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December 22, 2014 / 30 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘candles’

The Shabbos Blessing

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Friday was a hectic day. The night before, I had been rushed to the emergency room after feeling unwell. I was released early in the morning, and was given a copy of my EKG. I brought the EKG results to my cardiologist first thing in the morning.

When the doctor read the EKG, he was concerned that I might have suffered a heart attack. He whisked me by taxi to the emergency room at Beth Israel Hospital. They immediately gave me a room, did another EKG, and rushed me to the catheterization lab on the eighth floor.

It was Erev Shabbos, a short Friday. The last place I’d expected to be was an operating room. I calmed myself down with the thought that it was too late to go home, so I might as well accept the fact that I would be spending this Shabbos in a hospital bed.

It was finally my turn for the procedure. All I could focus on was the clock with the minute hand counting down to candle-lighting time. The doctors were doing their job, and I was trying to figure out how I would be able to light the candles on time. They kept asking me how I was feeling, and I kept asking them what time it was.

The clock showed 4:50 p.m. Shabbos was at 5:09 p.m. I looked up and saw two overhead operating lights. I realized that the only way I would be able to bentch licht (light the candles) this Shabbos would be to recite the blessing over the electric lights. I recited the blessing and beseeched Hashem to please let them finish the procedure before Shabbos started.

Finally, the doctor was done. He came around the curtain and said, “We have good news for you! We didn’t find any problems. You are clear to go.”

I smiled and asked, “What time is it?”

It was 5:07.

I whispered, “Thank you, Hashem, for your Hashgachah Pratis (Divine Providence).”

Teaching Chekhov To Recite The Havdalah

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

The Seagull on 16th Street


Through July 19, 2009


By Anton Chekhov, translator: Carol Rocamora


adapted by Ari Roth, director: John Vreeke


Theater J at the Washington DC JCC


1529 16th Street NW, Washington



 

 


In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a troupe of Athenian actors, “rude mechanicals” according to the sprite Puck, meets in the woods to rehearse “the most lamentable comedy, and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby.” Puck frustrates the efforts of Quince, Snug, Flute, Snout, and Starveling to practice when he turns Bottom into a donkey. “If he come not, then the play is marred: it goes not forward, doth it?” worries Flute, but in the end the play-within-a-play transpires on schedule, with all its absurd disclaimers designed not to frighten the court ladies.

 

The play-within-a-play in The Seagull on 16th Street presents a monologue from the Sabbath Queen, responding to the question, “What will life be like for the Jewish people in 200,000 years?” Like the Pyramus and Thisby production, the vision of Judaism projected 200 millennia into the future elicits a barrage of taunts from the audience. But the playwright of the latter, Konstantin Treplev (Alexander Strain), is so troubled by the play’s reception that he calls for a premature curtain, truncating the theatrical flop intended to launch a new Jewish theater.

 


(L-R) Veronica del Cerro and Alexander Strain

 

 

The Theater J production takes a lot of risks. That statement is worth repeating. Ari Roth, Theater J’s artistic director, has essentially taken a play by a non-Jew, Chekhov, which had no Jewish content whatsoever (the closest things to religion are references to “sacred art,” “high-priests of art,” and battles with Satan, according to the translation I found on Project Gutenberg) and infused it with Jewish content, themes, and songs from the American rock band R.E.M. Where Chekhov refers to “antediluvians,” Theater J amends, “people from before Noah’s ark,” and Chekhov’s stagehand Jacob becomes Yakov in Roth’s script. When Treplev’s mother, the famous actress Irina Arkadina (Naomi Jacobson), denounces his art as “decadent rubbish,” Theater J renders it “Hebraic tripe,” and later when Chekhov has Treplev call his mother a “Miser!” to which she retaliates with “Rag-bag!” Theater J offers the following exchange:


 


TREPLEV: Miser!


ARKADINA: Leach!


TREPLEV: Has-Been.


ARKADINA: Beggar! Jew! Nonentity!


 


Roth’s script also replaces the esoteric symbols in Treplev’s play with the Havdalah ceremony. All this Jewishness in Chekhov’s play has led to some reviewers, like Monica Shores of the influential blog DCist.com, to suggest that the play does not work with its new Jewish identity. Admitting that a Jewish Treplev is an “interesting idea,” Shores says the original play is so dense to begin with, that Theater J’s version “threatens to buckle under the weight of more conflict.” Indeed, Medvedenko (Mark Krawczyk) accuses Treplev in the play of “importing a Western European demographic and grafting it onto an Eastern European reality.”

 


(L-R) Alexander Strain, Stephen Patrick Martin, Mark Krawczyk and Noami Jacobson

 

 

I respectfully disagree. I think Chekhov reads quite well with Treplev announcing the play with a shofar, adding, “We’re beginning the way our ancient forefathers called their flock into battle. With our very own Call to Art! And Worship! To Introspection!” This is just the sort of thing one would expect of the young, tortured artist, who delights in translating the ritual for the benefit of those “who need their Hebrew rituals Anglicized:” “The Great Union/Division


Synthesis.”

 

Treplev’s play receives the same criticisms that Theater J seems to be receiving, and it is worth noting that audiences ridiculed Chekhov’s original Seagull production. Amidst Treplev’s Havdalah ceremony, his mother announces to her friends in the audience, “I don’t know about you, but I did not sign up to participate in some conversion rite.” Another character Polina (Nanna Ingvarsson) responds that Treplev’s play is not a conversion ceremony, but the opening of a Jewish theater company, which launches a debate on what such an enterprise might mean. The mother-son rivalry was an entry point, at least a half-serious one, for Roth’s Jewish interpretation of the script. “Treplev and Arkadina are a filial pair so competitive; so obsessed with each other’s actions; so in need of each other’s affirmation,” Roth writes in the program, “you can’t help but ask, ‘Ya sure Chekhov wasn’t Jewish?’”

 

 


(L-R) Brian Hemmingsen, Jerry Whiddon, Alexander Strain, Jason McCool. Stephen Patrick Martin, Naomi Jacobson and J. Fred Shiffman. All photos by Stan Barouh

 

 

Other Jewish subtexts surface in the new adaptation. Arkadina has a superstitious dread of burning three candles, according to Chekhov’s script, and the Jewish Treplev presents a play about the Havdalah candle, which contains three intertwined candles (and per Ecclesiastes 4:12, a threefold rope will not be quickly unwound), symbolic, Treplev says, of “the flame of man,” “the inferno of nature,” and “the spark of the divine.”

 

But Treplev’s interest in Judaism owes more to his love of the aspiring actress Nina (Veronica del Cerro) than to his own personal relationship with his G-d. It is not without significance that Treplev’s plays only deal in non-living characters. Treplev insists that his ideal (and idealized) theater has to do with more than “stardust and time travel.” It has to be “real,” and “more than anything, it must provoke. It must wake us up. To everything we’ve run away from. And to our fellow man, our country, our G-d. Yes, ‘G-d,’ why be ashamed? The theater should be a megaphone where we announce what we believe in full throttle.”

 

 


(L-R) Tessa Klein and Nana Ingvarsson

 

            So when Nina falls for another man, the famous writer Trigorin (Jerry Whiddon), it is no surprise that Treplev loses his faith. In an effort to sacrifice a red heifer (parah adumah), Treplev ends up shooting a seagull, which he offers to Nina, and then he shoots himself, which he offers to any number of candidates: Nina, the audience, his art, his faith. But in his death, Treplev inspires Masha (Tessa Klein), who has already adopted the name Miriam, and she offers her own Havdalah memorializing him and the loss of his talent.

 

In the end, though, the play perhaps has more to say to modern-day critics who reject the prospect of a Jewish theater than it does to an adaptation of Arkadina. Theater J, whatever one thinks of its current production, is the realization of Treplev’s dream, and one of his rants about his mother (who mistakes Hebrew for Hindu, Swahili, Turkish, Urdu, and “gibberish”) might be worth the most important element of the play to hold on to: “A psychological wonder; that’s my mother But just try mentioning the Yiddish Theatre of Warsaw in her presence, or the Great Sarah Bernhardt! ‘You call that acting? That yenta?!’ No, we must praise ‘Her,’ and her tradition alone, which is really no tradition, just a bad translation of European hauteur, which is to say anti-Semitism cloaked in costume – which it generally is, by the way, be it the Cossacks, Crusaders, or the Grand Inquisitioners.”


 


Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, D.C.

A Made-In-Israel Chanukah Story

Monday, December 29th, 2008

    Last year on the seventh morning of Chanukah our phone stopped working.  It wasn’t completely dead; it was still receiving calls and placing outgoing ones.  But there was a funny kind of static on the line.  So on the seventh afternoon of Chanukah we called the phone company. At the time we had been living in Israel only a few months, and I still got shaky every time I made a phone call in Hebrew.   Luckily, the customer service representative was pleasant, and said a technician could come between either 3 and 5p.m. − or 7 and 9p.m. 


    “Which time would you prefer?” he asked.


     Which time? Well, that was a no-brainer. Nice and early in the afternoon or smack in the middle of bedtime?


     I made an appointment for between 3 and 5 and hung up. Then I informed my husband about the impressively quick service we’d be receiving.


    He turned to me with an ominous look in his eyes. “You know when he’s going to come,” he said, and I could practically see the storm clouds in the air. 


   “Between 3 and 5 p.m.?” I ventured.  Somehow I knew that was not the answer.  


    Meir shook his head. “He’s going to come exactly when it’s time to light the Chanukah candles.”


    I gasped. Okay, so I exaggerate. (Anyone who knows my husband knows that “ominous” and “storm clouds” are not words generally associated with him.)  But the truth is he very much likes to light Chanukah candles at the earliest possible time, at sunset, and, somehow, nearly every night of Chanukah that year something happened to delay us. And now the eighth night was rapidly approaching and we were waiting for a telephone repairman.


“Well,” I said with an attempt at cheeriness, “this is Israel.  If he comes when we’re about to light, we’ll just invite him to light with us!”


   On Meir’s face was that certain expression he gets when I am being particularly exasperating.


    “And I bet you’re going to tell me that Hashem made our phone break just so that an Israeli repairman can light Chanukah candles.”


   I shrugged and he sighed as he went back to cleaning out the glass cups of the menorah.


   The technician, Roni, arrived at 4:15 while my husband was at shul.  I showed him the phone, and he began to work, when Meir walked in the door.


   “Time to light!” he called out.


    “He’s here,” I mouthed, pointing to the room the man was working in, and glancing at my husband nervously.


    A moment’s hesitation – then my wonderful husband walked right over to the technician, gave him a warm greeting, and asked him if he wanted to join us for Chanukah lighting.
  Roni was on his cell phone, but nodded and held up a hand, indicating that we should wait for him. I wasn’t sure if he thought he had to join us out of politeness, and felt a little bad about wasting his time when he probably had other jobs to get to after ours.


   We gathered around the menorahs, the six of us, and Roni.  We lit the candles, my children and my husband in turn. I noticed Roni listening attentively, an arm draped over his bare head, answering amen to the blessings.


    When we were almost finished, he thanked us and said, “You have no idea what a mitzvah you did.  I told myself this year I would light candles at least one night of Chanukah. But each night I came home too late. Tonight is the last night, and once again, I realized I would be home too late to light.  But now I was able to see it here!”


  Well, with such a revelation, there was really only one thing to do.  It was my husband’s turn to light one last set of candles by our front door.  Instead of lighting all of them himself my husband lit just the first candle and then waved Roni over.  Holding out the Shamash, he said, “B’Vakashah, please, finish the job for me!”


     I handed Roni a kippah that was hastily snatched from under my four-year-old’s baseball cap (it was a bit unnerving, though definitely heartwarming, watching Roni struggling to light the candles with one hand while covering his head with the other).  Roni lit the candles, beamed at us and went back to work.


    That was it.  He finished the job, we both thanked each other, and he left.  No grandiose ending here, no passionate declarations that from now on he’s going to make sure to light Chanukah candles every year.  Just a few simple Jews performing a simple mitzvah, in a land in which the extraordinary is born from the ordinary; where spiritual goals determine physical realities and a Jew’s need to light Chanukah candles can – just maybe − cause a telephone to break.


   (And yes, I did tell my husband “I told you so.”)

Flying To The Moon: Michael Gleizer’s Paintings At The Chassidic Art Institute

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Exhibition by Michael GleizerThrough January 15, 2009The Chassidic Art Institute375 Kingston Ave, Brooklyn, New York (718) 774-9149

 

Michael Gleizer’s work is unfortunately all too easy to pigeonhole. You are not likely to ever encounter it in the Whitney Biennial, and you had better not expect to see it selling for hundreds of millions alongside Damien Hirst’s works at auction. But just because Gleizer’s paintings present a nostalgic look at the simple, sad, and beautiful life of the shtetl rather than postmodern meditations on paralysis and alienation that blink and incorporate bizarre materials, does not mean that they are not important. In fact, they make a lot of sense at the Chassidic Art Institute in Crown Heights − itself an institution that is unfairly dismissed by too many in the so-called art establishment.

First, an anecdote is in order. Several years ago, when I was a literature student at Yeshiva University, I co-taught with a wonderful Argentinean artist Dina Bursztyn in a program called, “Seeing in Living Color. SILC,” a product of the Yeshiva University Museum’s education department. We taught bilingual students at PS 173 to enrich their language skills through drawing, painting, mask making, sculpture, basic printmaking, and clay work. There was also a gallery-viewing component, in which Dina and I showed works from YUM’s collection to the students and encouraged them to discuss the works.

One piece that especially held our students’ attention was a large eight-foot square work (split into nine equal-sized canvases) with lots of primary colors and transparent washes, which depicted a circus populated by Chassidim. Characters that could have been lifted from Sholom Aleichem arranged human pyramids, carried benches on their heads, walked a tight rope carrying water pails and umbrellas, and rode unicycles and horse-drawn wagons.

Though I remember the painting well, I had forgotten who painted it until I saw a very similar piece called “The Arena” (1991) in a 1993 catalog of Gleizer’s work by Zev Markowitz, director of the Chassidic Art Institute (CHAI). It turns out that the painting I remembered from YUM was called “Circus” (1991), and both were part of a larger series called “Levitation.” The body of works that Gleizer is currently showing at CHAI is quite different from the 1991 pieces, but the levitation theme remains. Of the 19 pieces in the show, 18 are 16-inches squared, styled works dated 2005 that show figures floating through the air with titles like “Learning,” “Sabbath,” “Farbrengen,” “Wedding,” and “Hachnoses Sefer Torah.” The 19th painting is titled “770″ (1997, 48 inches squared) and represents congregants praying with a Torah in far bolder color than the other works in the show.

 

 

“Hanukah.” 2005. Michael Gleizer: Oil on board. 16 x 16. Photo: Richard McBee

 

“Hanukah” (2005) is a timely inclusion in the show. In the painting, a man in a black hat and a coat and a young boy light candles in front of a large window. But this is anything but a conventional portrait of Jews lighting candles. The man and the boy seem to stand on firm ground (the viewer can just make out their shadows suggesting a light source from above), but the little bit of floor, the figures, and the window float through the air − which is presented as a mixture of soft blues, greens, purples, yellows, and grays. Specks of white paint suggest stars, and in the bottom left corner of the painting, Gleizer represents a village with about 10 houses. The same white specks that represent stars above become lights in the windows of the houses (perhaps also candles lit for Hanukah), linking the light of the holiday with the celestial bodies.

 

 

“Night.” 2005. Michael Gleizer: Oil on board. 16 x 16. Photo: Richard McBee

 

“Night” (2005) also shows a floating man, this time a milkman pulling a wagon with his wares. The man, having put down his wagon to rest, stands with his hands on his hips as he floats in the middle of the painting, sandwiched between a village in the bottom left corner and another one in the top right corner. Like “Hanukah,” Gleizer populates the sky with cool colors and with stars and lights in the house windows. The man looks upwards at the higher village − perhaps in prayer.

In their suspension of the laws of gravity, “Hanukah” and “Night” − and indeed most of the works in the show − raise important questions. Are the figures floating simply for stylistic reasons of calling attention to themselves, or are they conversing with the divine? Are they caught between heaven and earth with the potential to rise or fall depending on their deeds, or does Gleizer mean to romanticize the shtetl and suggest that it exists only in our dreams and collective memory? It is hard not to compare the soaring figures to Chagall’s flying people, though Gleizer addresses the happier sides of shtetl life while Chagall often portrays its nightmares.

 

 

“Tashlich.” 2005. Michael Gleizer: Oil on board. 16 x 16. Photo: Richard McBee

 

Gleizer’s “Tashlich” (2005) slightly breaks the mold. Eight men and two boys stand on one side of a river, while an amorphous crowd stands on the other side, all wearing hats and kapotas and swaying as they recite the prayer of symbolically casting their sins into the water. In “Tashlich,” perhaps due to the importance of nature in the symbolic ritual, Gleizer surrounds the villages with trees, and plants the houses, trees, and figures on terra firma rather than having them suspended in the air.

The work is mostly naturalistic in its perspective, though in the bottom left corner the village is far too small unless the figures are giants. In fact, the entire composition evokes the second day of creation, in which G-d separated the waters. The blue and white domain above is surely sky, but the area that zigzags through the middle of the painting ambiguously plays the roles of water to the praying figures and sky to the small village below. The figures can be said to be semi-suspended, or more exactly, it is impossible to determine whether the hills they stand on are attached to the earth.

 

 

“770.” 1997. Michael Gleizer: Oil on canvas. 48 x 48. Photo: Richard McBee

 

Other works like “770″ (1997) contain clear horizon lines and more straightforward efforts to map out space. But from seeing the body of work on exhibit at CHAI, it is clear that Gleizer is up to something very interesting with his delineation of heavenly and earthly domains. Chassidic texts talk about how performance of good deeds leads to the creation of angels that testify to those mitzvot, and perhaps Gleizer means to show how people can literally become elevated and suspended in the air when they welcome the Shabbat, celebrate a new Torah, dance at a wedding, or bless the new moon. Many of Gleizer’s pieces strongly emphasize the moon, so that even as the viewer is very conscious of how high up the figures have soared, the moon still looms higher yet, which leaves the figures with more and more to aspire to.

 

The 19th-century French painter, political activist, and caricaturist Honor? Daumier published a brilliant lithograph in the February 28, 1844; issue of the periodical Le Charivari called “O Lune! … inspire-moi ce soir quelque petite pens?e,” or “O moon! … Inspire me tonight with some thoughts…” (Translation from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art). In the print, Daumier shows a man sitting in his nightgown nervously biting his fingers and he looks up through an open window at the full moon. The work gives the viewer no indication of what plagues the man’s mind, but it is clear that it is more than he can bear.

Gleizer’s figures, conversely, celebrate the moon as a creation of G-d, and see it as an opportunity to praise G-d. Surely the milkmen and the brides and grooms and Chassidim in Gleizer’s works had their own troubles, but Gleizer chooses to show their joy and worship rather than their pains. Some will surely dismiss this vision as uninteresting, sappy genre painting. But when seen in the proper context like the Chassidic Art Institute, it is clear that the Chassidim are so joyful not because pretty colors sell well, but because Gleizer has infused the works with such a clear Jewish identity.

Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, and resides in Washington, D.C.

Flying To The Moon: Michael Gleizer’s Paintings At The Chassidic Art Institute

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Exhibition by Michael Gleizer
Through January 15, 2009
The Chassidic Art Institute
375 Kingston Ave, Brooklyn, New York
 (718) 774-9149

 

Michael Gleizer’s work is unfortunately all too easy to pigeonhole. You are not likely to ever encounter it in the Whitney Biennial, and you had better not expect to see it selling for hundreds of millions alongside Damien Hirst’s works at auction. But just because Gleizer’s paintings present a nostalgic look at the simple, sad, and beautiful life of the shtetl rather than postmodern meditations on paralysis and alienation that blink and incorporate bizarre materials, does not mean that they are not important. In fact, they make a lot of sense at the Chassidic Art Institute in Crown Heights − itself an institution that is unfairly dismissed by too many in the so-called art establishment.


First, an anecdote is in order. Several years ago, when I was a literature student at Yeshiva University, I co-taught with a wonderful Argentinean artist Dina Bursztyn in a program called, “Seeing in Living Color. SILC,” a product of the Yeshiva University Museum’s education department. We taught bilingual students at PS 173 to enrich their language skills through drawing, painting, mask making, sculpture, basic printmaking, and clay work. There was also a gallery-viewing component, in which Dina and I showed works from YUM’s collection to the students and encouraged them to discuss the works.


One piece that especially held our students’ attention was a large eight-foot square work (split into nine equal-sized canvases) with lots of primary colors and transparent washes, which depicted a circus populated by Chassidim. Characters that could have been lifted from Sholom Aleichem arranged human pyramids, carried benches on their heads, walked a tight rope carrying water pails and umbrellas, and rode unicycles and horse-drawn wagons.


Though I remember the painting well, I had forgotten who painted it until I saw a very similar piece called “The Arena” (1991) in a 1993 catalog of Gleizer’s work by Zev Markowitz, director of the Chassidic Art Institute (CHAI). It turns out that the painting I remembered from YUM was called “Circus” (1991), and both were part of a larger series called “Levitation.” The body of works that Gleizer is currently showing at CHAI is quite different from the 1991 pieces, but the levitation theme remains. Of the 19 pieces in the show, 18 are 16-inches squared, styled works dated 2005 that show figures floating through the air with titles like “Learning,” “Sabbath,” “Farbrengen,” “Wedding,” and “Hachnoses Sefer Torah.” The 19th painting is titled “770″ (1997, 48 inches squared) and represents congregants praying with a Torah in far bolder color than the other works in the show.

 

 


“Hanukah.” 2005. Michael Gleizer: Oil on board. 16 x 16. Photo: Richard McBee

 

“Hanukah” (2005) is a timely inclusion in the show. In the painting, a man in a black hat and a coat and a young boy light candles in front of a large window. But this is anything but a conventional portrait of Jews lighting candles. The man and the boy seem to stand on firm ground (the viewer can just make out their shadows suggesting a light source from above), but the little bit of floor, the figures, and the window float through the air − which is presented as a mixture of soft blues, greens, purples, yellows, and grays. Specks of white paint suggest stars, and in the bottom left corner of the painting, Gleizer represents a village with about 10 houses. The same white specks that represent stars above become lights in the windows of the houses (perhaps also candles lit for Hanukah), linking the light of the holiday with the celestial bodies.

 

 


“Night.” 2005. Michael Gleizer: Oil on board. 16 x 16. Photo: Richard McBee

 

“Night” (2005) also shows a floating man, this time a milkman pulling a wagon with his wares. The man, having put down his wagon to rest, stands with his hands on his hips as he floats in the middle of the painting, sandwiched between a village in the bottom left corner and another one in the top right corner. Like “Hanukah,” Gleizer populates the sky with cool colors and with stars and lights in the house windows. The man looks upwards at the higher village − perhaps in prayer.


In their suspension of the laws of gravity, “Hanukah” and “Night” − and indeed most of the works in the show − raise important questions. Are the figures floating simply for stylistic reasons of calling attention to themselves, or are they conversing with the divine? Are they caught between heaven and earth with the potential to rise or fall depending on their deeds, or does Gleizer mean to romanticize the shtetl and suggest that it exists only in our dreams and collective memory? It is hard not to compare the soaring figures to Chagall’s flying people, though Gleizer addresses the happier sides of shtetl life while Chagall often portrays its nightmares.

 

 


“Tashlich.” 2005. Michael Gleizer: Oil on board. 16 x 16. Photo: Richard McBee

 

Gleizer’s “Tashlich” (2005) slightly breaks the mold. Eight men and two boys stand on one side of a river, while an amorphous crowd stands on the other side, all wearing hats and kapotas and swaying as they recite the prayer of symbolically casting their sins into the water. In “Tashlich,” perhaps due to the importance of nature in the symbolic ritual, Gleizer surrounds the villages with trees, and plants the houses, trees, and figures on terra firma rather than having them suspended in the air.


The work is mostly naturalistic in its perspective, though in the bottom left corner the village is far too small unless the figures are giants. In fact, the entire composition evokes the second day of creation, in which G-d separated the waters. The blue and white domain above is surely sky, but the area that zigzags through the middle of the painting ambiguously plays the roles of water to the praying figures and sky to the small village below. The figures can be said to be semi-suspended, or more exactly, it is impossible to determine whether the hills they stand on are attached to the earth.

 

 


“770.” 1997. Michael Gleizer: Oil on canvas. 48 x 48. Photo: Richard McBee

 

Other works like “770″ (1997) contain clear horizon lines and more straightforward efforts to map out space. But from seeing the body of work on exhibit at CHAI, it is clear that Gleizer is up to something very interesting with his delineation of heavenly and earthly domains. Chassidic texts talk about how performance of good deeds leads to the creation of angels that testify to those mitzvot, and perhaps Gleizer means to show how people can literally become elevated and suspended in the air when they welcome the Shabbat, celebrate a new Torah, dance at a wedding, or bless the new moon. Many of Gleizer’s pieces strongly emphasize the moon, so that even as the viewer is very conscious of how high up the figures have soared, the moon still looms higher yet, which leaves the figures with more and more to aspire to.

 

The 19th-century French painter, political activist, and caricaturist Honoré Daumier published a brilliant lithograph in the February 28, 1844; issue of the periodical Le Charivari called “O Lune! … inspire-moi ce soir quelque petite pensée,” or “O moon! … Inspire me tonight with some thoughts…” (Translation from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art). In the print, Daumier shows a man sitting in his nightgown nervously biting his fingers and he looks up through an open window at the full moon. The work gives the viewer no indication of what plagues the man’s mind, but it is clear that it is more than he can bear.


Gleizer’s figures, conversely, celebrate the moon as a creation of G-d, and see it as an opportunity to praise G-d. Surely the milkmen and the brides and grooms and Chassidim in Gleizer’s works had their own troubles, but Gleizer chooses to show their joy and worship rather than their pains. Some will surely dismiss this vision as uninteresting, sappy genre painting. But when seen in the proper context like the Chassidic Art Institute, it is clear that the Chassidim are so joyful not because pretty colors sell well, but because Gleizer has infused the works with such a clear Jewish identity.

Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, and resides in Washington, D.C.

Shabbat Lights

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

I was thinking of my mother today. I realized that I still have much to learn from this wise woman. G‑d blessed me with my special mother who serves as my role model, my caretaker, my friend, and above all, my inspiration.

My mother was a chemist by profession in Morocco. She gave it all up to migrate to the United States for a better life for her children. Her parents lived with us and she took care of them to their last days. As I grew up, my mother was a dressmaker, a plumber, an electrician, a chef, a dancer, a doctor, a psychiatrist, and most of all she was the best wife and mother a family could ask for.

Why am I telling you all this? I grew up in a traditional, kosher and G‑d fearing home. As I started my family, I became more observant. I started teaching my mother about the beauty of Shabbat and of reading Tehillim.

Once, as we escorted the Shabbat away and welcomed back the week, the phone rang. My mother was calling, excited to tell me what had happened to her Friday afternoon, half an hour before candle lighting time.

“Now I know that G-d puts us in circumstances solely to help others grow spiritually,” she said.

That Friday afternoon, my mother had decided to go downstairs to get her mail. She grabbed the keys, put on her slippers, and headed downstairs. As she turned back to her apartment, she looked for her house keys and realized that she had taken the wrong set. She panicked and hoped that her next-door neighbor was home from work. She started knocking. Her neighbor opened the door and was kind enough to call the maintenance worker to help open the door.

The neighbor then turned to my mother and asked her if she lit candles Friday night.

“Of course,” my mother replied. She then asked my mother to help her set up the candles and teach her the prayers so she could start lighting candles every Friday night.

My mother was overjoyed with this mitzvah. They both stood close together, reciting the Shabbat prayers. Within five minutes, the maintenance worker showed up and miraculously opened my mother’s door without a problem. My mother kissed her teary-eyed neighbor and they wished each other a Shabbat Shalom.

The best-kept secret in this lifetime is not the best spa, the best chocolate, nor the best diet centers. It is Shabbat. I had a friend who used to tell me that if Hashem would tell her that it was all right not to observe Shabbat, she would be very upset. Family time, rest and spirituality come full circle. During these 25 hours, we are suffused with appreciation for our loved ones and for the Divine.

If you want to experience a sense of peace and connection to the Al‑mighty and to your family, light candles this Friday night and pause. Carefully gaze at the flames and praise Hashem and bless your loved ones.

Was my mother’s story just a coincidence or a wonderful miracle? You be the judge!

Barren Beauty

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

Ever since I can remember, my husband’s practice has been, like many men, to buy me a lovely bouquet of flowers for Shabbat. Tastefully, he arranges them on the Shabbat table, as his show of appreciation for the extra pre-Shabbat preparations and week-long exertions.

He never fails to delight me with his innovations. Sometimes, it is an exotic bunch that I have never seen before, exuding an irresistible perfumed aroma. Other times, it is the allure of the strikingly bold color co-ordination that stands out. While yet, other times, it is the novelty of an artistic vase housing the brilliant bunch.

This past Shabbat was no different. As I scampered into the dining room to kindle the candles, just moments before the appointed time, I couldn’t help but notice a captivating array adorning our table.

This time, however, the arrangement was more unique than any of its many predecessors.

About a dozen or more, simple, thin, redwood branches stood elegantly in a narrow clay pitcher, glazed to an olive green, earthy tone. The branches were naked of any of their leaves or flowers, very much resembling the barren, wintry outdoors.

The arrangement was definitely distinct from the colorful blooms and leafy greens I and my children had become accustomed to. And, at first my children protested to having them on our Shabbat table.

But looking at the mahogany colored branches, I discerned a distinctive beauty, a certain essence, bereft of adornments, detached of scent, stripped of garments or presentation.

This was not the attractiveness of dazzling flowers or the thick foliage of blooming trees standing in their full height and glory, exulting in a sun’s bathing rays, surrounded by chirping birds and children merrily and boisterously playing.

This was rather the exquisiteness of a barren, winter day, of a gray horizon surrounding raw trees in a vast, empty landscape trapped beneath layers of white icy snow.

It symbolized the splendor found within the desolate, dark period of our lives, in the wonder of finding ourselves and exposing our potential – within our hardships and our pains.

This was a steadfast, veiled beauty that does not wilt with the decaying rose buds nor evaporate with the flaccid, spicy leaves-like the successes of our lives which become obsolete with the passages of time.

My children found it difficult to appreciate.

“Are you really planning to keep this?” My youngsters queried at the end of Shabbat as they noticed me placing the branches as an artsy keepsake on the side table of our living room.

But, I realize that this is a kind of beauty that takes the maturity and the experiences of living to recognize.

Only after riding the ups and downs of the roller coaster ride we call the wheel of life, can one fathom a beauty in the downs as well as the ups. Only after experiencing the immense barrenness of the desert can one perceive the dramatic charm in the grooves of its landscape.

To me, these dozen or so, simple rosewood branches represented not the colorful, eye catchy charismatic beauty of doing, succeeding and accomplishing but rather the simpler and stark, pristine purity of being and living.

And that held an unmistakable beauty.


Chana Weisberg is the author of four books, the latest, Divine Whispers soon to be released by Targum/Feldheim. She is the dean of the Institute of Jewish Studies in Toronto and is a scholar in residence for www.askmoses.com. She is also a columnist for www.chabad.org‘s Weekly Magazine. Weisberg lectures regularly on issues relating to women, relationships and mysticism and welcomes your comments or inquiries at: weisberg@sympatico.ca

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/jewess-press/barren-beauty/2005/05/18/

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