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August 30, 2015 / 15 Elul, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Lithuania’

The Controversial Mordecai Moses Mordecai

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Introduction1
 
   The first ordained rabbi to settle in America, Abraham Rice did not arrive here until 1840. Before then, few men with anything more than a rudimentary Torah knowledge resided in America. One exception was Mordecai Moses Mordecai.
 
   “Mordecai Moses Mordecai was born on January 16, 1727, in the Lithuanian town of Tels [also written Telz, Telshi]. His father was evidently a rabbi, Moses, son of Mordecai. The majority of Jews in Northern Europe had no family names at this period, and were known simply by a patronymic. On his arrival in America, our Mordecai discovered a Moses Mordecai, from Bonn, Germany, residing in eastern Pennsylvania. Probably to avoid confusion, our subject styled himself with his father’s and grandfather’s names as Mordecai Moses Mordecai, usually adding ‘of Telz.'”
 
   At the time Lithuania was one of the major centers of Torah scholarship in the world. Therefore, it is not surprising the Mordecai received a comprehensive Torah education, “but there is no evidence to show that he achieved ordination. On the contrary, he would have signed himself ‘Rabbi’ had he been so entitled. He left his birthplace in northwestern Lithuania to become the first known Jew from his area to arrive in North America.”
 
   In 1760 Mordecai married Zipporah de Lyon of Easton, Pennsylvania. Zipporah’s father, Abraham de Lyon, and grandfather, Dr. Samuel Nunez, were among the original Jewish settlers of Savannah, GA. Mordecai and his bride settled in Lancaster and lived there for about ten years. However, by 1770 they had taken up residence in Baltimore. Mordecai became a distiller, but apparently was not particularly successful in this endeavor. 
 
   “By 1782, the British raids on the coastal cities had caused many patriot citizens [among them the Mordecais] to flee to Philadelphia for safety. The city’s Jewish population was enlarged by refugees from Newport, New York, Baltimore, Charleston and Savannah. A long-deferred project came to fruition when thirty-six heads of families signed themselves as agreeable to building a synagogue [which was named Congregation Mikveh Israel]. Mordecai M. Mordecai was among the signers.
 
   “At long last his rabbinic training could be put to use. He was assigned the important task of writing letters in Hebrew to the more established Sephardic synagogues of London and Amsterdam for approval of the architectural design, since this had ritual significance. Mordecai also penned a Hebrew letter to the thriving congregation in Paramaribo, Surinam, seeking a contribution. The overall appeal brought contributions from sixty-one individuals.
 
   “Mordecai must have been elated when he was chosen by the congregation as one of three experts in traditional Jewish law to rule whether the congregation’s minister, Rev. Gershom Mendes Seixas, might perform a marriage between Jacob I. Cohen and the widow of the above-mentioned German Moses Mordecai. The problem arose from the fact that the bride-to-be had been born Elizabeth Whitlock, a Christian; and, despite the fact that she had been converted to Judaism in her native England prior to her first marriage, her fianc? was a Cohen.”
 

   Mordecai and another member of this group rightly voted against this marriage, since the Torah prohibits a kohen from marrying a gayarus. Based on this, the congregation’s board of directors forbade their chazzan, Reverend Gershom Seixas, to perform the marriage. Nonetheless, on August 28, 1782 the couple was married without the participation of the chazzan in a ceremony held outside of the synagogue but in the presence of three of the congregation’s leaders. Mordecai took this as a personal affront. “The day before the wedding, Mordecai had received a rude shock when his application to become shammash [sexton, a position requiring some ritual knowledge] found him an unsuccessful candidate.”

 

Confrontations with Congregational

Authorities2
 
   “In 1784 [Mordecai] found himself in trouble with the congregational authorities. A niece of his in Easton, Judith, the daughter of Myer Hart, had fallen in love with a Christian, Lieutenant James Pettigrew, and they had been married by an army chaplain in May 1782, without her father’s knowledge or consent. Thereupon he had closed his door to her, but, with a child on the way, the girl’s mother was anxious to effect a reconciliation between the father and his daughter, so she asked her brother-in-law Mordecai, ‘a man who is well learned in Jewish law,’ to come to Easton to help settle the family problem.
 
   “What happened thereafter became a matter of serious contention. Only one fact was agreed upon – that the father had become reconciled.
 
   “Barnet Levy, also a brother-in-law of Mordecai and a resident of Easton, being in Philadelphia one day, told some members of Mikveh Israel, including the parnass Simon Nathan and Benjamin Nones, that he had been present when Mordecai remarried the couple according to Jewish law, and that he, Levy, had actually signed the ketubah, or marriage contract, as a witness. Mordecai was ordered to appear before a congregational court to answer the charge, and was found guilty of performing an act contrary to Jewish law.”
 
   Mordecai indignantly protested and wrote a letter to the vice president and the Adjunta of the congregation challenging their actions. He gave a number of reasons why he felt that what the congregational court had done was invalid.
 
   However, this was not the only controversy Mordecai was embroiled in with Congregation Mikveh Israel. A certain Benjamin Moses Clava, who was not a member of the congregation, died on March 14, 1785. He had been married to a gentile woman by a Christian minister. Despite this, “a year before, fearing that he was about to die, he called in several Jews and recited the Viddui, or confession of faith. The question was: should he, or could he, be buried according to Jewish custom?
 
   “One group in the congregation at first insisted upon a Din Torah, or legal interpretation, from Holland. But another group, somewhat more realistically, felt that an immediate decision would have to be made. After all, the corpse could not be kept unburied until an answer came from abroad. Consequently, the decision was left up to a panel of experts, consisting of Carpeles, Josephson and Moses D. Nathans. It was their judgment that Clava should be buried in a corner of the cemetery, without ritual washing, without a shroud and without a ceremony.
 
   “In spite of the fact that disobedience to this judgment would bring upon the transgressor exclusion from the religious functions of the synagogue, Mordecai M. Mordecai once again opposed his judgment against that of the congregation. He not only attended the body to the grave, but washed it and clothed it.”
 
   In an attempt to resolve these matters, the congregation sent a letter to Rabbi Saul Lowenstamm of the Ashkenazic Community of Amsterdam, Holland, asking him to rule on the matter. Unfortunately, Rabbi Lowenstamm’s answer, if there was one, has not been preserved.
 
   As a result of these actions Mordecai Moses Mordecai became persona non grata to the power structure of the Jewish community of Philadelphia. No further mention is made of him in the congregational records.
 
   Once the Revolutionary War ended many of the Jews who had come to Philadelphia to escape the British left the city. Mordecai apparently went to Richmond, Virginia, because his name appears on the list of the founders of Richmond’s Congregation Beth Shalome, which was established in 1789. In 1799 Mordecai was residing in Baltimore where he operated a distillery.
 
   “Mordecai had passed his eightieth birthday when on March 4, 1807, he had the joy of performing the marriage of his granddaughter Judith Russell to Isaiah Nathans of Philadelphia. The American Daily Advertiser of Philadelphia calls him ‘Rev. Mordecai M. Mordecai of Richmond, formerly of this city.’
 

   “Mordecai’s death came on January 19, 1809. The Baltimore papers took no note of the event, but The Republic and Savannah Ledger, of Savannah, Georgia, where his son Samuel and several Russell grandchildren were living, in its issue of February 9, 1809, paid him this tribute:

 

     Died at Baltimore on 19th, Mr. Mordecai M. Mordecai aged 83 years, an old and respected inhabitant of that city. This gentleman acquired at an early period of his life the sincere esteem of many of his fellow citizens being one of the patriots who fought and bled in the glorious struggle for the independence of this country. In a private capacity Mr. Mordecai distinguished himself as a tender husband, fond father, and faithful friend. He has left 26 children and Grand children and many acquaintances mourn his loss.”3

 

1 All quotes in this section and the next are from “Two Jewish Functionaries in Colonial Pennsylvania” by Malcolm H. Stern, American Jewish Historical Quarterly (1961-1978); September 1967-June 1968; 57, AJHS Journal. This article is available online at www.ajhs.org/scholarship/adaje.cfm.
 
2 All quotes in this section are from The History of the Jews of Philadelphia from Colonial Times to the Age of Jackson by Edwin Wolf and Maxwell Whiteman, The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1957, pages 128-131 unless otherwise noted.
 
3 “Two Jewish Functionaries in Colonial Pennsylvania.
 
 

   Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

 

Renaissance Rabbi

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

This essay is largely based on the book Ish Yehudi by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who over the years has served as mashgiach and rebbi at a number of Torah institutions.

The term “Renaissance man” is used to describe a person who excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s biography of his father, Rav Dr. Yoseph (Joseph) Tzvi Carlebach (1883-1942), provides fascinating information about the life of a man who deserves to be described as a Renaissance rabbi.

In Ish Yehudi (Shearith Joseph Publications, 2008) a book richly adorned with photographs and documents depicting personalities and places of historical significance in pre-Holocaust Europe, the reader learns about an extraordinary man who was the respected rav of a number of prestigious communities in pre-World War II Germany, a towering Torah scholar, a talented orator, a dynamic educator, a prolific writer, an intellectual who earned a Ph.D. in mathematics and philosophy from Heidelberg University, an expert in astronomy, a scientist, a connoisseur of the arts and humanities, and so much more.

When it came to acquiring knowledge, Rabbi Joseph Tzvi Carlebach was never satisfied.

* * *

Joseph Carlebach was born on January 30, 1883 in Luebeck, Germany, where his father, Dr. Salomon Carlebach, served as rav from 1870 to 1919. Joseph’s father was a talmid chacham and an outstanding orator.

Joseph obtained his early Torah education at home from his father and from Rabbi Mordechai Gumpel (a disciple of Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger, the renowned chief rabbi of Altona and author of Aruch Laner), whom his father employed as a tutor for the Carlebach children.

At the age of 18 Joseph went to Berlin to study Torah at the rabbinical seminary founded by Rabbi Dr. Ezriel Hildesheimer. Simultaneously he attended the University of Berlin, where his studies focused on mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy and philosophy.

While at the university, Joseph came into close contact with the world-famous physicist Max von Planck, in whose laboratory he worked, as well as with the (then well-known) astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Foerster and Wilhelm Dilthey, a respected historian, psychologist, sociologist and philosopher.

Joseph also somehow found time to be an instructor at the religious school of Adas Yisroel Congregation.

Despite his extensive secular studies, Joseph never failed to devote several hours each day to Torah study. The Jewish community of Berlin was blessed with many unique men who left an indelible impression on young Joseph, among them such Torah luminaries as Rabbis David Tzvi Hoffman, Joseph Wohlgemuth, Jacob Barth and Ezra Munk.

Jerusalem Years

Joseph passed his state examination in March 1905, graduating summa cum laude. He was now qualified for a high school teacher’s diploma in mathematics and natural sciences.

Ephraim Cohn, principal of the Laemel Teachers’ Seminary of Jerusalem, happened to be in Berlin when Joseph received his diploma. He had come to hire an instructor in mathematics and natural sciences for his institution, and an Orthodox young man, with a diploma from Berlin University in these subjects, was exactly what he needed. He offered Joseph the position.

Joseph had some qualms about accepting the job, since Jerusalem at the time was embroiled in a battle regarding the teaching of secular subjects in Jewish schools. Indeed, a ban had been signed by many of the most prominent Jerusalem rabbonim forbidding anyone from teaching secular subjects in Jewish schools. Those who did risked being put in cherem.

Joseph turned to his father for advice. After consulting with a number of Torah authorities, his father sent him a letter urging him to go. In addition, the faculty of the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary unanimously encouraged him to accept this position.

Thus it was mathematics and science that brought Joseph to Jerusalem in 1905 at the age of 22. The time he spent there was to shape his entire outlook and give his worldview a new horizon.

During his three-year stay in Jerusalem, Joseph was befriended by the chief rabbi, Rav Shmuel Salant, who made Joseph feel welcome both at his shiurim and in his home. Interestingly enough, Rav Salant was one of the signers of the secular studies ban, but he apparently put that aside when it came to his relationship with Joseph.

Joseph met a number of other distinguished rabbis, among them Rav Avraham Yitzchok Kook, who in 1921 would become the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine.

While in Eretz Yisrael, Joseph acquired a good working knowledge of both Hebrew and Yiddish.

The students at the Laemel School soon realized their instructor was a man of unusual talents and methods. In addition to his dynamic classroom presentations, he would take his students for excursions around the environs of Jerusalem. They soon discovered he knew the name of every star in the sky and every plant and shrub on earth.

He knew the hiding places of the animals and would show his students how they lived and fed. He would explain how clouds were formed and he even forecast the weather. When they came upon a historic site, he would dramatize the events that had occurred there.

Furthermore, while walking he had the boys sing songs praising God for the beauty of this world and His abundance.

In 1908, when the time came for Joseph to return home to Germany, the most prominent rabbonim of Jerusalem expressed their deep appreciation for his work with their youth. Indeed, Rav Salant tried to persuade him to marry while he was in Germany and then return to Eretz Yisrael.

Back to Berlin

Shortly after returning to Berlin, Joseph was hired as an instructor for mathematics and the natural sciences at the prestigious (secular) Margareten High School for Girls. His selection for the position was a testament to his qualifications – no Jew had ever held such a post at the school, and Joseph was of course an Orthodox Jew who would be absent from classes on Shabbosim and Jewish holidays.

At the same time he assumed his former position as a rebbe in the Adas Yisroel School and also attended the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary. This was not enough, however, to fill the time of the industrious young man, so, from 1908 to 1910 he worked as well on his doctoral dissertation. His thesis focused on the scientific and mathematical achievements of Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (1288-1344), known as the Ralbag or Gersonides.

In 1919 Joseph married Lotte Preuss, the oldest daughter of Dr. Yitzchok (Julius) Preuss, a physician and scholar of history and Hebrew literature. Dr. Preuss’s Biblical and Talmudical Medicine was an encyclopedic work that reviewed every medical reference in Tanach, the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, the Midrash, and ancillary works.

During this period Joseph received semicha from Rabbi Dr. David Hoffmann, rector of the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary and author of halachic responsa Melamed Leho’il as well as a number of commentaries refuting the criticisms of those who questioned the historicity of the Torah.

Joseph was now known as Rabbiner Doktor Yosef Carlebach.

Rabbi and Innovative Educator

World War I began in 1914. Serving in the German army, Rav Carlebach was charged by the German Occupation Authority in Lithuania with organizing a secondary school system. After consultations with some of Lithuania’s foremost Torah scholars and with their agreement, he founded a high school based on the principles of Torah im Derech Eretz (TIDE) that featured both Torah and secular studies in the curriculum.

The language of instruction in the Carlebach Gymnasium in Kovno (as this high school came to be known) was not Yiddish or German but modern Hebrew. Within three years the separate boys and girls schools had a combined enrollment of almost a thousand students. Two other TIDE high schools were established in Telshe and Ponevezh within a short time.

(TIDE elementary schools were also set up throughout Lithuania where they were known as Yavneh schools.)

When Rabbi Dr. Salomon Carlebach of Luebeck passed away suddenly in early 1919, Rav Yoseph was offered his father’s position. He did not know what to do in light of the fact that many of the leading rabbis of Lithuania were urging him to continue his work there. His mother pleaded with him to return to Luebeck, and her own sudden passing not long after his father’s death clinched his decision. He became the rav of the city of his birth.

In order to raise the level of Torah study in his hometown, Rav Yosef convinced Rabbi Shmuel Joseph Rabinow to settle in Luebeck. Rabbi Rabinow was an outstanding young talmid chacham who had studied at the famed Slabodka Yeshiva in Kovno. These two rabbonim laid the foundations for an advanced yeshiva in Luebeck that eventually attracted a number of outstanding students.

(When Rav Carlebach moved some years later to Hamburg to become the city’s chief rabbi, both the yeshiva and Rabbi Rabinow also relocated there.)

Final Years in Hamburg

In 1922 Rav Yoseph was offered the position of director of Hamburg’s Talmud Torah Real Gymnasium. This school had been started in 1805 by Rabbi Mendel Frankfurter, a grandfather of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.

Here Rav Joseph’s full talents as a forward-thinking educator and administrator shone. Hebrew language and grammar were introduced as major subjects, as well as Hebrew literature, with special emphasis on the medieval poets and philosophers. New physics and chemistry laboratories were built. He himself gave a course in the history of the fine arts to the students in the highest grade. He was also concerned with the physical fitness of his students and made participation in swimming and outdoor sports compulsory.

One of his boldest innovations was the one- or two-week excursion to distant parts of the country. Day outings had been part of the school curriculum in the past, but Rav Carlebach took this idea to new heights. On these trips students visited museums and historical sites and were introduced to the geological and biological characteristics of the countryside.

Furthermore, each day on these excursions started and ended with physical exercise. If there was a river nearby, the day began and ended with a swim.

His students enjoyed his classes to the extent that one former student recalled, “We used to turn the clock back ten or fifteen minutes so that his classes would last longer!”

In 1926 Rav Carlebach became chief rabbi of Altona, one of Germany’s oldest and most venerated kehillos. It was here that his extraordinary oratorical powers became known to thousands. In fact, he soon acquired the reputation of being the foremost rabbinical orator in all of Germany.

Blessed with a strong, clear voice, he incorporated his many artistic talents into his delivery. His fluent use of words was enhanced by a style of delivery that employed appropriate arm, hand, and body movements coupled with relevant facial expressions.

He never, however, misused his talents for cheap or demagogic oratory, nor did he ever give an interpretation of a biblical or Talmudic text that was either forced or artificial. He had the rare ability to speak in a manner that enlightened both learned scholars and ordinary congregants. His sermons were always a stirring experience for those who heard them, and his remarks were often the main topic of conversation on Shabbosafternoons.

Rav Carlebach also somehow found the time to publish hundreds of scholarly articles on a myriad of subjects from rabbinics to mathematics, the humanities and the arts.

On April 4, 1936 Rav Carlebach became chief rabbi of the Synagoge-Verband (Synagogue Association), in the Bornplatz Synagogue. Fourteen other rabbis, more than two hundred guests of honor, and 1,500 others attended his installation ceremony.

Despite the growing threats to Jewish life from the Nazis, Rav Carlebach refused to abandon his flock even when he had several opportunities to do so. A contemporary (name unknown) of Dr. Carlebach’s described his role as chief rabbi of Hamburg:

His sermons were masterpieces of diplomacy and wisdom in the face of the increasing focus of the Gestapo. The Gestapo had frequently attended the synagogue over the years. Those who were attentive enough heard with admiration, and also often with fear, how he castigated the current situation, without provoking intervention by the Gestapo. . . .

When numerous community members were arrested in connection with the Pogrom Night of 9/10 November 1938, he asked to share their fate. The Gestapo refused as there was no order to arrest him.

The years 1936 to his deportation to Riga on December 6, 1941 became legendary. The Nazi persecution of the Jews made the Jewish community into one large family, with Dr. Joseph Carlebach as its “pater familias.” He was its courageous spokesman and its tireless religious leader: he visited civil service departments, prisons, concentration camps, and hospitals, always in danger of being insulted and thrown out, but never lost the least of his dignity.

As for Rav Carlebach’s last days, the less said the better. Far preferable to remember his brilliance and praise his achievements than to dwell on his martyrdom. Suffice it to say that on March 26, 1942, Rav Carlebach, his wife Lotte, and their three youngest daughters were murdered by the Nazis.

May his memory long be remembered.

(Rav Carlebach’s older children had been part of a Kindertransport to England before the family’s deportation. His youngest son, Rav Shlomo, the author of Ish Yehudi, survived after spending four years in various concentration camps.)

Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. His regular feature, Glimpses Into American Jewish History, appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

Title: Minhagei Lita: Customs of Lithuanian Jewry

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Title: Minhagei Lita: Customs of Lithuanian Jewry

Author: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Poliakoff

 

 

“We should practice Judaism just as they did in Europe” is a sentiment one is likely to hear in haredi and yeshivish communities. “We shouldn’t act any differently just because we’re in America.”

 

            And yet, according to a recently published book by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Poliakoff – a nonagenarian Baltimore rabbi who studied in Lithuania’s Telshe yeshiva for eight years in the 1930s – yeshivish batei midrash and communities constantly and consistently deviate from pre-war European tradition.

 

For instance, on page 63 of Minhagei Lita: Customs of Lithuanian Jewry, Rabbi Poliakoff writes, “No one in Lithuania wore his tzitzis hanging out as people do today – not even the Rabbonim, not even in Radin.” A few pages earlier, he claims, “the term ‘glatt kosher’ did not even exist in Lithuania. Meat was either kosher or non-kosher, which, of course, is the correct approach.”

 

The annihilation and displacement of Lithuanian Jewry during World War II, writes Rabbi Poliakoff, essentially ruptured the natural chain of parental and communal tradition, or mesorah, by which Jews historically derived their behavior and mores. And in the “absence of established tradition, the Rabbis turned to the Mishnah Berurah as their guide on the assumption the Chafetz Chaim’s decisions were in accord with the generally-accepted Lithuanian customs. Unfortunately, this is not so.”

 

Among other common contemporary customs that Rabbi Poliakoff attacks are: repeating the word “zeicher” in Parshas Zachor (“in the Telshe Yeshiva or anywhere else in Lithuania they did not repeat it”); holding upsherns (“[it’s] absolutely a violation of halachah, as it is chukos hagoyim and should be discontinued”); collecting tzedakah during davening (“this utter distraction [is] even more unpardonable when these people pose as pious scholars, while disturbing peoples’ prayer”); and starting Kaddish by saying “Yisgadeil v’yiskadeish” instead of “Yisgadal v’yiskadash” in accordance with the Vilna Gaon’s opinion (“no one in Lithuania – not even in Vilna – accepted this innovation”).

 

Rabbi Poliakoff particularly detests people “parading piety.” He writes: “One of the few survivors of Kelm sadly remarked to me some forty years ago, ‘You are a Lithuanian Jew – you call this Yiddishkeit? Where is the admonition of the Prophets to walk humbly with G-d?’ He was right.”

 

With this story in mind, it should come as no surprise that Rabbi Poliakoff derides the “chumrah culture” as well, arguing that “the Sages frowned upon following unusually rigorous practices unless they are in character with the one performing them – and even then only if they did not adversely affect others.” Therefore, for example, he argues that the practice of eating glatt kosher exclusively is wrong, not only because it deviates from Lithuanian practice, but also because it violates the principles of “avoiding excessive strictness” and “imposing needless expenses upon the community.”

 

All this criticism may sound a bit much, and indeed surprising, coming from a Telshe alumnus. One perhaps would expect such condemnation from a Yeshiva University professor, not a rabbi with a black hat and white beard. However, Rabbi Poliakoff’s take-no-prisoner attitude proceeds directly from his stated purpose in writing Minhagei Lita: preserving Lithuanian customs as he remembers them.

 

And so, aside from “hot-button” issues, Rabbi Poliakoff also spends tens of pages recording the Lithuanian nusach hatefillah, bemoaning that so few today remember the proper tunes for the different parts of davening – especially on such occasions as Shabbos Chol HaMoed and Shabbos Rosh Chodesh.

 

The biggest surprise of this slim book comes in the last 25 pages, where Rabbi Poliakoff addresses – based on the principle of “the Torah’s ways are pleasant,” which he says characterized the Lithuanian approach to halacha – the longstanding agunah problem and complaints regarding the second day of Yom Tov, which Jews outside Israel celebrate.

 

Both of Rabbi Poliakoff’s suggestions are broad in scope – annul marriages when necessary, abrogate the second day on Yom Tov entirely – but skimpy on the details. And despite Rabbi Poliakoff’s caveat that only a central or main beis din supported by the world’s greatest rabbis can implement his suggestions, many readers will likely raise their eyebrows when reading this rather radical section, which has echoes of Rabbi Emanuel Rackman’s controversial beis din and the Reform movement’s 19th-century innovations.

 

Nonetheless, at 116 pages, Minhagei Lita is a pleasure to read. Engaging and informative, the book offers a unique view of Lithuanian Judaism through the eyes of one of the few remaining people alive who experienced it firsthand.

 

To order “Minhagei Lita” call 410-358-5557. 

One For The Books

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

He’s not Jewish, he’s not Lithuanian and he’s not a librarian, but Wyman Brent, an American from San Diego, is building a Jewish library in Vilna. The library is the melding of Brent’s three loves – books, Lithuania and Jewish culture. It’s sort of the culmination of an odyssey, which has taken him to various parts of the world and through many periods in history.

Hopefully, the library will open its doors in a couple of months, but its official opening is scheduled for October 1, 2009, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Vilna Gaon Museum, which is donating the space.

The 46-year-old self-appointed librarian first came to Lithuania in 1994. “I felt at home. It felt like the place where I belonged.” He had come to Russia to see the country and had read a book called The Hills of Vilnius (Alfonsas Bieliauskas and M. Ryley). So he came to see the city, which was described so beautifully in the book.

Brent isn’t Jewish and to his knowledge, there are no Jews in his centuries-old family tree. What began as a fascination with WWII and the Holocaust led to his traveling to Europe and visiting places of Jewish culture. On a 1993 visit to Prague, he was struck by the contrast between an exhibition of drawings by children from the concentration camps who had been killed, and that of the Jewish cemetery outside where he saw a rabbi walking with his students. And Wyman thought, “It’s wonderful that Judaism is still so very much alive.”

 

 

Wyman Brent on Casimir Street in Vilnius, a several-minute walk from Pylimo 4, which is the address of the Vilnius Jewish Library, and the Vilna Gaon Museum housed in the same building.

 

Of the 600,000 people living in Vilna today only about 4,000 are Jewish. Brent wants to build the library not only for the Jews of Vilna but also for everyone. Vilna already has a Jewish library. It’s small, well hidden and unused, according to Brent. He is very upset because the Turto Bankas is planning to sell off the former Vilna Ghetto Library this April 8, 2009, at 9:00 a.m.  “I am absolutely sickened by the thought that this bank will be allowed to sell off what does not legally, ethically or morally belong to it.”

His goal, he says, is to promote tolerance and understanding, an idealistic view he has held since he was a young child. He is also familiarizing himself with the Jewish religion and culture by attending synagogue services and hanging out at the JCC, which is also supporting his project. He doesn’t speak Hebrew yet, nor Lithuanian, for that matter. “I love to read but I hate to study,” he quips dryly.

 

 

Wyman Brent visiting with Joseph Levinson, a Shoah survivor who is signing his books for the library. Joseph is editor of Book of Sorrow, which is composed of photos of sites where Jews were killed in Lithuania. He also edited and wrote part of Holocaust in Lithuania.

 

To date, Wyman has a stock of 4,500 books, 60 CDs and 100 DVDs mostly purchased from his own funds. He estimates that he has already invested over $20,000 to buy and ship books. And he is beginning to feel the burden. He works nights at a youth hostel where he currently lives, and devotes his days to setting up the library. 

Brent has a rather broad definition of a “Jewish book.” As long as it was written by a Jew (he doesn’t check their tzitzit), the book is welcome.

 

 

Wyman Brent with Rachel Kostanian, Deputy Director of the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum. Photo taken in the Vilnius Jewish Culture and Information Center.

 

 

“I have the greatest respect for Jewish history and culture, but if I just stock books relating to history, religion and culture in the library, the fact of the matter is, that only scholars and a handful of people will be reading them.” Brent wants everyone in Vilna and even visitors from around the world to come to enjoy his library. His goal is 100,000 books – and his collection, so far, features books in math, science, humor, sports, and medicine – all in English. “It’s a popular language in Vilna.”                            

 

“Although the museum is providing space and paying for a computer, which is great – I’m struggling financially.” Brent is hoping someone will offer him a grant or a stipend to help him pursue his dream of building his bibliotheca. “I’ve always loved libraries, thanks to my parents,” he says. He volunteered for many years at the library in San Diego.

 

 

Wyman Brent with Israeli Ambassador Chen Ivri – photo made last year at ceremony honoring Righteous Gentiles.

 

Brent’s plans for the library include a multi-media center and nightly activities featuring poetry readings, art exhibitions and concerts. “If things go well, I would like to stay here forever, and run the library.”

If you want to take a page from Wyman’s book and contribute to the library, he can be reached by email at: vilniusjewishlibrary@yahoo.com, or by phone at 370 5 2625357.

Books can be sent to him at: Wyman Brent, Ausros Vartu 20-15A, Vilnius LT-02100,Lithuania.

The Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum is located at: Pylimo 4 Vilnius (Vilna) Lithuania.

Should We Feel Guilty For Enjoying Holocaust Art?

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008


Supporting Evidence


July 12-October 26, 2008


Florida Holocaust Museum


55 5th Street South, St. Petersburg, Florida


www.flholocaustmuseum.org/


 


Unwanted Beauty: Aesthetic Pleasure in Holocaust Representation


By Brett Ashley Kaplan


University of Illinois Press, 2007, 240 pages, $35


 


 


Some of history’s greatest paintings have explored tragedy, from Francisco Goya’s “Saturn Devouring his Son” and etching series on “The Disasters of War” to Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” to John Singer Sargent’s “Gassed.” Claude Monet, hailed as the father of Impressionism, is generally associated with pastel colors and sunlight, but one of his most gripping paintings is of his late wife, “Camille Monet, on Her Deathbed.”

 

Some would accuse Monet of callousness for painting his dead wife and for somehow managing the concentration to mix colors, and to paint while his wife’s body was still warm. But however uncomfortable this makes us feel, Monet painted just one corpse. What if he had tried instead to depict six million?

 

Many have wondered whether it is appropriate for artists – and particularly artists who did not witness the concentration camps – to represent the Holocaust. These claims tend to center on some form of the argument that the Holocaust is non-representable, so artists need not even try – for fear of failure or irreverence. Worse yet, a successful Holocaust painting would not only carry the Holocaust as its content; it would also be aesthetically beautiful. Surely beauty does not apply in the least to World War II, so it must find no haven in art about the Holocaust.

 

 


Detail. “Wooden Synagogue Story II.” 26″ x 37″, mixed media on lupa paper. Courtesy: Joyce Ellen Weinstein.

 

 

Such is the dilemma that Brett Ashley Kaplan grapples with in her book, Unwanted Beauty. “I have been struck repeatedly by the fact that much prose, poetry, visual art, and architecture representing the Holocaust is beautiful, even though remaining mournful,” writes Kaplan in the introduction. She admits that this attraction and “illicit pleasure” sounds “counter-intuitive,” yet “because they are beautiful, these works entice our reflection, our attention, and our questioning.”

 

The viewer, it seems, can see a painting – even one that depicts genocide – as beautiful, insofar as she or he manages to intellectually appreciate the layers of meaning in the work. “In contrast to some notions of beauty as merely pretty or attractive, I use beauty to designate texts that offer ambiguous, diverse, complicated, open-ended reflections on the Holocaust,” Kaplan explains. According to this definition of beauty, even evil can be beautiful – so long as it is deep. Evil might even be directly proportional to beauty – the greater the evil, the more potential for beauty.

 

 



“Kovno Ghetto.” 22″ x 30″, watercolor/photo collage, mixed media on paper. Courtesy: Joyce Ellen Weinstein.


 

 

Kaplan’s book does not mention Washington, DC-based artist Joyce Ellen Weinstein, but it still proves an invaluable model for contextualizing and analyzing Weinstein’s work. Weinstein, whose Holocaust paintings and collages will be on exhibit next month at the Florida Holocaust Museum, readily admits she intends to create beautiful works despite the gruesome content, which surfaces in the form of illegible writing – as in “Wooden Synagogue Story II.”

 

The title refers to the once numerous European wooden synagogues created between the 17th and early 20th centuries. Today only 23 remain, according to Weinstein, who has visited many of the remaining synagogues, especially the eight that still stand in Lithuania. She was particularly fascinated by the “many layers of history” she found in the synagogues. They stand in remote villages, looking more like barns than places of worship, and in a hidden cemetery abandoned during the Holocaust and the subsequent Soviet occupation.

 

Layered over the painting (which includes a collage of elements from the synagogue), Weinstein wrote out her memories of the synagogue. If the writing looks sloppy it is not the quality of the photograph, for Weinstein wrote the text twice – one on top of the other. “It is my contention that no matter how we try to understand history and human behavior, it is impossible, since so much is left to interpretation and misunderstanding in communication,” she explains of the unreadable text. “Also it is always a mystery to me how history constantly repeats itself, albeit in different forms, because humans never seem to learn anything regardless of how much is written. All writing and interpretation is important, but relatively useless and often confusing.”

 

 



Joyce Ellen Weinstein poses in her studio. Photograph: Menachem Wecker.


 

 

This sort of writing – which carries form and content, but not lasting meaning – resembles the daily exercise of retired calligraphers outside the Summer Palace in Beijing. Even after retirement the calligraphers continue practicing their craft but, instead of deploying ink on paper, they write with water on the sidewalk. The “writing” quickly evaporates in the sun, but the act seems to be more about the act of writing than it is about communicating.

 

The same can be said about Weinstein’s texts. She explains that her works are “personal interpretations” and “sometimes conceptual,” and not literal. “I am very careful not to imply that I or any member of my family was caught up in the horror,” she says. “Although I am interested in learning about it, it is from a distance, a modern American woman searching for the past.” This distance can potentially create problems, as it did for Weinstein. In the beginning her work was “extremely sincere,” and she was “deeply immersed in the feeling of it.” But then the paintings started to become rote, so she had to stop making them. “I needed it to be totally honest,” she says. “I think there is a lot of exploitive art being done about the Holocaust.”

 

Weinstein sensed the importance of perspective traveling in Prague. She became so aware of being a tourist that she decided to stamp her pieces with a frame evocative of a camera viewer. Even as she admits she is not a survivor, Weinstein is a “Holocaust tourist” – an outsider whose every view is framed by the boundary of the lens.

 

 



“Old Wooden Synagogue in Lithuania.” Digital Photograph. Courtesy: Joyce Ellen Weinstein.


 

 

The camera viewfinder and the illegible writing-atop-writing are two techniques that Weinstein uses to situate herself within a larger historical context, which she says is sadly ignored today. Noting that older and mature artists have always chastised the younger generation for losing a sense of history, she nonetheless maintains that many young artists today are seduced by technology and pop culture, which causes them to lose their sense of art history.

 

“I believe that the foundations of art, like drawing skills, are essential to producing good art even if the artists are doing totally conceptual or totally formal work – because without drawing, for example, one loses the profound sense of observation and awareness of the world around them,” she says.

 

Without her sense of history, Joyce Ellen Weinstein’s art would just be the disoriented and selective musings of an outsider. But a tourist like Weinstein, who has done her homework and approaches her travels with a sense of history and research, can turn a disadvantage into a great strength. Precisely because she is an outsider, Weinstein is able to infuse her Holocaust paintings with beauty, and it is that blend of beauty and horror, of life and death, of light and shadow, that allows her to communicate with other tourists.

 

For more on Joyce Ellen Weinstein’s work, visit www.joyceellenweinstein.com.

 

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

Title: Scattered Blossoms

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Title: Scattered Blossoms


Author: Gita Gordon


Publisher: Hamodia Publishing


 


 


         Gita Gordon’s well-structured, interesting historic fiction contains the building blocks of a decent society. Her diverse characters include spouses who don’t treat each other as disposable commodities and her books feature marriages that are regarded as permanent commitments, not temporary situations.

 

         The heroes and heroines of the author’s books are creative, considerate and honest throughout their ordeals and victories.

 

         South African Journeys is one sterling example of the author’s writing style. Scattered Blossoms is Gita Gordon’s newest work, and follows in the same tradition.

 

         A realistic tale of betrayal, foolishness, Scattered Blossoms is about four 16-year-old young women whose friendship expresses itself in marvelous ways for the seven decades of the tale. Their carefully considered actions and even tempers ultimately help them salvage good from bad.

 

         The story begins as the foursome, on the brink of adulthood, rejoices at their final reunion in Lithuania before marrying. After naively departing their picnic site beneath a blooming cherry tree shedding flowers in their hair, the girls and their distinct personalities are pitted against the backdrops of the first and second world wars. South Africa, England, Canada and war-torn Lithuania are then experienced by the reader as much as by the story’s characters during a journey of immigrant Jewish minds and bodies.

 

         Relationships and catastrophes in this riveting tale are proving grounds for how thoughtful, well-timed behavior can result in richly rewarding lives for all concerned. The list of challenges are familiar and believable: a deceitful shidduch made between an unsuspecting bat Torah and a foolish young man; Jews who resist acknowledging the obvious advent of the Holocaust; opportunists preying on bedraggled Jews leaving post-Shoah detention camps; and culture shocks for reluctant immigrants.

 

         Generation gaps between European parents and their English-speaking offspring round out the emotional roller-coasters in Scattered Blossoms. But educational surprises are in store for readers savoring the cinematic qualities of this dramatic manuscript.

 

         The book’s disparate characters and familiar historical figures are compelling throughout this fictional tale. Genuine friendship and its life-altering rewards are exemplified on its pages.

 

         Outstanding models of good character with an enduring love of Torah, the heroic quartet of friends meet challenges with each other’s help.

 

         Half the foursome make their lives in Canada’s to-be tamed prairie, proving to skeptical husbands and others that the impossible dream of becoming Jewish farmers can be achieved with love, devotion and good sense.

 

         The third friend in South Africa proves the invaluable worth of tact and enduring love as she enables her friends in Canada and Europe to survive and thrive against great odds. And the fourth friend records the last days of pre-Holocaust Europe, portraying the innocent but tragic denial tactics of many of Hitler’s intended victims.

 

         Find out why your great-grandparents are relevant to modern life. Get copies of this book for school and community center libraries. It’s excellent.

Gilded Lions And Jeweled Horses: Woodcarving From The Synagogue To The Carousel

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses: The Synagogue to the Carousel


American Folk Art Museum


45 West 53rd Street


New York, N.Y. 10019


212-265-1040


www.folkartmuseum.org


Tuesday – Sunday: 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Closed Monday


Admission $9; Students and Seniors, $7; Children under 12, Free


Exhibit Runs Until March 23, 2008


 


 


         Much like the Jewish people themselves, the legacy of Jewish Art has miraculously survived seemingly endless assaults over the past two centuries. In Eastern Europe, the forces of assimilation, cultural denial, and the Holocaust have worked to destroy a vast portion of our cultural birthright. Countless synagogues, along with their prized carved arks, decorated walls, illuminated manuscripts, books, Judaica, and folk art creations have been abandoned and left to decay as traditional communities have withered and died. Those who hate us have purposefully destroyed other synagogues outright.

 

         Nonetheless, a remnant of this precious legacy has endured, and one of the best examples of its glory is currently on view at the American Folk Art Museum. Both the exhibit, “Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses: The Synagogue to the Carousel,” and the brilliant catalogue are musts for all who cherish our cultural heritage.

 

         Aside from pure artistic pride, we discover another historical gem in this exhibition: the echoes of fantastic 17th century Baroque art as filtered through a Jewish consciousness embedded in woodcarving, stone-cutting, and papercuts. The exhibition charts the art of Jewish craftsmen as they worked in stone, paper, and wood from their origins in Eastern Europe to their subsequent work in American synagogues and the surprising role they played in the burgeoning carousel industry in the early 20th century.

 

         “Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses” is divided into five chronological sections, starting with photographs and exacting models of Polish, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian wooden synagogues. This introduction sets a tone of architectural and visual opulence more common to 17th and 18th century Baroque Italian churches than our subdued and austere concept of synagogue architecture and interiors. What we forget (and these photographs confirm) is that the excitement and passion of the Baroque-emblematic of the Counter Reformation assault against the Protestant heresy-became a universal visual language for all of Europe, including the Jews, in the early years of the 17th century. While the Renaissance stressed balance and harmony, the Baroque style was exuberant, dramatic, and emotional, reveling in fantastic animals and symbols that expressed a fervent religious experience.

 

 



Ark of the Synagogue in Olkienniki, Lithuania (18th century);


Photo courtesy Polska Akademia Nauk, Instytut Sztuki, Warsaw


 

 

         The salient features of these synagogues were the lavishly painted and decorated interiors and the elaborately carved wooden arks. From these surviving photographs we can make out but a few examples of a flourishing art form: ornately detailed floral designs interspersed with zodiac signs and panels of textural quotes (Chodorow, Ukraine) and a wonderful painted menagerie of winged lions, eagles, and fantastic beasts (Grojec, Poland) that adorn the sacred interiors.

 

         The 18th century Torah ark seen from Olkienniki, Lithuania is a masterpiece of iconography, intricately carved and crowned with a double-headed eagle (representing temporal and celestial power) grasping a shofar and lulav bundle. Below is the ubiquitous blessing of priestly hands that hover over a crowned set of Tablets of the Law flanked by carved griffins, unicorns, and other mythical animals.

 

         Even closer to the viewer is a depiction of the Ouroburos, a serpent swallowing its own tail which represents the Leviathan, emblematic of renewal, eternity, redemption and the source of nourishment in the messianic world to come. Arks like these were often over 30 feet tall and were Baroque masterpieces of wood carving that substituted squirming beasts and vine-like flowers for the flying angels so common in many churches. Of the hundreds of similar wooden synagogues, almost all were destroyed in the Holocaust. All that is left are a dozen or so photographs, many of which can be seen here.

 

         The next section of photographs is of carved gravestones from Eastern Europe, continuing the rich iconography in a decidedly more primitive form. The four animals from Pirke Avot 5:23, “be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer and strong as a lion to do the will of your Father in heaven,” are still in evidence, as are the messianic imagery of the Ouroburos and the ever present lions that guard the precious Torah.

 

         The difference is that almost all the renderings in stone are considerably more iconic than the pliable wooden arks. These rich and inventive stone-carved images are trapped in an unforgiving medium. Only the inherent durability of stone and pure chance has allowed many of these tombstones to survive the ravages of time and war.

 

         Papercuts are ultimately the most surprising aspect of this exhibition, which presents 32 brilliant masterpieces in a tour de force of folk art skill. Their creativity and diversity are breathtaking, and the impressive showing amounts to a world-class introduction to this uniquely Jewish art form. Starting in the 19th century, when paper became relatively inexpensive, this delicate and demanding art was practiced primarily by young boys and men. The paper was folded, cut according to an exacting design, and then laid on solid colored background to enhance the image. Some, if not all, of the paper was ornamented with ink and watercolor to create a rich, delicate, and multilayered symmetrical image. Almost half of the papercuts shown here are American, the rest from Eastern Europe. The subjects range from omer calendar, zodiac, sukkah decoration, mizrach (the majority of examples containing the phrase mi tzad ruach chayim, “from [the East] comes the breath of life”), amulets, shiviti, yarhzeit, family memorials and an eruv tavshilin. The richness and complexity of the imagery is breathtaking, one example more stunning than the next. The very nature of the detailed and painstaking medium becomes the message of an intense visual universe brimming with symbols and shared meaning.

 

 



Mizrah by Natan Moshe Brilliant, Lithuania 1877;


Ink, paint and collage; The Gross Family Collection, Tel Aviv;


Photo by Vladimir Naikhin, Jerusalem


 

 

         One especially unusual example of a mizrach is by Natan Moshe Brilliant from Lithuania (1877). It manages to combine not only cut and painted elements but also collages from printed sources, thereby weaving a symbolic and complex narrative. Starting at the bottom, Moshe and Aaron flank a menorah within an evocative architectural space supporting a register of zodiac images that in turn are the foundation for depictions of David playing the harp, Abraham slaughtering the ram, Moses removing his shoes at the Burning Bush and finally, a poetic rendering of Noah and the ark. And this only scratches the surface of the iconographic treasure house that is contained in this large papercut masterpiece.

 

         Just as with the tombstone carvings, the difficulty of the medium itself tends to limit the depth of content available to the craftsman. Complexity made up of stock symbols can only take artistic expression so far. The greater flowering of artistic expression is found in the Torah ark woodcarvings in the next section of the exhibit.

 

         This selection of 32 rampant lions, some with luchos (Decalogue), is the most exciting visual and artistic aspect of “Synagogue to Carousel.” While two actual arks are shown (one from Nova Scotia, Canada and the other from Chelsea, Massachusetts), all the rest of these works are extremely evocative fragments of carved wood arks, the ever-present lions flanking a depiction of the frequently crowned Ten Commandments.

 

         As we see the examples of Torah arks made in America, we recognize that the Baroque elements have been sharply reduced to only a few elements- peripheral ornamentation and the depictions of the rampant lions. From their profiles, the lions look like standardized ferocious beasts. But once they face us a wonderful transformation takes place. The animal face takes on more and more human qualities, rendering the symbolic guardians of the Torah considerably more complex and nuanced. It is here that the artistic genius and genuine passion of these mostly anonymous craftsmen soars.

 

         Three sets of lions on one wall offer instructive distinctions. One, from Newport, Kentucky, presents solemn, Egyptian-style animals; another pair from Kansas City, Missouri, bellows a hysterical unhinged growl with tongues protruding, and finally, a Midwestern pair guards with a set of profiles reminiscent of Chinese images-blood-red eyes, mouth and claws. The diversity of images seems to represent the individuality of both the artist and the congregation in interpreting what guarding the Torah might mean.

 

 



Ark Pediment, artist unknown, Lower East Side;


Collection of Rabbi David A. Whiman;


Photo by August Bandal, New York


 

 

         Three pairs of lions (possibly created by the same artist) and salvaged from New York’s Lower East Side, seem gleeful in their defense of the holy luchos. Another set of rampant lion faces (also from the Lower East Side) remind one of the terribly serious and fearsome elders of those venerable congregations, weathered faces that betray the trials and tribulations these immigrant Jews endured. What comes to mind perusing these sculptures is that each represents a destroyed Torah ark and an abandoned congregation. These are the surviving fragments of the decimation of American Jewish life; their beauty and diversity are the tragic evidence of how much has been lost.

 

         The artisans who labored on the American Torah arks were immigrants from Eastern Europe who had practiced the same skills back in Europe. But once here in America they began to diversify by necessity, many using their skills in furniture, cabinetmaking, woodworking, and carpentry. When they could, they continued in creating Torah arks.  One such artisan was the legendary Samuel Katz from the Ukraine. He arrived in America in 1907 and by 1913 had moved to the Boston area. During the 1920’s and 1930’s he carved at least 23 Torah arks, making him the “most prolific identified ark builder in America.” But not all such artisans were as successful.

 

         America at the turn of the 20th century was a land of opportunity, and the combination of an immigrant urban population, mass transit and the greatest amusement park in the United States, Coney Island, opened doors for Jewish craftsmen to work in what was a booming industry: the carving of horses and other animals for carousels and other amusements. As this exhibition shows, four Jewish carvers, Marcus Charles Illions (whom we know did synagogue carving), Charles Carmel, and the team of Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein, brought to perfection what became known as the Coney Island Style of animal carving. It is characterized by its flamboyant and expressive details and poses of the horses. Manes fly in the air, and horses toss their heads, stomp their hoofs and snort in unbridled passion.

 

 



Standing Horse with Raised Head by Charles Carmel, Coney Island, c.1910;


The Charlotte Dinger Collection; Photo by August Bandal, New York


 

 

         From the examples we have here these artists had clearly different styles. Illions’ animals tended to have a fluid Baroque quality, combining a forceful naturalism with drama. In contrast, Stein and Goldstein (they were a partnership) tended toward a more restrained and medieval image. Finally Carmel, while fluent in more than one style as they all were, seemed to favor the brute passion of a barely tamed beast characterized by an open mouth, lolling tongue, and terrified eyes. It is in his works most of all that the Baroque heritage surfaces in its secular manifestation and is most deeply felt.

 

         The history of the American synagogue since mid-century has been tragic, many, many abandoned and destroyed along with the precious art they contained. So too, the great centers of carousel and amusement park carving, abandoned or updated to machine-made imitations. The guest curator of this exhibition, Murray Zimiles, researched and documented this vast project for the last 20 years, tirelessly collecting material and connections from Europe, America, and Israel. Stacy C. Hollander, the American Folk Art Museum senior curator, coordinated with Zimiles and made this exhibition possible. Together they have managed to “return to the Jewish people, and to world culture, an awareness of and appreciation for a visual tradition of great beauty, vitality, symbolic richness, and decorative complexity that flourished over a period of several centuries in Central and Eastern Europe and flourished briefly in the New World where it underwent a remarkable transformation and secularization.”

 

         The remnants we see here are indicative of what we as a people are capable of creating. We only have to believe in our skills and insights as Jewish artists to allow our art to bloom once again. It is this realization that makes “Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses” such an inspirational exhibition.

 

         Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at  rmcbee@nyc.rr.com

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/gilded-lions-and-jeweled-horses-woodcarving-from-the-synagogue-to-the-carousel/2007/11/28/

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