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November 27, 2014 / 5 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘art’

Technologically Speaking

Friday, May 4th, 2012

I watch in wonder as four teenagers grab chairs around a table at a local café. They seem to be friends, or at least fond acquaintances, all joining together for a ten-day Birthright tour of Israel. I watch these boys from a balcony above, and I observe that immediately upon sitting down, three of the four boys at the table proceed to reach for their laptops. The fourth boy didn’t seem to have one with him and attached himself to his friend’s laptop. They immediately logged into their Facebook accounts and spent the remainder of their meal connecting to friends in their respective countries. I found out later that this was their first night in Israel, so they must have been telling their friends about their trip since arrival. I would have been okay with this had this activity lasted ten maybe fifteen minutes, but it lasted the entire time these boys sat at the café together.

At the next table sat a couple who appeared to be dating or even possibly engaged. The girl spent her entire time at the table looking at her Blackberry and oblivious to the gentleman sitting across from her. Nothing this poor man could say or do could sway her attention even one iota from her much more enticing technological device. For a while during the dinner, he too took out his Blackberry and did some texting of his own. It would have been nice had they been texting each other. Unfortunately, it is far more likely they were sitting directly across from each other, yet completely absorbed in their own world, texting other people. They finished their meal, paid the bill, left the table, and walked out of the café without her looking up once. I was amazed to see how she did this without tripping down the stairs on the way out.

Two completely different groups of people at a popular Israeli café, yet both demonstrated something in common. People have abandoned the art of face-to-face communication in favor of the presumably more exciting art of communicating over devices. It is sad to consider that if we keep going in this direction, the art of face-to face communication could become completely lost on the next generation. People will simply forget how to carry on a normal and basic conversation – for lack of practice.

Some of the older couples at the café still appeared to be communicating with each other, but for the younger crowd, many of them may not even have noticed if half of their dinner mates got up and left the table. I fear the loss of face-to-face communication skills, as there is almost nothing as healing and cathartic as a face-to-face discussion with a friend. A friend who physically shows you compassion and empathy through his/her facial expressions, eye contact and gestures, and provides important guidance and advice if need be. A friend who hears you out, so you come away feeling heard. This feeling deepens connection between people.

The act of sitting across from someone and sharing thoughts, ideas, and experiences about life is nourishment for the soul – yet it may just be gone in a few decades. In fact, museums in fifty to one hundred years may have a “human communication exhibit” in which they show how human communication has progressed throughout the ages. The centuries up to and including the twentieth century will be called, “The Era of Face-to-Face Communication.” The twenty first century will be dubbed, “The Era of Electronic Communication,” whereby people primarily communicate via computers, cell phones and the like. How sad will it be for future generations who, at the rate we are going, will likely lose the fine art of non-electronic communication. How will people do basic tasks such as interviewing, meeting in-laws for the first time, returning an item to a department store, or sitting at a table of strangers at a wedding? Maybe they won’t. Maybe all of these interactions will be converted to electronic ones and everything will happen through a device. Maybe you won’t need to have that first awkward meeting with your in-laws because you’ll just type a few friendly greetings on your iPad and attach a photo of yourself; Telemedicine, or the practice of having your medical exams done via a computer to a doctor who is many miles away, will replace traditional medicine, and interviewing for a job will be done via a video hook-up without you ever having to leave the confines of your home.

Living in America in 2012, this all still sounds a bit far-fetched. But maybe one day this will be a reality. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not belittling technological advancement. I know we all benefit tremendously from these advances in every area of our lives – from medicine to education to the day-to-day running of our homes. But if social networks are supposed to connect people, why are people feeling more alienated and lonely than ever before? In midst of all the electronic communicating we are engaged in, many of us come away dissatisfied and discontented. We crave the basic eye contact we once enjoyed with our good friends, the upturn of a smile, the warm embrace, the shoulder to cry on when things got tough, and the high-five or tender hug of congratulations when the news was good.

A Jewish Palimpsest In Maastricht, Netherlands

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Three Medieval Jewish manuscripts
Regional Historic Center Limburg
Sint Pieterstraat 7, Maastricht, Netherlands
http://www.rhcl.nl/

One of my favorite places when I was growing up in Boston was the used bookstore on Beacon and St. Mary’s streets. Boston Book Annex could play a used bookshop on television; it was dimly lit and cavernous, crawling with cats, and packed with a dizzying array of books, many of which sold three for a dollar. But used bookstores of this sort, however picturesque and inviting, are a relatively modern phenomena. In the Middle Ages, for example, I would never have been able to afford even a single used book unless I had been born into an aristocratic family. (Full disclosure, I was not.) Pre-Gutenberg, books might as well have been worth their weight in gold, and even if peasants somehow managed to become literate (which they didn’t), they couldn’t just walk across the street and find a public library. It is within this context that one can begin to understand a palimpsest, or a manuscript that has been repurposed and retooled.

Due to the high price of vellum (animal skin used for book pages), some book owners would decide they weren’t too keen on the text they had inherited or purchased, and they would have the text scraped off the pages. A scribe would then write the new text on top of the old one, which might still appear ghostlike beneath the new text (not unlike a poorly erased Etch A Sketch). New technologies, which are far more effective and less invasive than their predecessors, have allowed scholars to decipher the old texts, although they are barely visible.

One particularly compelling example is the Archimedes Palimpsest Project, which focused on a mathematical work by Archimedes that had been erased by monks after it was acquired by a monastery. Perhaps unaware that he was defacing an otherwise lost work by Archimedes, the monk wrote a new religious text on top of the old one. The restored and carefully imaged text was part of the exhibit “Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes,” which was open from October 16, 2011 to January 1, 2012 at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

The palimpsest that Johan van de Walle, head of library at the Historisch Centrum Limburg on Sint Pieterstraat in Maastricht, showed me on my recent trip to the Netherlands had undergone something like the opposite kind of journey as the Archimedes book. Whereas the Archimedes text began as a scientific work and was then appropriated in a sacred context, the palimpsest in Maastricht was first a biblical text, and was subsequently turned into a tax register.

The Regional Historic Center Limburg, where Walle works, is itself a sort of palimpsest. Based in an early 14th century Franciscan monastery, which was turned into a state archive in the late 19th century, the archive—whose building has also served as a prison, a sauerkraut factory, and an artist’s studio, according to its website—still contains several tombs, and its documents span more than 11 miles.

First half of the 14th century. Leaf from a manuscript copy of Genesis 42:35 to 43:12. (“Membrum disjectum,” or disjointed element.) Photo by Menachem Wecker.

Walle showed me three Hebrew documents, all of which dated back to the 14th century. The first manuscript comes from a book of Genesis. Mislabeled in the archive as representing Genesis 42:35 to 43:27 (it in fact starts midway through verse 35 of chapter 42 and only goes until midway through the verse 43:12), the manuscript contains a few interesting elements. Whether a result of decay or scribal error, some of the letters are poorly formed (like the first line, for example), but more noteworthy, the scribe struggled with fitting the text on the lines.

On several occasions (for example, the last word on the third line of the right column), the scribe tried to fit a word into the line, only to run out of room and begin the word again on the subsequent line. Other times (such as the seventh line of that column), the scribe anticipated running out of room, so he extended a letter to fill out the rest of the line.

At the end of the first column, another interesting thing happens. The scribe, per usual, had to truncate the last word of the line, but instead of beginning the next line with a new word, he instead repeated the second to last word again. The truncated word, which is sandwiched between two iterations of the same word, isn’t even the correct partial word sequentially. And perhaps most atrociously, the scribe misspelled a word (he left out the final letter) 15 lines down the second column.

NY Jews Lay Mitzvahs on Thick, Break World Record

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Members of the UJA-Federation of New York set a Guinness World Record on April 29 for assembling the greatest number of sandwiches for the needy in one hour.

The mitzvah-slathered soiree took place at Temple Beth Sholom in Roslyn Heights and involved 100 volunteers from the local Jewish community, 3,320 slices of bread, and gobs of soy butter (to ensure that it would not cause food allergies) and jam.  It was scheduled to coincide with the UJA’s annual Mitzvah Day.

After officially recording the event for its Guinness World Record certification, participants donated the sandwiches  - with cards and decorations affixed – to the Queens Jewish Community Council in Forest Hills and to Long Island’s Interfaith Nutrition Network in Hempstead.

The project was a “frenzy of good will”, according to co-chair of the UJA-Federation Guinness World Record Amy Mandell.

The record-breaking project was just part of greater Mitzvah Day celebrations, which included volunteering for a local kosher food charity, outdoor clean-ups, nursing home visits, a blood drive, and activities for children such as art projects.

President Obama Declares Jewish American Heritage Month

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday declared May “Jewish American Heritage Month”.

In a ceremony kicking off the month, the president praised Jewish Americans for bearing “hardship and hostility” with the “deep conviction that a better future was within their reach”.

He also noted the achievements and national contribution of Jewish Americans such as Supreme Court Jusice Louis Brandeis, physicist Albert Einstein, and writer and art collector Gertrude Stein.

“Our country is stronger for their contributions, and this month we commemorate the myriad ways they have enriched the American experience,” Obama said.

The first Jewish American Heritage Month occurred during the presidential term of George W. Bush.  It was introduced by Jewish Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D- FL) and passed in December 2005.

In Washington DC, events for Jewish American Heritage Month will take place at the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Gallery of Art, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Events will also take place in various locations throughout the United States.

Marc Chagall At TEFAF Maastricht

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) March 16-25, 2012 (25 year anniversary) Maastricht, Netherlands http://www.tefaf.com/

Jewish medals, several with Hebrew inscriptions and provocative imagery, were among the gems at The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, as I wrote in these pages two weeks ago. Another mini-trend at the fair, which will interest Jewish art aficionados, was an abundance of works by Marc Chagall.

“There is more Chagall than usual this year. I don’t know why, but each year there seems to be one artist who is the main artist of the year. Next year there may be only one or two,” says Anthony Brown, managing director of the London-based gallery Connaught Brown.

Ben Springett, manager and head of sales at Alon Zakaim Fine Art in London, agrees. “There do seem to be more Chagalls this year than perhaps before, although they have always been popular at the fair,” says Springett, whose gallery was participating in the fair for the first time. “Several people have said that the strength of the modern section at the fair has grown over the past few years.”

Marc Chagall. Autour de l'equilibriste. 1975-78. Oil on board. 24 x 16 ins / 60 x 40 cm.

Chagall’s “Les maries aux deux violonistes au cirque,” which was exhibited at the Alon Zakaim Fine Art booth, shows a bride and groom at the circus. The couple is surrounded by fiddlers, what might be a man with a donkey’s head, acrobats with wings, and flower bearers. In the top right corner of the piece, a painter (perhaps a self portrait of Chagall?) stands at an easel with a canvas depicting Jacob’s ladder with an angel climbing heavenward.

The conflation of angels and acrobats is an interesting move on Chagall’s part. At first blush, all of the danger and the excitement of acrobatics is lost if the performers have wings. Michael Jordan’s soaring dunks were so impressive because he is human; if he could suspend himself mid-air indefinitely it wouldn’t be nearly as arresting an image to see him pull off seemingly extra-human moves.

On the other hand, Chagall’s circus of angels—superimposed on Jacob’s dream of the ladder, so that the acrobat’s swing becomes a rung of a ladder—bridges the human and heavenly realms. That is after all what Jacob’s dream is about, and also the impression one gets from watching people flying on high wires as if they are birds.

Chagall brings the circus-Jacob’s ladder comparison full circle by depicting a sleeping (or dead?) figure lying on the ground in the circus ring. The figure, which seems to lie among red, orange, green, and blue petals, could be a dreamer imagining the Jacob’s ladder painting within the imagined circus, or it could be a fallen acrobat-angel. Just as some can soar, some remain earthbound and asleep, Chagall seems to say.

Marc Chagall. L'homme à la chèvre. 1950. Gouache, India ink and pastel on paper. 62.5 x 48.5 cm.

Another Chagall work at Alon Zakaim, “L’homme à la chèvre,” depicts a bearded man carrying a goat. A boy stands beside the man, as a purple village unfolds behind them. The blood-red moon and the red and orange sky almost suggest flames, which appear even warmer when juxtaposed with the cool colors in the foreground. A few figures can be made out in the shtetl in the background, but the most conspicuous character is a bearded man exiting stage left with a cap and a large sack slung over his shoulder.

According to an essay written by the Koller auction house, which previously owned the work, Chagall was influenced in “L’homme” by his childhood in Vitebsk, and “he often painted such dreamscapes as a dialogue with his hometown.” The man, according to the essay, may be Chagall’s uncle Neuch, who was a cattle dealer. “A young Chagall loved to accompany his uncle when he went to buy cattle from the peasants in the region, and once commented, ‘How happy was I when you allowed me to drive with you on the bumpy barrow!’” according to the essay. The young boy in the work, then, may be a self portrait of Chagall.

Marc Chagall. Over Vitebsk. 1915-20. Oil on canvas. 26 3/8 x 36 1/2" (67 x 92.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art.

Yet, the painting is also confusing, the essay continues, because the man’s intentions for the goat remain ambiguous, the sky is “threatening” due to the “intense and thunderous horizon,” and there is the man with the sack and the people lying on the streets. The scene could be one of figures fleeing the town, and it may record “the discriminations and pogroms of the Jewish people which took place in Tsarist Russia. Chagall once said: ‘If I weren’t a Jew then I wouldn’t be an artist,’” the essay concludes.

Jewish Medals At TEFAF

Friday, April 6th, 2012

The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) March 16-25, 2012 (25 year anniversary) Maastricht, Netherlands http://www.tefaf.com/

It’s virtually impossible to ignore the financial aspects of TEFAF Maastricht, the annual arts and antiques fair in the historic city about two hours south of Amsterdam. More than 250 dealers from nearly 20 countries sell their wares—which span from Greek and Roman antiquities to contemporary sculptures—in the halls of the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, whose corridors are adorned by nearly 65,000 tulips.

Some of the most fascinating displays of wealth at TEFAF were small change, so to speak—or at least they used to be. Tucked away in display cases at booths are a trove of coins (used for currency) and medals (non-legal tender), that although less dazzling than the wall-dominating medieval paintings and life-sized contemporary sculptures, are no less worthy of close examination. In fact, four medals at two vendors (Nomos in Switzerland, and Tradart in Belgium and Switzerland) are of particular interest to those who are passionate about Jewish art.

A silver medal representing Tsar Alexander I of Russia (1801-1825), labeled “The Emancipation of Russian Jews,” shows Alexander on the front (obverse), wearing the eight-pointed star of the Order of St. Andrew, Russia’s patron saint. The tsar, identified by the inscription “Alexandro,” is shown in profile dressed in armor. On the reverse side of the medal, the Jewish community is personified by a bearded (and perhaps helmeted) man looking heavenward with his hands clasped in prayer—or, as the vendor, Tradart, describes it, “as a token of gratitude to the tsar for the laws of 1804 granting Jews relative emancipation.” A Latin inscription declares, “He freed the Jews from burden, February 9, 1805.”

In front of the figure, who is dressed in biblical rather than contemporary garb, is an altar of sorts, with laurel wreaths and a flame. According to Tradart, the medal is thought to have been struck outside of Russia, with a golden copy presented personally to Alexander I. “In that case, it would precede by many years any other issuance by the Jewish community of Russia,” according to the gallery. “Knowing that engraver, Paul Merker, came from Brunswick, it could substantiate the claim that it was commissioned by the Jews of Berlin.”

Another medal at Tradart’s booth is a rectangular bronze plate commemorating the inauguration of Frankfort’s synagogue. The Hebrew inscription, “house of prayer of the upright” (depending on how one translates the word Yeshurun), appears above a sun setting (or rising) over the Frankfurt synagogue. Some of the floral details adorning the arch over the Hebrew inscription and along the sides of the plate resemble the shape of the Hebrew letter Shin, the first letter of one of the divine names and, therefore, many mezuzah cases and other Judaica objects. And beneath the synagogue representation, another Hebrew inscription offers the Hebrew date of the inauguration.

The composition of the commemorative plate evokes the title page of Soncino’s editions of the Talmud (among other secular publishing designs). Three steps (which could symbolize any number of Jewish things) lead up the synagogue, which is circumscribed by an arch and two columns. The synagogue is represented in remarkable detail, but the artist has devoted equal—if not more—attention to the borders of the piece and the inscriptions. It’s worth noting, though, that some of the inscriptions seem to be confused, as some letters are slightly more elongated than they should be, and others are imprecisely formed.

A silver medal offered by Nomos also contains Hebrew inscriptions, but doesn’t necessarily have much to do with the Jewish community. The king appears in profile, wearing what might be the Order of the Golden Fleece (it’s tough to make out, but the interlocking shapes in the chain appear to be the iconic Burgundian ‘B’). Henry VIII was hardly a friend of the Jews (there were taxes and pogroms, among other oppressions), although by some accounts, Henry VIII enlisted Jewish scholars and their biblical expertise to justify his controversial divorce from Catherine of Aragon and subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn.

On the reverse side of the silver medal, inscriptions in Hebrew and Greek declare Henry VIII not only king, but “supreme head of the Church of England and Ireland,” according to Nomos. The Hebrew and Greek inscriptions, as the other two biblical languages besides Latin (which appears on the front of the medal), “affirm the legitimacy of Henry’s appointment,” according to the website of the British Museum, which owns one of two gold versions of the medal.

But a close inspection of the Hebrew inscription yields a different text. The word Messiah appears prominently, and although one can make out the term “community of England,” Ireland doesn’t appear. One term that is unaccounted for in the translation is Kush, and another 10-letter word doesn’t seem to be transcribed properly. More work can certainly be done on the inscription of this medal, although Richard Bishop’s Hebraica Veritas essay on the medal is very informative, particularly in its tracing of the humanism of the time and growing interests in Greek and Hebrew. A Hebrew font was developed in Venice by Teobaldo Mannucci in the very late 15th century, according to Bishop, and study of biblical Hebrew allowed scholars to understand the bible ad fontem (“at the source”)—although through a Christian lens, of course.

Calendar Of Events

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

WHAT: Lasko Family Tours & RASG Hebrew Academy present a Passover Casino Night – gift cards, electronics, hotel getaways; fine jewelry, art, and religious Items at wholesale prices. All proceeds benefit the Hebrew Academy

WHERE: Fontainebleau Resort, Fleur de Lis Room, 4441 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach

WHEN: Chol Hamoed, Sunday, April 8 at 9:30 p.m.

COST: Casino Gaming – minimum buy-in: $25. Texas Hold’em Tournament – buy-in: $100. Includes kosher l’Pesach buffet; buffet only: $50

CONTACT: 305-532-6421, ext. 110 or DevelopmentOffice@rasg.org

* * * * *

WHAT: Matzah to the Troops: Miami-based Aleph Institute needs your help to send military installations shmurah matzah, food and materials for sedarim for over 2,000 Jewish military personnel and 4,000 Jewish inmates. Aleph sends over 50,000 lbs. of kosher for Passover food. The cost is astronomical. Your assistance is needed.

CONTACT: Make a pledge by calling 305-864-5553 or visiting the Aleph website at www.aleph-institute.org/freedom.

* * * * *

WHAT: Join SPARKS for a night of fun and exploration into our deeper selves as we come together to share ideas and thoughts. SPARKS offers services for pre and postnatal women to help with symptoms of postpartum depression and other women’s issues.

Welcoming remarks by Rebbetzin Chani Lipskar; keynote speaker Diane Glanz PharmD RPH doctor in France and U.S. speaking on “A Woman’s Health is a Woman’s Wealth.”

Refreshment buffet of salads, sushi and sweets; question and answer session; raffle.

WHERE: The Shul of Bal Harbour, 9540 Collins Ave, Surfside.

WHEN: April 17 at 7 p.m.

COST: $26

CONTACT: call 305-868-2426 or visit www.sparkscenter.org.

* * * * *

WHAT: Be a performer at South Florida’s Israel 64 Independence Day Celebration. The 2012 talent competition for grades 6-12 will include singing, acting, dancing and stand-up comedy. First-place winner will receive an airline ticket to Israel on El Al Airlines.

WHERE: Michael-Ann Russell JCC, 18900 NE 25th Avenue, North Miami Beach.

WHEN: June 18

COST: For information, visit www.marjcc.org.

CONTACT: Call 305-932-4200, ext. 145/151

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/south-florida/calendar-of-events-10/2012/04/05/

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