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January 21, 2017 / 23 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘David Friedman’

Another Friend in High Places: Jason Greenblatt Trump’s Representative for International Negotiations

Saturday, December 24th, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump has named his chief legal officer for the past 20 years Jason Dov Greenblatt, an Orthodox Jew, as special representative for international negotiations, a spokeswoman for the Trump transition team announced Friday.

Greenblatt, a former adjunct professor of management at Yeshiva University, served as candidate Trump’s adviser on US-Israel relations. He graduated in 1992 from the New York University School of Law and worked for the law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP before joining the Trump organization.

A source familiar with the appointment told CNN that Greenblatt will be working on the Israel-Palestinian peace process, US relations with Cuba, and various trade agreements.

The Trump team released a statement about Greenblatt’s appointment, citing him as saying, “My philosophy, in both business and in life, is that bringing people together and working to unite, rather than to divide, is the strongest path to success. I truly believe that this approach is one that can yield results for the United States in matters all over the world. I look forward to serving on President-elect Trump’s team, and helping to achieve great outcomes for our country.”

Although President-Elect Trump should not be taken for granted on any issue, his choices for Ambassador to Israel and for the Israel-PA peace negotiator are at least an opening signal to Israel’s rightwing majority that the next resident a 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is going to be their friend.

In a joint statement on November 2, 2016, Jason Greenblatt and Trump’s choice for US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, then Co-Chairmen of the Israel Advisory Committee to Donald J. Trump, said: “For those of you who are true friends of the State of Israel, and for those of you who believe that the State of Israel and the United States of America have an unbreakable friendship, we urge you to read the below. We would like to express our gratitude to those individuals who have helped us over the past few months — we truly appreciate your efforts, friendship and guidance. We would also like to express our gratitude to our friend, a great friend of the State of Israel, Donald J. Trump, who gave us the tremendous opportunity to serve in this capacity. May God bless the United States of America and the State of Israel.”

The two Trump advisors also promised back in November: “The US should veto any United Nations votes that unfairly single out Israel and will work in international institutions and forums, including in our relations with the European Union, to oppose efforts to delegitimize Israel, impose discriminatory double standards against Israel, or to impose special labeling requirements on Israeli products or boycotts on Israeli goods.”

As to the peace process, Greenblat and Friedman suggest “the US should support direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians without preconditions, and will oppose all Palestinian, European and other efforts to bypass direct negotiations between parties in favor of an imposed settlement. Any solutions imposed on Israel by outside parties including by the United Nations Security Council, should be opposed. We support Israel’s right and obligation to defend itself against terror attacks upon its people and against alternative forms of warfare being waged upon it legally, economically, culturally, and otherwise.”

Finally, the cherry on this Hanukkah sufgania: both men promised that “the US will recognize Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state and Mr. Trump’s Administration will move the US embassy to Jerusalem.”

In other words, expect a big improvement in US-Israeli relations come January 20, 2017.

JNi.Media

Phantom Nation – The Virtue of Expulsion [audio]

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

Israel’s needs a novel *punishment…its anti-democratic High Court, David Friedman as “dangerous extremist,” and more.

Phantom Nation 19Dec2016 – PODCAST

*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this show by the host or their guests, do not necessarily reflect the position of Israel News Talk Radio or its staff.

Israel News Talk Radio

Trump’s Orthodox Zionist Ambassador Eager to Serve in ‘Eternal Capital of Israel’

Friday, December 16th, 2016

President-elect Donald J. Trump on Thursday announced that his bankruptcy lawyer of many years David Friedman, an Orthodox Jew who probably feels more at home in Jerusalem than in Tel Aviv, will be his next Ambassador to Israel. Indeed, the Trump transition team made a note of the fact that Friedman’s bar mitzvah 45 years ago was celebrated at the Western Wall. Friedman, for his part, said he looks forward to serving at his new job at “the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

A regular contributor to rightwing news website Arutz Sheva, Friedman told his friends there on Friday: “Mr. Trump’s confidence is very flattering. My views on Israel are well-known, and I would advise him in a matter consistent with those views. America’s geo-political interests are best served by a strong and secure Israel with Jerusalem as its undivided capital.”

Which is why it was no surprise that J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami’s response statement said the barely Zionist group was “vehemently opposed to the nomination,” because “as someone who has been a leading American friend of the settlement movement, who lacks any diplomatic or policy credentials, Friedman should be beyond the pale.”

This may have to do with the fact that Friedman in the past compared J Street to the kapos who cooperated with the Nazis during the Holocaust, except he had some sympathy for them and none for Jeremy Ben-Ami. “The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty,” he wrote. “But J Street? They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas — it’s hard to imagine anyone worse.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition, on the other hand, was besides itself with delight, as its executive director Matt Brooks called Friedman’s appointment “a powerful signal to the Jewish community.” It is estimated that only 28% of Jewish voters picked Trump, but four years are a long time for minds to be changed, especially since the designated Ambassador, a fluent Hebrew speaker, has been so unabashed in advocating US-Israel friendship. The Trump transition team’s statement praised Friedman’s love of Israel:

“The two nations have enjoyed a special relationship based on mutual respect and a dedication to freedom and democracy. With Mr. Friedman’s nomination, President-elect Trump expressed his commitment to further enhancing the US-Israel relationship and ensuring there will be extraordinary strategic, technological, military and intelligence cooperation between the two countries.”

How will the gang in Ramallah take the news from Washington? Not well, most likely. We dug up this typical musing by the next Ambassador in an Arutz Sheva column titled “End the two-state narrative.” It probably would make for a heart-warming Shabbat read over at Amona, if they print it out in time:

“Much has changed over the decades since the two-state narrative began. Palestinian leaders have a much harder time lying to their people. Palestinians can witness – through the internet and first hand experience – the advantages of integration into Israeli society and the bankrupt values and barbarism of radical Islam.

“In addition, Saudi Arabia is running out of money, America and Israel are both energy independent and Israel’s neighbors – Jordan and Egypt – are far more concerned about ISIS and Iran than about Judea and Samaria. The world is a different place, diplomatic and security alignments have shifted, and only Mahmoud Abbas, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton are still stuck in the past, clinging to stale ideas that will only continue to fail.

“Radicalized Palestinian terrorists need to be rooted out and eliminated. But the remainder – perhaps the majority – of Palestinians should finally benefit from the hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes paid by the US State Department to Abbas. Fostering a Palestinian middle class is the solution of the 21st century and it has nothing to do with two states.”

That is actually a plan. Which is probably why leftist former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy told the NY Times that in naming Friedman Trump is undercutting the security of Israel and the US, forcing the PA Arabs “to further disenfranchisement and dispossession.”

“If an American ambassador stakes out positions that further embolden an already triumphalist settler elite, then that is likely to cause headaches for American national security interests across the region and even for Israel’s own security establishment,” Levy declared. “Especially an ambassador committed to the ill-advised relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem.”

This means that, come January 20, 2017, the only obstacle to imposing Israeli sovereignty in Area C, if not the entire Judea and Samaria, would be the Netanyahu government that finds itself, for the first time in Israel’s history, to the left of the US Administration regarding the liberated territories.

To cite a certain Arutz Sheva columnist, in his piece titled “US presidents and Israel: Always expect the unexpected,” one must never abandon divine intervention when considering political strategy:

“They say that in Israel, one who believes in miracles is a realist. Looking back some 90 years on the cast of characters who were privileged to hold the most powerful position on the face of the earth, it is nothing less than miraculous that Israel has continued to grow, prosper and flourish. The hand of God is everywhere to be seen in Israel’s development. We should, of course, try to pick the right president, but let’s not forget who’s really running the show. Let’s therefore include prayer, charity and good deeds as an essential part of a pro-Israel strategy.”

JNi.Media

Trump to Israelis: Together We’ll Stand Up to Iran [video]

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

A taped one-minute address by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, screened at an election rally organized by Republicans Overseas Israel in Jerusalem Wednesday, left no room for doubt: should he be elected, Trump would be the biggest friend Israel has ever had — huge.

“My administration will stand side by side with the Jewish people and Israel’s leaders to continue strengthening the bridges that connect not only Jewish Americans and Israelis but also all Americans and Israelis,” Trump told the 200 or so in attendance at the event and the few dozens watching the rally live on Facebook. “Together, we will stand up to enemies like Iran bent on destroying Israel and her people. Together, we will make America and Israel safe again.”

It was a small crowd, admittedly, but the folks, many in Trump T-shirts and “Make America Great Again” baseball caps, made up for their number with enthusiasm, booing and crying “Lock her up” each time the name Hillary Clinton was mentioned.

“I love Israel and honor and respect the Jewish faith and tradition,” Trump told his Israeli-American voters. “For me, respect and reverence for Judaism is personal. My daughter Ivanka and my son-in-law Jared are raising their children in the Jewish faith.”

Trump’s VP, Gov. Mike Pence, told the Jerusalem rally: “Israel’s fight is our fight, Israel’s cause is our cause,” noting that Israel is “not just our strongest ally in the Middle East, it is our most cherished ally in the world.” Also, Pence said, Israel is “hated by too many progressives, because she is successful and her people are free,” and so, “Let the word go forth that Donald Trump and I are proud to stand with Israel.”

Local speakers included Caroline Glick, Trump’s adviser on Israel David Friedman, and David Peyman, Trump’s head of Jewish outreach, who told the gathering that he had delivered a note from Trump to God at the Kotel. Friedman promised that “a Trump administration will never pressure Israel into a two-state solution or any other solution that is against the will of the Israeli people.” Friedman warned against the seductive messages Trump’s opponent had given the AIPAC conference in March, saying “Hillary Clinton’s words are the cheapest currency on the political marker.”

According to media reports over the summer, Friedman and Trump’s other adviser on Israel, Jason Greenblatt, suggested the candidate stop elaborating on his vision of two states for two peoples living peacefully side by side. This after Trump had told Maggie Haberman and David E. Sanger of the NY Times in March: “Basically I support a two-state solution on Israel. But the Palestinian Authority has to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Have to do that. And they have to stop the terror, stop the attacks, stop the teaching of hatred, you know? The children, I sort of talked about it pretty much in the speech, but the children are aspiring to grow up to be terrorists. They are taught to grow up to be terrorists. And they have to stop. They have to stop the terror. They have to stop the stabbings and all of the things going on. And they have to recognize that Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. … And if they can’t, you’re never going to make a deal. One state, two states, it doesn’t matter: you’re never going to be able to make a deal.”

Trump concluded: “Now whether or not the Palestinians can live with that? You would think they could. It shouldn’t be hard except that the ingrained hatred is tremendous.”

JNi.Media

The Amulet, The Temple, The Disfigured Book, and The Butterflies: The Art of Yona Verwer, Robert Kirschbaum, David Friedman, and

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Tzelem: Likeness and Presence in Jewish Art

Hung May 17, 2009

Curated by Joel Silverstein and Richard McBee

Stanton Street Synagogue

180 Stanton Street, New York

web.me.com/yvf/JewishArtSalon

 

 

Throughout the ages, synagogues have housed some of the greatest examples of Jewish art, including the mosaic floors at Bet Alpha and the frescoes at Dura-Europos. Unfortunately, the fate of the works of art has been inextricably tied to their host, and much great Jewish art has perished along with the synagogues whose walls, floors, and ceilings it adorned. Not only have natural disasters and the decay process claimed many synagogues, but also many times, they have been targeted specifically by anti-Semites who sought to destroy Jewish culture and life. If the synagogues cannot help protect their art, perhaps Jewish art can save synagogues. At least that is the premise of Yona Verwer’s two protection amulets, which hung at the recent Jewish Art Salon show at the Stanton Street Synagogue.

 

Verwer, president of the salon, created the works to celebrate the religious freedoms of America and to serve as talismans, in the Kabbalistic tradition, to ward off evil. Protection Amulet Stanton Shul 1 contains a variety of symbols – a Hamsa, the Statue of Liberty, a menorah, two elephants, two lions, and a Star of David. The star derives from a stained glass window bearing the same motif at the Stanton Street Synagogue, which is particularly in need of salvation (whether by amulet or by human intervention), as the rare murals of the Zodiac signs in its sanctuary are fading quickly.

 

Yona Verwer. “Temple Talismans: Stanton Shul Amulet I.”

40″ x 40″. Acrylic on canvas. 2009.

 

 

Art has often destroyed New York, particularly the Statue of Liberty, perhaps most famously in Planet of the Apes. “If you’re planning to depict an attack on New York City in a disaster film, you need to bring your A game,” wrote Tad Friend in The New Yorker in 2004, adding that N.Y.-based disaster films “inevitably” target the Statue of Liberty. Verwer reverses this trend and instead shows Liberty lighting a menorah.

 

The series reminds me of a project by Argentinean artist Dina Bursztyn called Gargoyles to Scare Developers. Bursztyn, whom I assisted for three years in an art immersion program through the Yeshiva University Museum’s education wing, drew from traditions of mythology to protect Manhattan neighborhoods. “Amazingly ugly, and thus also pretty scary to nondevelopers like me, these gawky masks belong to a long tradition of totemic objects used to ward off intruders,” wrote Benjamin Genocchio in a New York Times review in 2004. “Redolent with magic and mystery, they appeal to higher powers.” Verwer’s amulets do not try to frighten through ugliness, but they also use a tradition of magic and mystery for their activism.

 

Robert Kirschbaum’s Akeida #54 also draws from a Kabbalistic tradition, but in a very different sort of way. Kirschbaum, a professor of fine arts at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., focuses on the Jewish sense of space – specifically sacred space – in his work on the binding of Isaac. Akeida is a black-and-white print, which shows ten tic-tac-toe-like motifs, arranged in the configuration of the Sephirot. “Aware of our dispersion, I have found a need to contain my sense of the sacred center, and to carry a sacred space within the precincts of my imagination,” he says, adding that his art seeks “to reconcile the existence of tangible sanctified architectural elements in the home and in the synagogue with the broader significance of the Temple, its destruction and its mythic re-creation.”

 

Robert Kirschbaum. “Akedah, #54.” 36″ x 32″. Inkjet print.

 

 

In Mount Moriah, Kirschbaum notes, Jewish commentators have identified not only the Temple mount, but also a “trans-historical” location of sacrifices by Adam, Noah, and Abraham. Akeida blends several elements together to explore this space with multiple historical significances – Kabbalistic symbols, study of tectonics (structure) of Hebrew letters, and grids (which have been central in modern art). The precision of the geometric elements in the foreground seems to dissolve at some points into a more foggy background, which simultaneously evokes a ram’s head (the sacrifice that replaced Isaac?) and an angel beating its wings. The overall feel of the work reminds me of some of the Kabbalistic works of German artist Anselm Kiefer, but where Kiefer’s brushstrokes tend to be violent Expressionist ones, Kirschbaum balances the chaos with the geometric order.

 

If there is a bit of Kiefer’s flavor in Akeida, there is an overwhelming reference in David Friedman’s The Self Interpreting Bible. The title of the work derives from 18th century Scottish writer John Brown, whose Self Interpreting Bible was designed to aid non-scholars.  Friedman has provided his own interpretation of the bible, which from the looks of it involves stapling (some crosses) and carving out a person-shaped blood-red gash. Visiting this kind of injury to the codex was one of Kiefer’s major projects, which involved constructing not just lead books, but entire shelves of lead books.

 

David Friedman. “Self Interpreting Bible.” Mixed Media. 14″ x 20″.

 

 

Where Kiefer’s manipulation of the book might carry Holocaust or book-burning references in its inaccessibility and illegibility, Friedman’s book is changed for postmodern reasons. “While traditional Jewish texts such as the Talmud are rarely illustrated, these manuscripts often open with a printed image of a gate on the title page,” he says. “Much of my work is about being inside and outside of those gates, exploring the divided self and the state of being in-between; aspects of identity, time, memory, belief – between G-d and the gutter. To curse and bless at once.” Like Mark Podwal’s Sefer, which also hung in the show and presents an M.C. Escher-like optical illusion in which people walk through gate on a title page of a book, Friedman portrays a vision of Jewish books that transcends the physicality of the spine and the pages.

 

This kind of topsy-turvy approach also surfaces in Joel Silverstein’s Hail (A Plague of Butterflies). Where Exodus speaks of terrifying hail, which had “fire circumscribed within the hail” (Ex. 9: 24), Silverstein shows a purple, yellow, and orange landscape with a plague not of hail but of Monarch butterflies. In composing the piece, Silverstein was drawn to a photograph of the butterflies that he saw in National Geographic. Richard McBee reminded me of references to magical yellow moths in Gabriel Garc?a M?rquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and in re-reading the book I found that the yellow moths indeed do present a plague of sorts. Either way, butterflies do not seem to be biblical (though there are several references to moths eating garments in Isaiah and Job), and they certainly did not rain down upon Egypt. Yet, Silverstein found a Midrash that says that the plague of Hail became a “flutter of colorful wings,” so why not butterflies? In this move, Silverstein is approaching the biblical text not just as a painter, but also as a biblical commentator.

 

Joel Silverstein. “Hail.” Acrylic on wood, 40″ x 40″.

 

 

In my previous column, I cited what I see as feminist trends in contemporary Jewish art, which surfaced in the Stanton Street Synagogue show. The four artists featured in this column have quite different approaches to very divergent subject material. But what seems to tie them together is their willingness to experiment with collage. Though a lot of deep thinking and careful techniques clearly informed the works, there is also a great playfulness in butterfly plagues and in amulets bearing American symbols to protect synagogues. 

 

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

Menachem Wecker

The Amulet, The Temple, The Disfigured Book, and The Butterflies: The Art of Yona Verwer, Robert Kirschbaum, David Friedman, and Joel Silverstein

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Tzelem: Likeness and Presence in Jewish Art


Hung May 17, 2009


Curated by Joel Silverstein and Richard McBee


Stanton Street Synagogue


180 Stanton Street, New York



 

 


Throughout the ages, synagogues have housed some of the greatest examples of Jewish art, including the mosaic floors at Bet Alpha and the frescoes at Dura-Europos. Unfortunately, the fate of the works of art has been inextricably tied to their host, and much great Jewish art has perished along with the synagogues whose walls, floors, and ceilings it adorned. Not only have natural disasters and the decay process claimed many synagogues, but also many times, they have been targeted specifically by anti-Semites who sought to destroy Jewish culture and life. If the synagogues cannot help protect their art, perhaps Jewish art can save synagogues. At least that is the premise of Yona Verwer’s two protection amulets, which hung at the recent Jewish Art Salon show at the Stanton Street Synagogue.

 

Verwer, president of the salon, created the works to celebrate the religious freedoms of America and to serve as talismans, in the Kabbalistic tradition, to ward off evil. Protection Amulet Stanton Shul 1 contains a variety of symbols – a Hamsa, the Statue of Liberty, a menorah, two elephants, two lions, and a Star of David. The star derives from a stained glass window bearing the same motif at the Stanton Street Synagogue, which is particularly in need of salvation (whether by amulet or by human intervention), as the rare murals of the Zodiac signs in its sanctuary are fading quickly.

 


Yona Verwer. “Temple Talismans: Stanton Shul Amulet I.”

40″ x 40″. Acrylic on canvas. 2009.

 

 

Art has often destroyed New York, particularly the Statue of Liberty, perhaps most famously in Planet of the Apes. “If you’re planning to depict an attack on New York City in a disaster film, you need to bring your A game,” wrote Tad Friend in The New Yorker in 2004, adding that N.Y.-based disaster films “inevitably” target the Statue of Liberty. Verwer reverses this trend and instead shows Liberty lighting a menorah.

 

The series reminds me of a project by Argentinean artist Dina Bursztyn called Gargoyles to Scare Developers. Bursztyn, whom I assisted for three years in an art immersion program through the Yeshiva University Museum’s education wing, drew from traditions of mythology to protect Manhattan neighborhoods. “Amazingly ugly, and thus also pretty scary to nondevelopers like me, these gawky masks belong to a long tradition of totemic objects used to ward off intruders,” wrote Benjamin Genocchio in a New York Times review in 2004. “Redolent with magic and mystery, they appeal to higher powers.” Verwer’s amulets do not try to frighten through ugliness, but they also use a tradition of magic and mystery for their activism.

 

Robert Kirschbaum’s Akeida #54 also draws from a Kabbalistic tradition, but in a very different sort of way. Kirschbaum, a professor of fine arts at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., focuses on the Jewish sense of space – specifically sacred space – in his work on the binding of Isaac. Akeida is a black-and-white print, which shows ten tic-tac-toe-like motifs, arranged in the configuration of the Sephirot. “Aware of our dispersion, I have found a need to contain my sense of the sacred center, and to carry a sacred space within the precincts of my imagination,” he says, adding that his art seeks “to reconcile the existence of tangible sanctified architectural elements in the home and in the synagogue with the broader significance of the Temple, its destruction and its mythic re-creation.”

 


Robert Kirschbaum. “Akedah, #54.” 36″ x 32″. Inkjet print.

 

 

In Mount Moriah, Kirschbaum notes, Jewish commentators have identified not only the Temple mount, but also a “trans-historical” location of sacrifices by Adam, Noah, and Abraham. Akeida blends several elements together to explore this space with multiple historical significances – Kabbalistic symbols, study of tectonics (structure) of Hebrew letters, and grids (which have been central in modern art). The precision of the geometric elements in the foreground seems to dissolve at some points into a more foggy background, which simultaneously evokes a ram’s head (the sacrifice that replaced Isaac?) and an angel beating its wings. The overall feel of the work reminds me of some of the Kabbalistic works of German artist Anselm Kiefer, but where Kiefer’s brushstrokes tend to be violent Expressionist ones, Kirschbaum balances the chaos with the geometric order.

 

If there is a bit of Kiefer’s flavor in Akeida, there is an overwhelming reference in David Friedman’s The Self Interpreting Bible. The title of the work derives from 18th century Scottish writer John Brown, whose Self Interpreting Bible was designed to aid non-scholars.  Friedman has provided his own interpretation of the bible, which from the looks of it involves stapling (some crosses) and carving out a person-shaped blood-red gash. Visiting this kind of injury to the codex was one of Kiefer’s major projects, which involved constructing not just lead books, but entire shelves of lead books.

 


David Friedman. “Self Interpreting Bible.” Mixed Media. 14″ x 20″.

 

 

Where Kiefer’s manipulation of the book might carry Holocaust or book-burning references in its inaccessibility and illegibility, Friedman’s book is changed for postmodern reasons. “While traditional Jewish texts such as the Talmud are rarely illustrated, these manuscripts often open with a printed image of a gate on the title page,” he says. “Much of my work is about being inside and outside of those gates, exploring the divided self and the state of being in-between; aspects of identity, time, memory, belief – between G-d and the gutter. To curse and bless at once.” Like Mark Podwal’s Sefer, which also hung in the show and presents an M.C. Escher-like optical illusion in which people walk through gate on a title page of a book, Friedman portrays a vision of Jewish books that transcends the physicality of the spine and the pages.

 

This kind of topsy-turvy approach also surfaces in Joel Silverstein’s Hail (A Plague of Butterflies). Where Exodus speaks of terrifying hail, which had “fire circumscribed within the hail” (Ex. 9: 24), Silverstein shows a purple, yellow, and orange landscape with a plague not of hail but of Monarch butterflies. In composing the piece, Silverstein was drawn to a photograph of the butterflies that he saw in National Geographic. Richard McBee reminded me of references to magical yellow moths in Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and in re-reading the book I found that the yellow moths indeed do present a plague of sorts. Either way, butterflies do not seem to be biblical (though there are several references to moths eating garments in Isaiah and Job), and they certainly did not rain down upon Egypt. Yet, Silverstein found a Midrash that says that the plague of Hail became a “flutter of colorful wings,” so why not butterflies? In this move, Silverstein is approaching the biblical text not just as a painter, but also as a biblical commentator.

 



Joel Silverstein. “Hail.” Acrylic on wood, 40″ x 40″.


 

 

In my previous column, I cited what I see as feminist trends in contemporary Jewish art, which surfaced in the Stanton Street Synagogue show. The four artists featured in this column have quite different approaches to very divergent subject material. But what seems to tie them together is their willingness to experiment with collage. Though a lot of deep thinking and careful techniques clearly informed the works, there is also a great playfulness in butterfly plagues and in amulets bearing American symbols to protect synagogues. 


 


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

Menachem Wecker

The Stanton Street Shul and the Art of David Friedman

Wednesday, August 4th, 2004

Artists have a way of calling attention to the things we really need to see. Their sensitivity and funny way of thinking shake us up, and demand that we take notice. That’s what David Friedman has done with 16 paintings on paper currently on view at the Stanton Street Shul. The diminutive paintings, each 12 inches square, were created as a whimsical decoration for the downstairs Kiddush and weekday minyan hall as part of the community Shavuos celebration. But to call them simply “whimsical” is to miss the spirit and essence of this marvelous congregation undergoing a Renaissance, a long time a-coming.

“Borsch and Coffee: Floral Abstractions,” as the series is known, utilizes raw pigment,
acrylic, ink, spray paint, marker, gold powder and, yes, borsch juice and coffee grounds. The
last two ingredients are a lighthearted tribute to Abe Roth, the 93-year-old regular who sets
out the coffee and Kiddush on Shabbos mornings, affectionately known as the “Stanton Street
Maîdre D.” Therein lies the dynamic of a congregation that recognizes that “it takes two to
tango” and Stanton Street utilizes at least two or three generations of Jews to generate the
warmth and friendliness of a real community. The 30-something David Friedman, a
professional artist who is also showing at Artists and Fleas Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn,
acknowledges this in his homage to the elder statesman Abe.

David’s paintings are flights of fancy on floral forms utilizing flowers, leaves, plants and
other fantastic flora in brightly inventive color and line. They exude a vibrancy of design,
emphasized by stenciled patterns, Hebrew letters and sensuous line that visually bring the
Shavuos holiday flowers gracing the upstairs sanctuary downstairs. It is especially the vibrating
purples and reds, some actually made of beet juice, that animate the paper paintings as they
seem to float on the whitewashed walls.

If you look carefully bits of coffee grounds enliven the surface in many of the paintings,
while others are dominated by not only the texture but the smell of java too. The quip “Ain
Torah bli kemach v’ain kemach bli Torah” quickly comes to mind reflecting on the
congregation’s Shavuos meals and learning held downstairs. The paintings are simply another
expression of the community spirit and determination that is found on Stanton Street.

The light and deft touch that characterize David’s paintings arises straight out of the
diverse and friendly congregation that is simultaneously a 90-year-old survivor of the Jewish
Lower East Side and evidence of the New Jewish revival that is transforming the surrounding
neighborhood. The community bounded by East Broadway and Grand Street, only four
blocks to the south is booming with an influx of young religious couples, while the area im-

mediately around the shul is filling with trendy restaurants, clubs, and upscale shops mixing in
with the existing Spanish businesses. It is increasingly becoming a mixed neighborhood of
artists, young professionals and working people. And in that typical New York mix there are
Jews looking for some old time religion. If they are willing to roll up their sleeves and join in,
Stanton Street Shul may be just right for them.

Originally and officially known as Congregation Bnai Jacob Anschei Brzezan, the kehilla
from Brzezen in Galicia, Poland built the current building in 1913 from two existing
structures that dated from the 1840’s. A typical “tenement style” synagogue conforming to
the standard 20′ X 100′ tenement lot size, the handsome façade graced with two round
stained glass windows leads to the well worn downstairs hall and the modest main sanctuary
above. The building, now maintained as best as they can, is badly in need of basic repairs. A
new fire escape and roof are urgently needed, as are new windows and an upgrade of the
antiquated gas fired radiator heating system. Architecturally, the Stanton Street Shul is a taste
of the modest Eastern European shuls, poor in capital but extremely rich in cultural heritage.

The main sanctuary is decorated with wall paintings of the Zodiac reflecting a motif that
was once common on the Lower East Side. Long time synagogue member and docent at the
Lower East Side Conservancy, Elissa Sampson, quips that it is ironic that now, only the richest
synagogue in the neighborhood, the Bialystoker and the poorest, Stanton Street, sport Zodiac
paintings. Folk paintings of the Tower of David and Rachel’s Tomb flank the simple but
elegant hand painted wooden Ark. Both sides of the men’s section are lined with large-scale
depictions of the Zodiac, most badly in need of restoration. Most importantly, the paintings
pose a burning question for most visitors. What is a lobster doing in an Orthodox synagogue?

Lobsters, at least the painted kind, are not unheard of in American shuls that have
Zodiac decorations. Bialystoker’s lobster oversees the davening of the main sanctuary, as does
its painted brother at Stanton Street depicting the mazel of Tamuz. It may be that one artist
copied the other in a misguided attempt to depict Cancer the Crab, the equivalent Zodiac
sign. In any event, while the origin of both sets of paintings are shrouded in mystery, their
charm is clear for all to see.

The Stanton Street Shul community is equally charming, outgoing and friendly in what amounts to an uncommon partnership between the young and old, to build a growing congregation. The elders of the congregation are respected; some say venerated, and they respond with a warmth that brings alive the legacy of Polish Jewry. The congregation’s president, Benny Sauerhaft, recently had his 89th birthday celebration at a shul Kiddush. David Friedman sculpted his portrait for the occasion. It looked exactly like the 40-year veteran of the shul and tasted good too! Yes, it was sculpted out of chopped liver and vegetables and the congregation enjoyed the masterpiece up to the last morsel. That’s just the kind of creative and nourishing partnership these Jews, young and old, singles and families have down on the new and improved Jewish Lower East Side.

“Borsch and Coffee: Floral Abstractions,” by David Friedman. The Stanton Street Shul
(Congregation Bnai Jacob Anschei Brzezan), 180 Stanton Street, between Clinton and
Attorney Streets, NY, NY 212-533-4122; www.stantonstreetshul.com . David Freidman,
fryfryfry@hotmail.com


Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.

Richard McBee

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/the-stanton-street-shul-and-the-art-of-david-friedman-2/2004/08/04/

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