only reminded me of American rejection of Jewish refugees before the war and refusal to bomb the rail lines during. America knew from the extensive newspaper coverage between 1934 to the end of the war of the Nazi murderous intent to annihilate the Jews. This alone made my beloved America an accessory to the crime. My country essentially did nothing. And what about G-d? Why did He hide His face?
Nearby, in the National Gallery of Art, glancing at masterpieces of Western art and remembering the beauty of Mozart and Beethoven, it seemed impossible that this was the same world. An American soldier liberating the camps remarked, “You can’t imagine… things like that don’t happen.” They did and still do.
The evil of the Holocaust is ultimately incomprehensible just as all evil is for all ages. It was so for Rembrandt, too. Three hundred and fifty years ago, his age was marked by vicious civil war, invasions and, of course, the slaughter of Jews. Protestant and Catholic accused the Jews of deicide. The Chmielnicki massacres of 1648-49 murdered 100,000 Jews and destroyed 300 communities in the Ukraine. And yet, for this Protestant artist in Amsterdam, neighbor and friend of many Jews, the Bible was key in the attempt to understand the human condition, evil and, most importantly, the nature of G-d.
A small exhibition at the National Gallery of Rembrandt’s etchings delineates his devotion to the Bible and presents five subjects he created between 1652 and 1656. With the Holocaust weighing on my mind, his choice of subjects seems prescient. “Abraham, Entertaining the Angels,” “Abraham’s Sacrifice,” “Jacob’s Ladder” and “David in Prayer” all had a connecting theme: G-d’s encounter with His created.
The first etching, “Abraham Entertaining the Angels” (1656) depicts a miracle unfolding; the aged couple Abraham and Sarah visited by three angels, who would foretell Sarah’s pregnancy at the age of 90. G-d tested His servants Abraham and Sarah, withholding progeny until a ripe old age. Abraham, in fact, seems pushed aside, appearing only as a small figure in the lower right, waiting to serve his seated celestial guests. These three strange beings: a powerful warrior intruding from the left margin, the center occupied by a gregarious and kindly old sage flanked by winged contemplative monk, dominate the image of Abraham’s hospitality. Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, son of Sarah’s maidservant Hagar, plays behind them shooting an arrow at an unseen quarry. Behind the guests, the barren matriarch, Sarah, lurks inside the house just visible in the shadows and eavesdropping on the prophecy unfolding.
The old sage seems to be speaking as he gestures. Could it be that he is telling Abraham that next year at this time, Sarah will have a child? Could it be that this is the moment that Sarah laughs, doubting and incurring G-d’s anger? Could it be that this is the moment she tests G-d?
The next image is the last and greatest test of the patriarch, “Abraham’s Sacrifice” (1655). G-d’s command to Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice evokes the horror, pain and confusion that the slaughter of millions summons in us. Surely, an unfathomable test. Abraham passed the test spectacularly and had to be stopped by an angel. Rembrandt’s angel grasps both of Abraham’s arms, one holding the knife for slaughter, the other covering Isaac’s face.
This non-textual detail, the covering of Isaac’s face, is singularly found in all Rembrandt’s depictions and simultaneously bespeaks compassion for his child and the obliteration of his son’s personality. Isaac kneels submissively, not bound as the text stipulates, and appears more than ready to die. Abraham turns toward the angel annoyed and confused at being interrupted in doing G-d’s will. Questions immediately arise: why is Abraham annoyed and not overjoyed, where is the altar and where exactly is he standing, why is the scabbard provocatively hanging at this crouch, why does he cover his son’s face? Why did G-d demand such a test?
“Jacob’s Ladder” (1655) is the smallest and yet most intense of the etchings. Its dark brooding aspect goes well beyond Rembrandt’s normally dramatic lighting. Jacob is gently being awakened by two (or perhaps three) angels, as one ascends (or descends) the famous ladder of the Biblical text. The entire lower third of the image is plunged into darkness, suggesting that Jacob is resting on a shadowy boulder that is perched above a chasm, rendering the scene unstable and foundationless. Jacob seems to smile, happy to be awakened from one dream to be plunged into another.
This revelation, the patriarch and the lower angels bathed in an indirect light provokes a dark mystery. Jacob is leaving the surety of the Land of Israel to plunge into the uncertainty of exile, a cruel and conniving father-in-law, a complicated marriage with two sisters, and finally a mighty struggle to return home. This episode is meant to reassure him and yet, in Rembrandt’s etching, darkness overwhelms the light, the ladder of ascent is not possible for Jacob and the heavenly glow will soon dissipate. G-d’s test for Jacob now is the very fabric of a complicated but enormously fruitful life.
Finally, Rembrandt exposes us to everyday life with “David in Prayer” (1652). The scene is set in a typical Dutch bedroom. The canopy bed provides the stage for David’s jarringly Christian gesture of kneeling prayer before retiring. Jews never kneel in prayer and, in fact, stand as humble and proudly autonomous individuals to implore G-d. Nonetheless David kneels on a plush pillow as the details of the cover and the drapes that suggestively rest on the bedpost contrast with the simplicity of his nightshirt.
David is enmeshed in physicality, his manuscripts at bedside and his famous harp casually resting on the floor. His flattened profile is concentrated on doing what most people are able to do, to pray, reaching out. The grand revelation of the patriarchs has become embedded in contemporary reality. G-d is sought but not necessarily found, at least not as in the previous narratives. G-d is distant and shockingly familiar in “David’s Prayer.” He seems silent now, even as He continues His tests.
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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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/rembrandt-etchings/2005/02/16/
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