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September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘dance’

Echoing Vishniak: Ahron Weiner’s Photographic Pilgrimages to Uman

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Next Year in Uman: A Journey to the Ukraine


Photographs by Ahron D. Weiner


Through August 15, 2011


The Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, Congregation Rodeph Shalom


615 North Broad Street, Philadelphia



 

 


At first glance, the chassid in Ahron Weiner’s “In Memorial” looks like he may be wearing an earring on his right ear, which is framed by his dark brown side curl. Further inspection reveals the ear is in silhouette, and the “earring” is indeed white light cast by one of the many memorial candles he contemplates – tributes to the tens of thousands of Jews of Uman murdered in the 18th century and nearly two centuries later by the Nazis.

 

The ear of the chassidic man with the white knitted kippa is not literally pierced, but it might as well be. The photograph is one of 29 by Hewlett, N.Y.-based artist Weiner, who first visited Uman, the central Ukrainian city and burial place of chasidic master Rabi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), with his father in 2004. Weiner, who was raised modern orthodox and “borderline yeshivish,” says he was a teenager when his father took an interest in Rabi Nachman’s teachings and traveled to Uman twice in the 1990s.

 

            

 


In Memorial. Ahron Weiner. Courtesy of the artist.

 

 

        A lover of travel and curious to see what the Umani scene was like, Weiner agreed to accompany his father in 2004. “The experience was nice,” he says. “I didn’t think I was planning to go back until I developed my film and saw images that echoed what Vishniak shot in his travels across pre-war Eastern Europe.” He returned for Rosh Hashanah pilgrimages for the next five years and documented his trips. Weiner’s gallery titled “Next Year in Uman: A Journey to the Ukraine” on his website contains 129 photographs.

 

Weiner has described the pilgrimage experience as “”Mount Sinai meets Woodstock,” and his photographs corroborate that characterization.

 

           “Overhead” shows about 75 people packed into the picture frame like sardines. Umani pilgrimages, it would seem, are not for the claustrophobic. But they are for just about any other type of person, as Weiner explained to Ezra Glinter and Nate Lavey of the Forward. In the picture, Weiner said, all sorts of Jews can be found, from those wearing black hats to baseball caps to those with bare heads. (One has to take his word for it; everyone in the photograph seems to have at least some kind of head covering.)

 

 

 


Overhead. Ahron Weiner. Courtesy of the artist.

 

 

Weiner’s perspective, quite literally and figuratively, is laden with religious meaning. Some of his bird’s-eye-perspective photographs were taken from an enclosure meant to keep Kohanim safely away from tombstones. Weiner and his camera were peering out from a space reserved to keep priests holy into places of death and sad memories. Talk about echoing the works of Roman Vishniac!

 

He also framed the project with a quote from Rabi Nachman, said to have been delivered on his deathbed. “Whoever comes to my gravesite [in Uman], recites the 10 Psalms and gives even as little as a penny to charity,” he translated the chasidic sage, “then, no matter how serious his sins may be, I will do everything in my power – spanning the length and breadth of creation – to cleanse and protect him. By his very payos [sidelocks], I will pull him out of hell!”

 

 


Pastoral. Ahron Weiner. Courtesy of the artist.

 

 

“This promise has since echoed throughout the generations, compelling tens of thousands of Jewish men from every continent except Antarctica to leave their wives and children and undertake a costly, difficult, annual pilgrimage to Uman,” he writes.


If “Pastoral” is any indication, those men encounter stunning scenery. But as the men and boys lounge on the riverbank and glide in a rowboat, there is an ominous reminder that the Jewish presence in Uman has not always been a joyous one. A young boy on the far left holds a toy gun, and faux weapons can be found in other photographs in the series.

 

Weiner explains that it’s a Breslov custom for fathers to bring their young sons. “The Ukrainians sell lots of plastic toy guns, so yes, there are lots and lots of kids running around with plastic replica guns, shooting plastic BBs at each other,” he says. “All in good fun.”

 

“Dance” is certainly an image that is all fun, however intense the dancers’ gaze is. Four men lock hands and dance, though it’s worth noting the asymmetry of their dance. One dancer holds a prayer book in his hand, which sets the tone for the other dancers – more of a single file chain than a circle. The fourth man might not even be dancing.

 

 


Dance. Ahron Weiner. Courtesy of the artist.

 

 

Though the dancers’ movements are blurred, the shadows they cast are clear. One gets the sense that what Weiner is after – and perhaps all the pilgrims too – lies in shadows rather than solid form.

 

William Rimmer’s gorgeous and troubling painting, Flight and Pursuit (1872), which is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, shows a man with a cloak and dagger running through what the MFA website describes as “shadowy and mysterious labyrinth of a chimerical Near Eastern temple or palace.” Although it initially appears as if the man is fleeing his reflection (which appears in the middle of the canvas), there is a large and ominous shadow cast by a form outside the picture frame. One shadow is chasing a second shadow which is chasing a man.

 

The same formula might work for Weiner’s Uman. The shadows in “Dance” are sharper than the dancing figures, and the same is true of other photographs in the series. For the period of high holidays, tens of thousands of Jews descend on a land of shadows. Like Vishniac, Weiner has done a masterful job of negotiating the boundary where the shadows end and the people begin. Often, it seems, the shadows are cast by such monumental sources that they seem to take on a life of their own, and promise to outlive those who cast them.

 

 


Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

Is Beit Shammai In Ascendency?

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Way back in the “good old days” in Jerusalem, before the Jews were exiled, singles looked forward to the 15th day of Av, known as Tu B’Av. On this day, unmarried girls and boys had the opportunity to pair off and become couples. The girls, all dressed in white and in a way that none could tell who came from wealth or poverty, would dance in front of the young men, who would then choose the one who caught his eye and marry her.

Obviously this “singles scene” was halachically sanctioned by the spiritual leaders of the time. Which has my daughter-in-law, Maya, scratching her head. As someone who wasn’t raised frum and is by nature analytical, she will point out what appears to her to be puzzling contradictions in the religious lifestyle.

If girls back then were allowed to dance in front of men – not with them of course – why can’t they do that now? She is confused as to why young unmarried people are segregated by gender at weddings and other social gatherings – eating at separate tables – yet when they go on a date, they sit together in the car and wherever it is they go.

After all, at a wedding full of people who know them, there would be hundreds of eyes on them as they eat together – and no opportunity for inappropriate behavior – yet they can go off on a date, one on one – usually going to an out of the way place where no one from the community will see them. “How is it that you can’t trust individuals sitting at a table with a dozen of their peers in the middle of a huge crowd, but somehow it’s OK for them to be in a lounge or hotel lobby at night, alone? It doesn’t make sense to me!?”

She is even more confused as to why MARRIED couples are separated. If the reasoning is that men and women not related to each other should not be in close proximity due to possible attraction, then men and woman should not be allowed to shop at the same time, or at the very least, not stand behind each other in the grocery check-out line or post office or bank etc. where while waiting there is an opportunity to socialize.

If there is a concern about not putting people in a situation where, despite a lifetime of being taught self-control, they can be tempted to “sin,” then likewise, Maya argues, people should not be allowed to go into a supermarket where non-kosher food is sold or walk through the treif food court in the mall. The smells wafting from the barbecue, pizza and Chinese food are so tantalizing.

“Don’t the rabbis trust people who have been raised in Torah from the minute they were born? Maya asks puzzled. “I learned about the concept of kaf z’chut – giving people the benefit of the doubt, believing that people will do the right thing. Beit Hillel was more relaxed about erecting extra fences – unlike Beit Shammai, who I guess had less confidence in the people’s ability to restrain themselves and set up even more restrictive barriers.”

Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai were two rabbinical schools of thought (named after their founders) that interpreted Jewish law during the Roman occupation of Israel. The rabbis of Beit Hillel were more moderate and lenient in their interpretations of the Oral Law, while those of Beit Shammai were more stringent and machmir, perhaps to protect the people from Roman culture. However, throughout the centuries, Beit Hillel’s more liberal views were embraced over the stricter ones of Beit Shammai.

Yet it seems that in the last decade or so, there is a movement towards strictness and restriction that is closer to Beit Shammai’s style rather than Beit Hillel’s – and it is making keeping a religious lifestyle more complicated and stressful.

I grew up in a time when Orthodox men and woman did sit together at simchas; dairy products with a reliable hechser were eaten by all – I don’t remember cholov Yisrael products in my youth – the hamburgers and steak we dined on were certified kosher and not necessarily glatt. In those days, when the religious supervising agency declared a cow kosher, it was kosher. Like Maya says, either a woman is pregnant – or not. We made due with one oven for meat and for dairy, not unlike our Bubbies in Europe who baked their bread in their village’s communal oven used by Jew and gentile alike.

These same Jews in Europe ate leafy vegetables and berries for centuries- when there were no pesticides to get rid of bugs like we have nowadays – yet they felt confident in their ability to properly check for insects. Today, due to recent stringencies, many housewives are fearful of not being careful enough, and therefore, to be on the “safe side,” either buy pricy kosher bug-free produce, or do not serve these healthy foods to their families.

A number of years ago, married women were told by their rabbanim to burn their Indian hair shaitels because they might have been used in idol-worshipping rituals. There were bon-fires burning in Bnei-Brak and other religious communities, where woman dutifully tossed their costly shaitels. Honestly, I was confused by this edict. If churches and other non-Jewish houses of worship – where thousands of religious services and rituals were conducted daily – can be converted into shuls and yeshivas, why couldn’t hair used similarly not also be converted into an object of mitzvah.

Why the added stress, guilt and expense?

Beit Hillel’s moderate interpretations are supposed to hold sway until the Moshiach comes, at which time Beit Shammai’s stringent, exacting ones will take precedence.

Last time I looked, Moshiach was still not here.

Crossing The Narrow Bridge With Rachel Factor

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

When seven year-old Ariel tearfully ran into the kitchen complaining of pain it was his younger brother Shalom who came to the rescue.  “Should I get you something to learn so you will feel better?” asked the six year old?

 

“One child received comfort and the other one knew exactly what would comfort him,” their mother Rachel marveled.  Their comfort came from Torah. “They breathe it, they eat it, they drink it.  It is our children who inspire us to continue.”

 

Rachel Factor and her husband Tuvia are continuing the extraordinary journey that began five years ago when they made aliyah.

 

“In these five years we’ve grown tremendously in our spiritually.”  And just as their observance of mitzvos has increased, their family has also grown to include four-year old Avigail and fourteen month old Rivka Chaya.  The children remained home with their father in Jerusalem while Rachel toured the United States recently with her one-woman show, Becoming Rich: Struggling with Emunah and Bitachon.

 

This is Rachel’s third show and reflects her profound and growing connection to Judaism as she weaves together songs and dances suffused with the words of tehillim. It is evident by her emotional performance that the psalms continue to inspire and guide her along her journey.

 

Rachel, formerly Japanese-American actress Christine Hori, made the difficult decision to give up her successful career as a performer when she converted to Judaism and embraced an observant lifestyle.  But as the saying goes, when one door closes another opens.   This one opened on a center for the performing arts.

 

It began with a letter from a woman who confided in Rachel that she felt stifled because she could not use her creative talents. Deeply touched by this woman’s dilemma, she recognized the need for a place where Jewish women and girls could engage their creative energies and so Rachel created a program sensitive to those needs.  

 

After a successful fundraising tour with her first one-woman show, J.A.P., she founded HaMachol Shel Bnos Miriam to provide a setting where the performing arts promote the physical, emotional and spiritual well being of women in accordance with Torah values. “Tradition teaches us that we use music and dance for praise to Hakodesh Baruch Hu.”  Rachel observed.

 

Rachel finds it especially rewarding to work with teenage girls who are increasingly pulled in a secular direction. “They understand that this is a world I knew intimately but found empty and rejected in favor of a life rich in emunah and bitachon.  So by my example I give them an extra shot of inspiration.”

 

The overwhelming popularity of HaMachol Shel Bnos Miriam, located in Rechavia, encouraged Rachel to fill another void and found the Dance and Touring Summer Camp Program. Now in its fourth year the four week camp, for girls 9th through 12th grades, combines dance, drama, and touring Eretz Yisroel, culminating in a performance in a Jerusalem theater written, performed and produced by the students.

 

When Rachel’s husband, Tuvia, enrolled in Medresh Shmuel in the Sharei Chesed community in Jerusalem, another door opened.  “HaRav Binyomin Moskovits, the Rosh Yeshiva who is a dedicated educator, was so impressed with the success of our performing arts program he approached me about starting a seminary for girls.” 

 

The request was daunting.  She was already playing several other roles: director of both HaMachol Shel Bnos Miriam and the summer camp as well as kollel wife and the mother of four.  How could she possibly take on the tremendous responsibility of a seminary that would also require another fundraising tour? 

 

The answer is contained in a song from her show that echoes the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. “The world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing to recall is not to be afraid.” Convinced by Rabbi Moskovits that in today’s world extra curricular activities significantly facilitate learning, Rachel agreed to open yet another door and become the performing arts director of Midreshes Shmuel.

 

Under the direction of Rabbi Moskovits, this innovative post high school program will provide morning learning, an afternoon arts program and an evening option of either learning or life skills classes.  Rachel points out that this will include subjects that have been lacking in most seminaries but are vital for teaching young women how to run a home including basic culinary instruction, home finance, and time management and budgeting. 

 

Rachel approaches this new challenge with the energy and enthusiasm formerly reserved for her acting, dancing and modeling days.  But the woman who once stood on the Broadway stage and held in her hands the script for the hit, Miss Saigon, now looks out on a different landscape as she lovingly cradles the book of tehillim and recites psalm 128. “May Hashem bless you from Zion, and may you gaze upon the goodness of Jerusalem all the days of your life.”

 

For more information about these programs go to: Bnoscamp.org or call: 718-213-4585.

 

Helen Zegerman Schwimmer is the author of the acclaimed anthology, Like The Stars of The Heavens.  To contact the author please go to: helenschwimmer.com

David Levine, 1924 – 2009: A Satirist Who Loved His Species

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

At a parent-teacher conference, one of my high school bible instructors told my mother I was well behaved and sat quietly in the back of the room. “If he is sitting quietly in class,” my mother assured the rabbi, “he is either reading a book or drawing.” She was right. My primary high school achievements were my ravenous readings of philosophy and literature and the few hundred copies I made of David Levine’s brilliant pen-and-ink caricatures, which filled several sketchbooks. I was too young to get most of his political references, but when they were explained to me, I laughed genuinely and hysterically.

 

Even after I moved to New York, it never occurred to me to look Levine up in the phonebook. He was a role model and one of my greatest inspirations, and I assumed that he was inaccessible. I had no way of knowing how kind and humble he was. Then I met artist Mark Podwal, a close friend of Levine’s, at an event at the Yeshiva University Museum in 2004, and he encouraged me to make the call.

 


David Levine. Ben Gurion.

 

 

I still remember the phone call. I was sitting at a computer in the office of the Yeshiva University Commentator. When Levine picked up, I told him I learned how to draw portraits by trying in vain to copy his meticulous cross-hatching. Though I was sure the artist who published thousands of drawings and paintings in the New York Review of Books and in publications like The New Yorker and Time had better things to do with his time, he shocked me by agreeing to an interview right then. After the shock wore off, chutzpah kicked in; I told him I wanted to meet in person. To my surprise, he was giving me his address in Brooklyn and telling me to stop by the next week.

 

Levine gave me more than two hours of his time, and actually looked at and critiqued every single one of the 100 or so of my drawings in the sketch book I brought. He very kindly told me that he preferred my copy of his Ezra Pound (which I drew without lifting my Rapidograph pen) to the original. Needless to say, there was no comparison.

 

There have been many fine articles about Levine over the past few weeks (Michael Kimmelman’s in The New York Times and Steven Heller’s piece “The Da Vinci of Caricaturists” are personal favorites), and readers can find out plenty about him by reading his bio on the Review of Books page, where many of his drawings are available. Amongst those drawings are dozens of images of Jewish and Israeli politicians, actors, artists, intellectuals and other celebrities, many bearing very distinct Jewish symbols.

 


David Levine standing in front of some of his drawings. 2004.

Photo by Menachem Wecker.

 

 

The reason I am writing this column about Levine, though, is not only because I consider him such a great caricaturist (and an even more impressive painter), but also because he was such a great man. Both Levine’s wife Kathy Hayes and his son Matthew Levine told me that Levine, despite the biting humor of his drawings, “truly loved his species.” Levine’s art was always blunt, but he was neither petty nor vicious.

 

Hayes told me that her husband’s lap was always full of art books, even if the television was on, and that he impressed her with the humor of his non-sequiturs – in his conversation, not his drawings. The first time she went to Europe with her husband, Hayes said, they went to Notre Dame. Hayes remembers being blown away by the art, while Levine, looking up at a painting high up on the wall, loudly complained of its water damage and the poor lighting.

 

According to Matthew Levine, his father was not religiously observant, but “I do know that he loved being Jewish.” Levine also “relished Yiddishisms that he liked to say,” said Matthew, and he loved his mother’s geshmirte matzoh. “He was deeply supportive of Israel in some senses, and deeply critical in others.”

 

Although Levine told me that he did not think Hitler could be depicted properly in a caricature, because the medium would invariably distort Hitler and play into his favor, Levine drew Hitler dozens of time. One reference to Hitler might escape many viewers.

 

 


David Levine. Richard Nixon’s and Spiro Agnew’s dance. 1970.

 

 

According to Podwal, Levine’s drawing of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew (which appears on page 11 of Levine’s book Pens and Needles), both dressed in military uniforms and doing a dance with their hands on their hips, alludes to Hitler’s bizarre dance on June 21, 1940, after accepting France’s surrender.

 


Although the dance upset many Americans at the time, it was later revealed that the video clip of Hitler dancing had been manipulated for propagandist purposes. As John Lukacs explains in his book, The Last European War: September 1939-December 1941, John Grierson, a Canadian filmmaker and “propaganda official,” took several images of Hitler, including one with a high step, and “looped” them together to make it appear that Hitler had danced a “silly little jig.”

 


Adolf Hitler’s alleged dance. Germany. October 1940. LIFE.

 

 

Lukacs cites an account of the jig being shown in a Berlin movie theater in 1940, which suggests some version of the dance may have been real – “Were the Germans so stupid as to show the American version of the newsreel?” Lukacs wonders – but either way, Podwal says Levine was probably unaware that the jig was a hoax. Irrespective of the historicity of the dance, Levine incorporated it into the drawing, although he knew full well that few people were likely to recognize it. It often seems to me that Levine achieved something in his caricatures not unlike what James Joyce accomplished in his writings.

 

“David was in such a class by himself that over the last decade or so, he was to some degree, taken for granted. The New York Times failed to review his more recent Forum Gallery exhibitions. Museums would not give him exhibitions he more than merited,” says Podwal. “Nevertheless, his work will remain a mirror of our time – just like the drawings of Thomas Nast.”


 


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

David Levine, 1924

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

At a parent-teacher conference, one of my high school bible instructors told my mother I was well behaved and sat quietly in the back of the room. “If he is sitting quietly in class,” my mother assured the rabbi, “he is either reading a book or drawing.” She was right. My primary high school achievements were my ravenous readings of philosophy and literature and the few hundred copies I made of David Levine’s brilliant pen-and-ink caricatures, which filled several sketchbooks. I was too young to get most of his political references, but when they were explained to me, I laughed genuinely and hysterically.

 

Even after I moved to New York, it never occurred to me to look Levine up in the phonebook. He was a role model and one of my greatest inspirations, and I assumed that he was inaccessible. I had no way of knowing how kind and humble he was. Then I met artist Mark Podwal, a close friend of Levine’s, at an event at the Yeshiva University Museum in 2004, and he encouraged me to make the call.

 

David Levine. Ben Gurion.

 

 

I still remember the phone call. I was sitting at a computer in the office of the Yeshiva University Commentator. When Levine picked up, I told him I learned how to draw portraits by trying in vain to copy his meticulous cross-hatching. Though I was sure the artist who published thousands of drawings and paintings in the New York Review of Books and in publications like The New Yorker and Time had better things to do with his time, he shocked me by agreeing to an interview right then. After the shock wore off, chutzpah kicked in; I told him I wanted to meet in person. To my surprise, he was giving me his address in Brooklyn and telling me to stop by the next week.

 

Levine gave me more than two hours of his time, and actually looked at and critiqued every single one of the 100 or so of my drawings in the sketch book I brought. He very kindly told me that he preferred my copy of his Ezra Pound (which I drew without lifting my Rapidograph pen) to the original. Needless to say, there was no comparison.

 

There have been many fine articles about Levine over the past few weeks (Michael Kimmelman’s in The New York Times and Steven Heller’s piece “The Da Vinci of Caricaturists” are personal favorites), and readers can find out plenty about him by reading his bio on the Review of Books page, where many of his drawings are available. Amongst those drawings are dozens of images of Jewish and Israeli politicians, actors, artists, intellectuals and other celebrities, many bearing very distinct Jewish symbols.

 

David Levine standing in front of some of his drawings. 2004.

Photo by Menachem Wecker.

 

 

The reason I am writing this column about Levine, though, is not only because I consider him such a great caricaturist (and an even more impressive painter), but also because he was such a great man. Both Levine’s wife Kathy Hayes and his son Matthew Levine told me that Levine, despite the biting humor of his drawings, “truly loved his species.” Levine’s art was always blunt, but he was neither petty nor vicious.

 

Hayes told me that her husband’s lap was always full of art books, even if the television was on, and that he impressed her with the humor of his non-sequiturs – in his conversation, not his drawings. The first time she went to Europe with her husband, Hayes said, they went to Notre Dame. Hayes remembers being blown away by the art, while Levine, looking up at a painting high up on the wall, loudly complained of its water damage and the poor lighting.

 

According to Matthew Levine, his father was not religiously observant, but “I do know that he loved being Jewish.” Levine also “relished Yiddishisms that he liked to say,” said Matthew, and he loved his mother’s geshmirte matzoh. “He was deeply supportive of Israel in some senses, and deeply critical in others.”

 

Although Levine told me that he did not think Hitler could be depicted properly in a caricature, because the medium would invariably distort Hitler and play into his favor, Levine drew Hitler dozens of time. One reference to Hitler might escape many viewers.

 

 

David Levine. Richard Nixon’s and Spiro Agnew’s dance. 1970.

 

 

According to Podwal, Levine’s drawing of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew (which appears on page 11 of Levine’s book Pens and Needles), both dressed in military uniforms and doing a dance with their hands on their hips, alludes to Hitler’s bizarre dance on June 21, 1940, after accepting France’s surrender.

 

Although the dance upset many Americans at the time, it was later revealed that the video clip of Hitler dancing had been manipulated for propagandist purposes. As John Lukacs explains in his book, The Last European War: September 1939-December 1941, John Grierson, a Canadian filmmaker and “propaganda official,” took several images of Hitler, including one with a high step, and “looped” them together to make it appear that Hitler had danced a “silly little jig.”

 

Adolf Hitler’s alleged dance. Germany. October 1940. LIFE.

 

 

Lukacs cites an account of the jig being shown in a Berlin movie theater in 1940, which suggests some version of the dance may have been real – “Were the Germans so stupid as to show the American version of the newsreel?” Lukacs wonders – but either way, Podwal says Levine was probably unaware that the jig was a hoax. Irrespective of the historicity of the dance, Levine incorporated it into the drawing, although he knew full well that few people were likely to recognize it. It often seems to me that Levine achieved something in his caricatures not unlike what James Joyce accomplished in his writings.

 

“David was in such a class by himself that over the last decade or so, he was to some degree, taken for granted. The New York Times failed to review his more recent Forum Gallery exhibitions. Museums would not give him exhibitions he more than merited,” says Podwal. “Nevertheless, his work will remain a mirror of our time – just like the drawings of Thomas Nast.”

 

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

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 8/07/09

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Dear Rachel,

When our new next-door non-Jewish neighbor moved in, I greeted him and we made some small talk.

I soon discovered that his lady-friend would be living there on and off – by no means an unusual arrangement in the secular world and none of my concern, you would agree… until I found out that she was Jewish, and that she, moreover, comes from a practicing religious family.

This revelation caught me off guard. To be truthful, it tears at my gut. I am saddened and disappointed, and at a loss as to how to handle the situation. Do I continue being friendly with them? They are very, very nice people.

It seems that she is divorced and that her children actually attend yeshiva. They’ve occasionally been over but don’t stay with their mom on her overnight visits.

At first I thought I should be mekarev her and her children; I really want to and actually did to some extent, but then I got to thinking what if my doing so gives her the impression that their relationship/living style is okay with me.

She really cares very much for this man, which doesn’t surprise me since he comes across as a nice, gentle and loving person.

But it hurts.

Is there any advice, chizuk or light you can shed (for me) regarding my position in all of this? What would be the right thing for me to do?

I am NOT one of those who are able to influence people. Yet my heart just breaks for her, the children, and the glory of Hashem.

Thanks so much.

Bothered and Bewildered

Dear Bewildered,

You epitomize the Jewish heart; not for naught are we considered a people of chesed.

From the sketchy details in your letter, it is difficult to know just how close you’ve become with your neighbor. Needless to say, whether you will be a positive influence on your new friend is no question; she will surely gain invaluable insight simply by observing your living style and will hopefully be inspired by the way you practice your religion and carry on the valued traditions of our heritage.

You hurt for good reason: how frustrating to see a Yiddisheh neshamah go astray! Yet, there is no telling what circumstances led her to become disillusioned to the point of abandoning a Torah way of life. To be critical or judgmental is not an option; your responsibility lies in teaching by example. At the same time, you are obligated to let her know that you do not condone her lifestyle nor approve of her living arrangement, which is contrary to our teachings.

This can be communicated via casual conversation in a non-condescending manner, even as you carry on in your warm and neighborly way. Don’t hesitate to lend an ear or a shoulder, to share your recipes and your books; be pleasant, kind and understanding – but be forewarned not to allow yourself to be drawn into heavy or lengthy discussions on the subject. Coming up against a non-believer can be daunting, to say the least.

Our Sages advise us to handle the non-believer’s rationalizations as we would (or should) our yetzer ha’ra: shrug off any and all arguments and justifications by claiming to be neither a chacham nor a philosopher. Simply head off any discussion that threatens to be going nowhere with a “you are entitled to your opinion.”

Don’t fret about your inability “to influence.” Just be yourself, be sincere, and be respectful of your neighbors as fellow human beings. Leave the rest to Hashem!

Dear Readers,

As much as we may yearn for time to slow down a bit, there is no stopping the clock. The main thing, though, is to make the best of our time in this world – an objective easier stated than accomplished, especially for those who patiently wait to meet up with their life partners with whom they are meant to forge a meaningful and fulfilling existence.

The advent of Tu B’Av is an apt reminder that it is incumbent on all of us to do some hishtadlus in the arena of shidduchim. Once upon a time, the fifteenth day in Av was joyously celebrated by young singles who aspired to attract their other halves.

On Chamishah Asar B’Av, as well as on Yom Kippur afternoon, the young maidens in Jerusalem would don white dresses and sing and dance in a circle in the vineyards – each with the respectable goal of catching the eye of her zivug.

The words to the tunes sung by the maidens relay a powerful message. “Lift up your eyes and choose thoughtfully ” they sang. “…Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain; a woman who fears G-d shall be praised ”

Who of us is not acquainted with a single (or two, or three)? In light of the significance of this day, we appeal to our readers to take time out from their busy itineraries to look around them and to see how they can make a difference in this worthy cause.

Lifting a page from the book of our rich history and tradition, we feature two lovely young “dancers” who, with uplifted hearts, hereby put their best foot forward in their dance of hope.

The reader is invited to contribute to the noble endeavor of pairing zivugim by helping our dancers “get in touch” with their prospective mates.

A.A. is an attractive and accomplished young woman of 32. Amicably divorced, this vivacious mom of two who stands at a graceful 5-foot-6, seeks a warm-hearted and loving mate (preferably Sephardic) who is adept at juggling a learning/working agenda. Single or Divorced / Widowed / not exceeding 40 / with children OK.

E.N. is intelligent, cultured and soft-spoken. A striking young lady of 31 who stands at a stately 5-foot-7, she seeks her match in sincerity and sensitivity; an emotionally and financially stable thinker and doer who can laugh at himself defines her elusive other half. Modern Orthodox / 31-38 / Single or Divorced w/o children OK.

Please e-mail detailed profiles of any potentially suitable candidates to Rachel@JewishPress.com.

Chassidic Surfers And Psychedelic Judaism: Daniel Weinstein’s Art

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Daniel Weinstein: Surfboards & Psalms
July 17 − September 1, 2008
J Klaynberg Gallery
121 West 19th Street, New York
http://www.jklaynberg.com/

 

Viewers who read Daniel Weinstein’s list of artistic influences on his website will get the impression they are dealing with an unusual sort of Judaica, even before they see the art. The “menagerie of sights and sounds” in Weinstein’s work draws upon the sacred and the secular: Hallel, Tehillim (Psalms), Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), the Israeli city Tsfat (Safed), South Beach, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the Breslov singer Yosef Karduner, Rastafarian reggae musician Bob Marley, American rock band Alice in Chains, Chassidut, Dr. Seuss, Israel-based Lubavitcher painter Baruch Nachshon, the 1998 comedy “The Big Lebowski,” and Weinstein’s wife Leah Malka and son Aron.


On his site, Weinstein explains his seemingly incongruous inspirations with a quote from Psalm 100: “Serve Hashem with gladness, come before him with joyous song.” In an interview, he elaborated. “The concept of living daily life from a Torah perspective means that you don’t need to separate from society,” Weinstein wrote in an e-mail. “On the contrary, we need to bring a piece of G-d down here to our everyday lives. We are all influenced by many different things. The key is to channel it all into a worthwhile direction.”


To make this channeling work, Weinstein added, artists must not be afraid of separating art and life, even Torah-based life. “If I wake up one morning and decide Metallica’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ would make a great soundtrack for a five-minute animation of Matan Torah, I’m going to roll with that idea and not worry about whether it is appropriate or not,” he said, “because in the end, those five minutes of guitars, flames, and lightning bolts will find its audience and open somebody’s mind to the intensity and awesomeness of that moment.”

 

 


Seventh Hakafa.

Image by and courtesy of Daniel Weinstein

 

By now it should be clear that Weinstein’s Jewish art is quite a different blend from Chagall’s or Moritz Oppenheim’s works. For one thing, Weinstein’s works are not paintings in the strict sense of the word. They are Gicleé prints (“spray” in French and pronounced Zhee-Clay), which use ink-jet printers, pixels, and archival ink instead of canvas, gesso, and turpentine.

They also use a very different palette from historical Jewish art. Take “Psychedelic Simchat Torah,” which shows 16 Chassidic men − each wearing a shtreimel (fur hat), prayer shawl, and sunglasses and carrying a Torah − flying through the air over a couple dozen skyscrapers colored in “highlighter” shades of purple, orange, yellow, red, pink, and blue.

 

 


Psychedelic Simchat Torah.

Image by and courtesy of Daniel Weinstein

 

Simchat Torah is surely a holiday of intense joy in celebration of the revelation and receiving of the Torah at Sinai, but psychedelics usually evokes the counterculture of the 1960s and its drug-induced rock music. What place can this have in the context of a sacred celebration of the receiving of the Law? 

Weinstein points to British writer Aldous Huxley, author of the Utopian novel and psychedelic drugs-influenced Brave New World and The Doors of Perception, to respond to the charge that his works are contradictory. “The Torah has so many twists and turns and can be understood on myriad levels,” he said. “Each door you open opens another door.”


Weinstein’s art then, is about “stripping away” layers of the mundane and getting to the truth, which exists in a different reality. “I strive to use Judaism as a vehicle to find an altered and more beautiful state of reality and translate that onto canvas,” he said. In the case of “Psychedelic Simchat Torah,” Weinstein’s flying men draw upon a saying of a wise Rebbe: “A true Chassid must have his head in the clouds, but keep his feet on the ground.”

 

 


Yirmiah 5:22.

Image by and courtesy of Daniel Weinstein

 

“Yirmiah 5:22″ draws upon the biblical text, which tells of one of the many times Jeremiah is tasked by G-d to bear bad news to the Jews, though he is assured that they will ignore his accusations and predictions of the Temple’s imminent destruction. In chapter five, G-d sends the prophet to the house of Jacob and Judah to reproach the “nation of fools,” which has no heart and is blind and deaf despite its seemingly functional eyes and ears. “‘Do you not fear me?’ so says the Lord,” quotes Jeremiah in verse 22. “‘Will you not shake in front of my face; I placed the sand as a border to the sea, an eternal order which it cannot pass, and the waves throw themselves without lasting, and they cannot cross it.’”

Scavenging the text for visual elements to appropriate, a classical artist might show the prophet with a white beard, dressed in a biblical tunic, screaming at a chaotic mass of irreverent bystanders who turn their backs on him, mock him, and maybe even throw things at him. Perhaps a few believers in the crowd cover their faces in fear, or fall to the ground weeping.


But Daniel Weinstein’s “Yirmiah 5:22″ shows a very different scene, which does not even include Jeremiah. In the print, three bearded Chassidim, wearing big white kippot over their flowing side curls, run not to synagogue but along the beach. They wear sunglasses and carry surfboards decorated with logos that evoke “Hot Wheels”.


Weinstein often includes poems or other texts alongside his works, and the text accompanying Yirmiah derives from the final scene of the 1991 movie Point Break (about surfers and bank robbers), in which the character Bodhi says, “Time to dance with the universe.” Over e-mail, he added, “The scene here is depicting how at times we live on the edge, almost challenging G-d. We were just assured another flood will never come. So here we are, ready to catch the next wave with no worries.”

 


Waiting for the Sun.

Image by and courtesy of Daniel Weinstein

 

In “Waiting for the Sun,” the Chassidim (this time donning tallitot and tefillin) wait for the sun to rise to begin the Morning Prayer. The figure in the foreground plays an electric guitar, whose headstock seems to lift up the rising sun. “Wake up the dawn! Fury is the night. Glory is the morn,” explains Weinstein’s poem. “Instead of snoring can you hum me a bar? Three… two… one nicotine caffeine MODEH ANI.” On a metaphorical level, the work also illustrates Psalm 97, in which the “upright in heart” await the Holy Light, which is “sown for the righteous.”

Daniel Weinstein’s prints are certainly an acquired taste, and some viewers will no doubt examine them quickly and decide that they are too mesmerizing and hypnotizing, too colorful and too funky. But the form and the content come together in “Seventh Hakafa,” wherein hundreds of Chassidim (who appear somewhat abstracted and inhuman) dance around in circles in a spiral that descends to the center of the painting. “‘On Simchat Torah,’ goes the Chassidic saying, ‘we rejoice in the Torah, and the Torah rejoices in us; the Torah, too, wants to dance, so we become the Torah’s dancing feet,’” writes Weinstein in the accompanying poem. “The choreographic style of traditional Hakafot − Revolutions − reminds us there is no beginning and no end.”


Indeed there is an eternal and dizzying aspect to the Jewish tradition and its holidays. Perhaps classical paintings, with their muted colors and naturalistic treatment, cannot arrive at the sort of Jewish experience Weinstein captures. If Hakafot are supposed to be passionate circular dances, why shouldn’t they be depicted as psychedelic?


MENACHEM WECKER welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, DC.


For more information on Daniel Weinstein’s art, see his site: http://www.danweinsteinsart.com/.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/chassidic-surfers-and-psychedelic-judaism-daniel-weinsteins-art/2008/08/20/

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