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October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘JCC’

Dedication Of Jewish Community Center

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

        Whenever I go to Poland it is for a specific occasion. This last trip was to cover the laying of the foundation stone of the Museum of Jewish History, the Krakow Jewish Cultural Festival and the weddings and bar mitzvah of my friends in Warsaw. In evidence of the growing maturity of the Jewish community in Poland, it seems that not a day goes by without an activity worthy of a story. There are exhibit openings, film festivals, semachot, recitals and visits by dignitaries. Over the next few weeks, I will be writing about some of these events.

 

         Mr. Sigmund Rolat, of N.Y., has been a great supporter of Jewish causes in Poland for many years. He has contributed generously to the Jewish Festival in Krakow, as well as the museum in Warsaw, but he reserves his greatest efforts for his hometown, Czestochowa. Over the years he has cleaned up the cemetery, which had been described as a jungle, and made great strides in building bridges between the Jewish and non-Jewish communities through supporting cultural projects inspired by Jewish rituals and symbols.

 

         On June 28, once again, he was at the forefront of Jewish activity in his hometown. He brought in two busloads of visitors to Czestochowa for the dedication of a Jewish Community Center. Most were in Poland for either the museum event or the festival.     Present were Mr. Sigmund Rolat; Chief Rabbi Of Poland Rabbi Michael Schudrich; Mr. Tad Taube of the Taube Family Foundation; Theodore Bikel; noted professor Michael Berenbaum; along with many local officials including the city mayor.

 

 



Mr. Sigmund Rolat speaking to the people gathered at the JCC in Czestochowa. (L-R) Mr. Soigmund Rolat; Mr. Tad Taube; Mayor of Czestochowa Tadeusz Wrona; Israeli Ambassador to Poland David Peleg; and Theodore Bikel.


 


 

         We began the day with an hour-and-a-half ride from Krakow, which provided the participants time to schmooze together. On arrival in Czestochowa we drove around as Mr. Rolat led a tour of the former Jewish sites in the city. At the JCC Rabbi Michael Schudrich affixed a mezuzah to the door, and Theodore Bikel treated the group to an impromptu mini-concert.

 

         After the ceremony the group ate lunch, kosher food from Warsaw provided by  Rabbi Schudrich. Afterwards, those interested visited the famous Jasna Gora sanctuary, while others chose a more detailed tour of the city.

 

         The Yiddish Theater of Warsaw came to Czestochowa and gave a fantastic performance, a medley of Yiddish and Polish songs that awakened genetic memories, and even songs we couldn’t understand, sounded like long-forgotten lullabies.

 

 



Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Mr. Sigmund Rolat, affixing the mezuzah to the doorpost of the JCC in Czestochowa.


 

 

         The final event of the day was a buffet at the atelier of one of Poland’s most famous contemporary artists, Tomasz Setowski.

 

         While the JCC contains little Jewish material, the few remaining Jews in Czestochowa now have a place to gather, a place they can call their own and develop as needed. A big Yashar Koach to Mr. Rolat for all his continuing efforts on behalf of  the Jewish Community in Czestochowa and Poland in general.

Jewish Women Artists Talk About Their Work (Part Five)

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

          For the past four weeks, this column has attended to the exhibit “Words Within” of works by members of the Jewish Women Artist’s Network at the Columbia/Barnard Hillel (through March 28). In part five, three more artists discuss their work as Jewish women artists.


 

 


Permission To Use Hebrew Letters


 


         When Marilyn Banner showed “some rather radical and ‘unpalatable’ work” in D.C. (she lives in Maryland), she shocked her viewers and had to “clean up [her] act.” She remembers people responding with an “underlying anti-Semitism, as if the work had been done by a ‘dirty Jewish woman artist’.”

 

         But with her work currently on exhibit in three different “Jewish” venues, Banner not only identifies as a Jew, a female and an artist, but at the moment, she is feeling “very much like a Jewish woman artist.”

 

         Over the past two decades, Banner never gave much thought to Jewish culture or heritage, she told The Jewish Press. “I cut Hebrew letters out of steel because I responded so strongly to them,” she said, “not reading or understanding them, and having no Jewish education.” She created a piece, “The Presence of Spirit,” sensing “the sacredness of the letters and their healing qualities.” She worked with the concept of skin, without considering the Holocaust and skin lampshades, and she made “Soul Ladders” from a “Shamanic point of view, without thinking of Jacob’s ladder at all!” The only Jewish works she created were the works she made based on a trip to Terezin titled “Still With Us,” “Angels and Messengers” and “Song of Songs,” and another called “Presence of Spirit.”

 

         Another body of work, “Ladders of Light,” carried “a strong sense of being female, with an insistence on being able to be openly female,” using lace, chiffon and ribbon, and an idea of “play” she returned to in a series “Honoring the Ancestors.” The series was based upon Banner’s upbringing in a “Jewish neighborhood of six family apartments in St. Louis in the late 40′s and early 50′s.”

 

         As a graduate student at Queens College, a panel of men expelled Banner “for being less than ‘serious’ − using mixed media before it was popular (sewing canvas onto canvas),” she says. “I was told that I should therefore ‘go have babies and teach grade school’.” And as recently as a few weeks ago, she experienced anti-Semitism toward her Musica Viva card with Hebrew letters, which “shocked many people, including some of our board members and musicians, who did not want to handle the cards and did not want the usual extra number to share with friends.”

 

         But after passing out the same cards at the exhibit at the JCC of Greater Baltimore (where I met Marilyn, as I am also showing a painting in the exhibit), she found the audience much more receptive, “pleased and affirmed, not frightened and shocked.”

 

         She describes “owning [her] femaleness” as empowering to create more personal work, with “feminine” materials, and a “sensuous” approach. “I am not trying to be a male artist. I don’t want to see like Cezanne or paint like Picasso,” she insists. “Owning my Jewishness has given me the ‘permission’ to use Hebrew letters, Jewish symbols and to be proud of my Eastern European heritage.”

 

 


Lips of Crimson Silk by Marilyn Banner. Encaustic, 2004

 

 


         Song of Songs influences her piece in “Words Within,” titled “Lips of Crimson Silk” and, indeed, it quotes from the text, translated by Marcia Falk:


 


Yes, I am black! And radiant -


O city women watching me -


As black as Kedar’s goat-hair tents


Or Solomon’s fine tapestries.


Your teeth -


A flock of sheep


Rising from the stream


In twos, each with its twin


Your lips -


Like woven threads


Of crimson silk.


 


         Indeed, to viewers who are not familiar with the technique of “encaustic,” the work looks like a bright, colorful painting, perhaps with a hint of Matisse’s style (although surely Banner would insist she is not trying to paint like a man!). But the work is not only a piece about love, it is quite an intense labor of love, using a technique that involves layers of hot wax, into which Banner scratches and scrapes and otherwise manipulates the surface. The technique quite literally involves the “form following the textual content.”

 

Healing the World


 


         Rona Lesser of Houston, Texas, draws from Kabbalah in her work, especially, “Sacred Fragments,” her submission to “Words Within.” The piece is based upon the notion tikkun olam, literally repairing the world. Although she notes that this concept of fixing is universal rather than Jewish, her statement in the catalog describes the concept of shevirat ha-kelim (“the shattering of the vessels”), whereby G‑d stored divine sparks inside “vessels” which allowed for the “retraction” of the divine so as to create space for a physical universe. “It is up to us, G‑d’s creations and partners, to heal the world through our actions and gather those sparks together until the vessel, or the universe, is whole again,” Lesser writes. The painting includes Hebrew words signifying the sorts of good acts and traits that can re-gather the sparks, including: emet (truth), chessed (kindness), rachamim (mercy), kedushah (holiness) and a number of others.

 

 


Sacred Fragments by Rona Lesser. Watercolor, 2004

 

 

         The image also shows two hands, which appear to gather the words as they pop out of a bursting shape (evoking Adolph Gottlieb’s paintings), perhaps the breaking vessels. A tree (the Tree of Life?) stands barrenly below, but if the hands represent the divine and the human partnering in creation, the tree is sure to blossom soon.

 

         In an interview, Lesser said she did not consider herself a Jewish artist, since many of her pieces do not employ Jewish themes. But “Judaism is an important part of my life and influences how I respond to the world around me,” she said. “When I paint something from nature I definitely think of G‑d’s creations.”

 

The Pull of Judaism


 


         “Everything I do reflects me, being a Jewish woman artist,” says New York-based Francia, “me, in the world and my responses to where I am − in this case, years of traveling and my responses to places.”

 

         Her artist book in “Words Within,” titled “Travelogue: Color and Light” responds to travel, particularly in Switzerland and Italy, where she spent many summers in the Jura Mountains of French Switzerland as co-director of a jazz and art program. Not surprisingly, she found the small Jewish community there “quite a contrast to living New York City with such a large Jewish population.”

 

 



Travelogue: Color and Light by Francia. Artist book, 2005


 

         Francia started the Jewish Women Artist Network at a 1991 annual conference of the Women’s Caucus for Art/College Art Association in Washington, D.C. She also organized the first Jewish panel, “Judaism and How It Is Reflected In Your Art and Life,” hoping to give a platform to the voices of Jewish Women in the WCA.

 

         “I identify both as a Jewish woman artist and a woman artist,” she says, “because Judaism is a very important part of my life − who I am and my vision of the world, how I live my life and, of course, I am always proudly a woman.”

 

         Her series, “Personal Visions: Art and History Meet,” is a vision of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice. The series culminated with a “six-foot Kaddish installation adorned by maroon velvet, draped on a table − with six memorial candles placed on the table . . .” Her book “Travelogue” draws upon the architecture, design, landscapes, clocks, old instruments, medieval villages and maps, and old synagogues from her travels. “I believe the pull of Judaism is so strong that it is always there in your life either blatantly or subtly,” she says.

 

       Menachem Wecker is a painter, writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. His painting, “The Windows of Heaven” will be on exhibit at the JCC of Greater Baltimore as part of an exhibit which opened March 25.

Distorted Reality

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

(Names Changed)

 

        We all have preconceived notions that we accept as real and never challenge. One of these is the concept of what is considered old. I have sat with a group of woman, and though many in the group qualified for a seniors discount, those that did, refused to acknowledge that they were that age. It was more important for them to maintain an imaginary age publicly, instead of getting the break financially. Those of us not in that age bracket could not believe it. Until the following year when the scene was repeated, only now we had more seniors who refused to acknowledge they were seniors and this included the very people who made fun of this group the year before. Interestingly, their view of being a senior seemed to change once they joined the ranks.

 

         Seniors today are certainly not the seniors I remember. Not only are seniors acting younger and doing more, but they are also actually a younger group. Once, you had to be the magic age of 65 to qualify for being a senior − when 65 was the usual retirement age. At that point, we the young and inexperienced, expected you to be too old to work and would go joyously to your rocking chairs. Today, more people are taking early retirement and the 50s is the age that many start second careers. There are many places that now identify you as a senior at the young age of 50 and let you qualify for many wonderful events and discounts. All you have to do is get past the word senior, in your mind, and not let it inhibit you from having fun.

 

         Shani was a former well spouse. Her husband had passed away just a year ago and she was adjusting to life as a widow. Fortunately for Shani, she no longer had to work. Now that the expenses for her husband’s care were gone, she found that if she was careful, she could live comfortably on her pension and Social Security. For a year now, she has been wondering how to fill her days. Caring for her husband had left her with no time for herself. Now that she had the time, she seemed to not remember how to use it.

 

         She had been asked to volunteer to visit the sick in her community and other illness-related tasks, at which  she was an expert. However, she just couldn’t bring herself to do that type of chesed right now. That was something she needed a break from. Along with helping out in her community in various ways, she wanted to have fun, make new friends and do different things she had not had time or energy for over the last few years. But, she did not know where to begin to find the things she wanted. Someone suggested she look into the seniors group at the local JCC. Shani was taken aback. After all she was only in her 50s and didn’t want to hang out with a bunch of 80-year-olds. What would they have in common? What were people thinking!

 

         A year later, in Shani’s well-spouse support group, Andrea also lost her husband and found herself going through the same journey as Shani. The difference was that, though only 55, Andrea wasn’t deterred by the title of “senior” and began to explore what the same JCC had to offer her. Yes there were older people in the building, but Andrea discovered that there were “seniors” there who were younger than she, as well. She was also open to who the person was and not the number of years they had been on this earth.

 

         Rather quickly, Andrea began to find many “senior” programs in which she wanted to participate. These groups had people of every age, but the common interests and wealth of experience made the group rich with diversity and knowledge. She started to fill her days with classes and activities. She made new friends. However, she could not get Shani past her concept of what a “senior” is  and join her. Today  Andrea is leading a new and fulfilling life. Shani is still looking for one.

 

         In any situation that faces you, it is important to challenge your preconceived notions and see what you are basing your decisions on. Perhaps they are based on something real and important. On the other hand, they may just be a reflection of something you once heard that has no basis in fact. If you refuse to examine your ideas and look into what is holding you back from going on with your life, you may be cutting yourself off for no reason, from a future that is wonderful and full. Just as Shani did.

 

         You can contact me at annnovick@hotmail.com

The Singular Experience

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 14

         After Work Schmooze, ages 20′s and 30′s. Makor – Steinhardt Building, 35 W. 67th St., Manhattan. 7 p.m. 212-601-1000. www.makor.org

 

         Central Park Night Ice Skating, Wollman Skating Rink. 7 p.m. Sponsored by Makor – Steinhardt Building, 35 W. 67th St., Manhattan. 212-601-1000. www.makor.org


CHANUKAH, DECEMBER 16-23

         Chanukah Singles Event. 8 p.m. Location disclosed upon registration. NO CHARGE. Small groups of men and women (10 men and 10 women) will come together at a designated home each night of Chanukah. Event is ONLY for Shabbos- and kosher-observant individuals. Registration is required, so as to be able to match people with some similar backgrounds. Light refreshments will be served. 718-375-9593.


SATURDAY, DECEMBER 16

         Chanukah celebration. Speed dating for ages 30-60. Chabad Lubavitch of Sheepshead Bay, 1315 Ave. Y, Brooklyn. 917-742-8445. $18.


SUNDAY, DECEMBER 17

         Chanukah Party at Kings Bay Y, 3495 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn. 11:30 a.m. 718-648-7703 x 230.

 

         Midrash Ora V’Simcha Gala Chanukah Party. 3110 Kings Highway (E. 31st St at Nostrand Ave.), Brooklyn. 2:30-5 p.m. Free. Sponsored by Joel Mordechai Arbiser, M.D. RSVP: 718-951-0500.

 

         Coffee, Cake and Conversation singles group will host a Chanukah get-together from 2:30-5 p.m. at 1467 East 31 Street (corner Kings Highway), Brooklyn. Attendance is free. Music and light food will be offered. Call 718-375-1049, 212-928-5091 or 718-853-2796.


MONDAY, DECEMBER 18

         Sophisticated Singles, ages 35-55. Roundtable Rap. JCC, 15 Neil Ct., Oceanside, L.I. 7:30 p.m. 516-766-4241 x 133. www.friedbergjcc.org  

 

         Social, ages 55+. JCC, 15 Neil Ct., Oceanside, L.I. 7:30 p.m. 516-766-4241 x 133. www.friedbergjcc.org 


TUESDAY, DECEMBER 19

         Sushi and Latkes: Japanese Chanukah Singles Party, ages 30-49. 7:30 p.m. JCC on the Palisades, 411 E. Clinton Ave., Tenafly, N.J. 201-569-7900.


THURSDAY, DECEMBER 21- SUNDAY, DECEMBER 24

         Shabbos Chanukah Weekend, sponsored by “Flakey” Jake. Somerset Marriot in N.J. 718-436-0682.


THURSDAY, DECEMBER 21

         After Work Schmooze, ages 20′s and 30′s. Makor – Steinhardt Building, 35 W. 67th St., Manhattan. 7 p.m. 212-601-1000. www.makor.org 


SATURDAY, DECEMBER 23

         Chanukah Rock ‘n’ Bowl. 8:30 p.m. at Bowler City in Hackensack (85 Midtown Bridge Approach), N.J. Sponsored by the JCC on the Palisades. 201-569-7900.

 

         Shabbat Chanukah Luncheon at the Young Israel of Flatbush, 1012 Ave. I., Brooklyn. Please join us for tefillot in the main synagogue, to be followed by kiddush and a catered, singles only luncheon. 8:45 a.m. Payable to the Young Israel of Flatbush and mail to: Joel Roth, 1119 Ocean Parkway, Apt. 4-F, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11230. Donna: 718-633-8835; Joel: 718-377-4127; Sheldon: 718-434-4623; Suri: 718-338-1347; Marty: 718-951-2560. E-mail: Shelsurfer@aol.com 


MONDAY, DECEMBER 25

         Sophisticated Singles, ages 35-55. Roundtable Rap. JCC, 15 Neil Ct., Oceanside, L.I. 7:30 p.m. 516-766-4241 x 133. www.friedbergjcc.org 

 

         Social, ages 55+. JCC, 15 Neil Ct., Oceanside, L.I. 7:30 p.m. 516-766-4241 x 133.  www.friedbergjcc.org 

 

         Chinese Lunch at noon. Rabbi Fingerer will discuss his new book, Adults Only, a provocative and engaging book on topics ranging from human sexuality to solving global war on terror. JCC on the Palisades, 411 E. Clinton Ave., Tenafly, N.J. 201-569-7900 ext. 435.


THURSDAY, DECEMBER 28

         After Work Schmooze, ages 20′s and 30′s. Makor – Steinhardt Building, 35 W. 67th St., Manhattan. 7 p.m. 212-601-1000. www.makor.org 


SUNDAY, DECEMBER 31

         EndTheMadness will be hosting a private dinner at a Manhattan restaurant with Dr. Michael Salamon, author of Every Pot Has Its Cover. Open to a select group of 24 singles (12 men and 12 women), ages 35 and under. 6:30 p.m. www.endthemadness.org 

Jewish Polish Posters At JCC

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

        It is a little known fact in the Jewish world that Poland is famous for its artistic posters. At the annual art and poster fairs held in New York City there is always a very large and impressive collection of fine art posters from Poland.

 

        Surprisingly, a high number of them have Jewish themes. Last week an exhibit of nearly 100 Jewish-themed Polish posters was opened at the JCC of Manhattan.

 

         In a talk given at the gala opening of the exhibit, Donald Mayer spoke about the long history of Polish poster printing and how the art form always contained a Jewish flavor due to the fact that Jewish culture was so entwined with Polish culture as a whole.

 

       


The poster for the film “A Shop On Main Street”

 

        

       “Even after the Shoah, when there were hardly any Jews left in Poland,” Mayer explained, “there was not a significant drop in Jewish poster art.”

 

         There are many examples of Yiddish theater posters, as well as posters for books, films and cultural events.

 

         Most of the posters in the exhibit were printed after the Shoah, and therefore many have a melancholy look to them. Many are in stark colors with broken or twisted imagery, depicting the mood of the subject.

 

         The poster for “A Shop On Main Street” by Wiktor Gorka, 1965, was printed for the Academy-Award-winning film starring an aging Ida Kaminska. It shows shadows of a pair of old hands reaching for buttons on a beige background. This poster is an example of what was produced for the foreign market, as the film was produced by a Czech production company. Some other well-known films are represented at the exhibit are “Cabaret” and “Europa Europa.”

 



A post-Holocaust poster in memory of the lost Jewish communities of Poland.


 

        Music and opera are also popular poster topics. There is a whole grouping of posters relating to “Fiddler on The Roof” and other familiar stories that have been put to music, such as “Nabuco,” Verdi’s opera telling the story of the Babylonian exile, and “La Juive.”

 

         Another popular subject for poster art, especially after the fall of communism in 1989, is the Jewish Cultural Festival held each year in Krakow. For 18 years now, exceptional Jewish-themed posters have been produced for this popular festival held annually in Krakow at the end of June. While the Krakow festival features new posters each year, the Jewish festival in Warsaw reuses the same posters each year but changes the color scheme for every festival.

 


One of the many posters for the play “A Fiddler on The Roof” –

notice the stripes of the tzitzit used to form the theme of the play.

 


 

        Most of the posters were printed on poor paper, as posters are considered ephemera – printed works not expected to last very long. The posters at the exhibit have been backed with linen for preservation, and some are even signed by the artist.

 

         The exhibit by Yalin and Donald Mayer of Contemporary Posters can be viewed at the JCC of Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, until January 17, 2007.

 

         All the posters are for sale.

Once Loneliness Strikes And You’re Unprepared

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

      Last week, in a response to a letter, I wrote about preparing for loneliness. Since we are the only one with whom we will spend the rest of our lives, the odds are that we will be alone at some point. As spouses die or marriages dissolve or children leave home, loneliness resides with us. The best way to deal with loneliness is to prepare for it. Never allow yourself to lose friendships entirely or lose interest in things, not just people. This goes a long way to helping one cope with loneliness. But what does a person do who hasn’t prepared? As many have found, those who have dedicated their lives to their children “awakened one day” to the fact that the children are all gone from home and involved and too busy with their own lives to make time for them. Or perhaps it is a person who has had to cater to a sick spouse for years and during that time has lost all contact with everyone but his or her spouse. He has even lost touch with his own needs and wants. How does he deal with the loneliness? Or perhaps it’s a couple whose sole life has been each other and suddenly one is alone. How does a person cope with the terror of loneliness?

 

         The first step is to acknowledge that you are lonely and accept that it is a normal part of life for many people. You cannot change what you don’t accept. Being alone for most people is devastating. A person who may never have had to make a decision before suddenly has to deal with making all decisions. The fear of being alone at home at night or alone when you’re sick and need support is horrible. Or just the loneliness of an empty nest makes many people feel such a loss, that they find functioning difficult and feel that life has lost its meaning. Accepting these feelings as normal is the first step toward changing them.

 

         Don’t wait for people to see your need for companionship and come to the rescue. As much as we wish that we did not have to do the work – and it is hard work to change the place we’re in – we do have to do it ourselves. It is often helpful to discuss your feelings with others in the same position. That’s where grief support groups may come in if you have recently suffered a loss. You can usually find them at local JCC’s or community groups. If you’re alone because of a recent empty nest, talk to others who feel the same as you. There are many in your peer group just hoping to have someone to talk to about their feelings. It is just human nature for everyone to be afraid to be the first to speak out. Seeking out people in similar circumstances may be the first step toward change for anyone who is lonely.

 

         Use the suddenly available time on your hands to volunteer. Volunteering not only eases the loneliness; it also helps you meet new people and gain new skills, and it raises the self-confidence that your loneliness may have eroded. Meeting other volunteers goes a long way to solving the problem of loneliness. Call your local Gemach or volunteer bureau and ask how you can help. Tell them what you like to do, and they will match you to someone who needs your skills. Hospitals need volunteers to rock babies and play with toddlers. Schools have children who need to be read to.

 

         Tomchei Shobbos” often needs packers and people who will deliver meals and spend a few minutes with the elderly and ill. Help brides choose their gowns at a gown gemach. Help with simchas at a Gemach party. Become a foster parent or grandparent. Jewish foster homes are badly needed, and those that do take in children need the volunteer grandparents to take the children for a few hours once or twice a week. Volunteering for those less fortunate can also put your loneliness into perspective and make you feel more blessed and positive about life.

 

         If your grandchildren live far away and have computers, learn how to correspond with them through e-mail. A whole new world will open to you both, and you won’t have to wait for that two-minute “Good Shabbos” phone call on Friday to connect.

 

        Reacquaint yourself with the friends you loved to be with, who contact over the years. If you’re the same age, you’re most likely in the same situation. They probably would love to connect but haven’t thought of it or had the courage to try. Be direct and honest. Tell them what your looking for – whether it’s company once in a while or lunch once a week. If you connect, set a date immediately.

 

         Mostly, accept the fact that it’s a slow path back. You might meet rejection on the way. But staying alone and lonely is no way to be. It’s worth it, to gear up and find the courage to go forward. None of the above suggestions are easy. Sometimes the loneliness, though devastating, is also comfortable. Change is always hard. As the saying goes, “The misery you know is more comfortable then the heaven that awaits.” Going out of your familiar circle is frightening and making friends in our older years is never easy. But, if you want to change your life, you must put in the work. No one can do it for you.

Interracial Chalk Drawings And Dances

Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

Through Their Eyes: Captured Moments of Childhood


Photography by Godfrey Frankel and Helen Levitt


July 6-August 13, 2006


The Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery at the Washington, D.C. JCC


http://www.dcjcc.org/ 

 

 

With their own long history of suffering oppression and hate fresh in their minds, many American Jews played important roles in the civil rights movement. Jewish merchant Julius Rosenwald, who bought one-fourth interest in Sears, Roebuck and Co. before it became a huge business, founded the Julius Rosenwald Fund in 1917 to help improve education for African Americans. The fund helped launch over 5,000 schools in 15 states in the south, as well as several universities. In 1964, Jews were arrested with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel prominently marched with Dr. King in the struggle for civil rights. In the arts, Jewish, Puerto Rico-born photographer Benedict J. Fernandez recorded many of the events of the U.S. civil rights movement. His images of Dr. King’s funeral are now iconic.

 

         The current show at the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center, “Through Their Eyes: Captured Moments of Childhood,” explores the powerful black and white photographs of the Jewish photographers Godfrey Frankel and Helen Levitt that depict Jewish and African American subjects.

 

         Frankel (1912-1995), a Cleveland native, got started in advertising photography and somehow found himself covering the nightclub scene in the nation’s capital. He met the nightclub editor of the Afro-American, who took him to nightclubs on U Street. In an interview with Merry Foresta of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Frankel described his experiences: “I started looking around the city, a strange city to me then, and I found these alley dwellings. I think there are still one or two left, [a] very small area. This was where poor people and mostly blacks lived I would find myself down there three or four times a week in the late afternoons when the sun was good before I went out to visit nightclubs. It was perfect.”

 

         Frankel also worked in New York, where he described his photographs as “probably my most important work.” In the interview, he said his interest in New York was “mostly the edges of the city – the East Side and West Side. On the Lower East Side, I guess I’ve taken most of my pictures.” Although Frankel did not use the word Jewish once in his interview with Foresta, his typical day began with him setting out in the morning with four or five rolls of film, taking the elevator or subway to the Lower East Side and shooting pictures until he got hungry and tired. He would “get into Ratner’s or some place and get some matzah ball soup, [laughing] some bagels or something and rest for an hour. Get out again about three or three-thirty and shoot some more pictures.”

 

         One of Frankel’s photographs in the JCC show is “Kids on Storefront Steps” (1943). In the photograph, seven African American children sit on a step in front of a store with “all bran” signs in the windows. The steps are in bad shape, and they seem unable to bear the children’s weight, let alone to reinforce the store for long. But, for the most part, the children seem happy, despite the grimy setting. Some of the boys seem asleep, while others smile or look off into the distance. However, none of the boys meets the gaze of the viewer. They are in their own world, wholly oblivious to the viewer.

 

 


Godfrey Frankel. “Kids on Storefront Steps.” (1943) Vintage gelatin silver print. 9 3/4″ x 6 1/4″.

 

 

         Other photographs by Frankel show young Jewish boys studying the Talmud. “Mount Krisco, NY Yeshiva” (1948) shows two young boys reciting the Shematogether. One boy turns his back on the viewer, facing his partner who covers his eyes. The two boys sit on chairs with books open in front of them on a table. The composition is a bombardment of triangles, from the boys’ elbows to suspenders to the shapes of the flowers in the bottom left corner. Another boy watches from afar, perhaps laughing at the two praying boys. And perhaps the most fascinating part of Frankel’s photographs of children is that they rarely make eye contact with the viewer. They are either shut off in their own world or literally distracted by something out of the picture frame.

 

 


Godfrey Frankel. “Mount Krisco, NY Yeshiva.” (1948) Vintage gelatin silver print. 8″ x 10″.

 

 

         In another image, also titled “Mount Krisco, NY Yeshiva,” Frankel shows the same boy who was covering his eyes in the last photograph, sitting in the same chair. His partner has left (and his empty chair and open book attest to his absence). The boy from the background has drawn closer, but he seems uninterested in the boy as he walks past. The boy, with his finger keeping his place in the book, turns to look over his left shoulder at something out of the picture frame to the right. The boy is at once rooted in the task at hand (his finger marking his place in the Talmud) and distracted.

 

         Helen Levitt’s photographs are equally voyeuristic. Levitt’s “Dancing Girl” shows a young girl and a boy separately dancing in the street. The horizon line is cropped high up in the photograph, so the image becomes more about the street than about the buildings lining the street. With the exception of some stairs and banisters, nothing that suggests a context for the joint dance invades the image. The Caucasian girl wears a polka dot dress and stretches her arms in a twisted pose, decidedly unglamorous but cute, as an African American boy looks on and dances with his hand atop his head.

 

 


Helen Levitt. “New York, c. 1945.” (Dancing Girl) Black and white silver print. 16″ x 20″.

 

 

         Born in Brooklyn in 1913 (although the JCC exhibit mysteriously says 1907), Levitt dropped out of school to pursue photography. She became obsessed with children’s chalk drawings and photographed many children drawing. Like Frankel’s subjects, the children in Levitt’s photographs do not make eye contact with the viewer. However, where Frankel’s children are intentionally oblivious to the viewer, Levitt’s might be performing a street dance for the viewer’s benefit.

 

         Levitt’s photographs in the JCC show children in strollers – climbing, dancing, hugging, and engaging in a variety of activities. One particularly engaging image shows three boys playing in a yard covered with dirt and rocks. Behind them, chalk writing on a wall reads, “Home team the Reds.” One boy carries a stick, while the other carries a small leafless bush. Levitt has caught the boys in the middle of their motion as they run and leap about. One wonders how the boys find joy in that most dreary of places, but at least for the moment in which Levitt has captured them, they frolic happily.

 

         The children that Levitt and Frankel capture in their photographs are worlds apart from those that photographer David Seymour-Chim portrays, as were discussed in these pages (June 21, 2006, “Smile And Say Cheese: Children Maimed By War”). Where Chim portrayed children who were sick, maimed, and otherwise struck by war, Levitt’s and Frankel’s images show children who have not suffered through wars and the Holocaust. But like Chim, Levitt and Frankel sought out the humanity and the optimism in the children’s situations. In the work of all three photographers’, children play and smile like children despite the bleak context. And as Chim found life and hope in war, Frankel and Levitt used their photography to find common ground between the lives of Jewish and African American children as they played in parks, alleyways, and on storefront stairs.

 

        Menachem Wecker is a painter and assistant editor of B’nai B’rith Magazine in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com 

 

         I graciously acknowledge the articles about the civil rights movement and Helen Levitt and Godfrey Frankel in Encyclopedia Britannica Online (www.britaannica.com) and Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/).

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/interracial-chalk-drawings-and-dances/2006/07/19/

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