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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Eliezer’

Responding To Wake-Up Calls: What Must We Do?

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

For the past few weeks I’ve been discussing the crises facing our people. I’ve been asked by many of our readers the question that should challenge all of us: What are we to do?

Before I offer specific answers however, it is important to fully understand the urgency of the moment so those who are ambivalent will also comprehend, respond, and thus secure blessing for all our people.

The crises we are encountering today can be seen on a national and personal level. There is a nation on the world scene that openly declares its intention to orchestrate another Holocaust, Hashem Yeracheim, may G-d have mercy. Some will argue that Ahmadinejad is just a madman and that the people with him are equally mad. I agree, but madmen, mad people, must be taken seriously, for they are mad enough to implement their evil. I know; I experienced it first hand in Hitler’s concentration camps.

As Jews, we must be keenly aware that there are no random happenings in our lives. Everything that befalls us is a wake-up call from Hashem. This is a difficult concept for our generation to accept. Our culture tends to look at those who propound such views as simplistic, if not unbalanced. Moreover, our society tends to neutralize all personal culpability and remove all sense of responsibility from our consciences. We are never at fault – there are always some mitigating circumstances for that which befalls us. We convince ourselves that “things happen simply because they happen.” Sadly, this rationale has seeped into our Torah community as well. We too have been impacted, and too many of us have turned a deaf ear to the call of Hashem. Too many of us refuse to see and understand.

It is amazing how despite the passage of centuries and despite all our advances and discoveries, all our education and enlightenment, we have learned nothing. From the genesis of time to this very day, nothing has changed. Just as in the generation of Noah, when man refused to heed G-d’s call, so today we turn a deaf ear to the countless messages He sends us.

In vain does Hashem send us His wake-up calls. We do not respond; we are spiritually comatose. There is a reason the Torah teach us, “V’yadata hayom” – and you shall know today, and you shall absorb it in your heart.” There is a small gap, only seven inches, between the head and the heart, but to close that gap is a Herculean task. Allow me to illustrate:  Very often, we intellectually understand that we should not lose our tempers, we should not smoke, etc. But since our hearts fail to absorb this, we continue to indulge our anger and we continue to smoke. So it is that the Torah admonishes us to absorb in our hearts that which our minds understand.

Maimonides taught that when suffering is visited upon us, we are commanded to cry out and awaken our people with the sound of the shofar. Everyone must be alerted to examine his or her life and commit to greater adherence to Torah and mitzvos. Maimonides warned that if we regard the tragedies that befall us simply as the way of the world – natural happenings – we will be guilty of achzarius, cruelty.

At first glance, it is difficult to understand why Maimonides would choose the term “cruelty” to describe those who view trials and tribulations as natural happenings. Such people may be unthinking, apathetic, foolish, blind or obtuse, but why accuse them of cruelty?

The answer is simple. If we regard our pain and suffering as mere coincidence, we will feel no motivation to examine our lives, abandon our old ways, and change. So yes, such an attitude is cruel, for it invites additional misfortune upon ourselves and others. Therefore, step number one is not only to awaken ourselves but also to alert our fellow Jews to the urgency of the moment and the dangers that loom ahead. And yes, it would be the height of cruelty to dismiss what is happening in the world today as mere happenstance. Great Torah luminaries of past generations, such as the Chofetz Chaim and Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, told us we are entering the final stages of history – a period in time called “Ikvesa DiMeshicha” – when the footsteps of  Messiah can be heard. This period will be accompanied by terrible tribulations, but it is in our hands to overcome them.

Our Torah foretells four exiles through which our people would suffer: Egypt, Babylonia/Persian-Mede empires, Greece, and Rome – the exile in which we presently find ourselves, for it was the Romans who exiled us when they destroyed the Second Temple.

In Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, an early Midrashic work, it is written that before the coming of Messiah we will have to contend with a fifth source of tribulation that will come from Yishmael, the Arabs, who will inflict terrible suffering on the world and on our people.

Jewish Women Artists Talk About Their Work (Part One)

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Words Within


A National Juried Exhibition of


The Jewish Women Artist’s Network


February 12 – March 28, 2007


Columbia/Barnard University


Kraft Center for Jewish Life


606 West 115th Street, New York


 


 


         On Sunday, February 18, I attended an opening at the Kraft Center for Jewish Life (also known as the Columbia/Barnard Hillel) for the exhibit Words Within. At the opening, Vivian Mann and Maya Katz spoke about the exhibit, which is organized by the Jewish Women Artist’s Network, juried by Laura Kruger, and co-chaired by Fay Grajower and Simone Soltan. My friend Miriam Weiler, a student at Barnard, was instrumental in pulling the exhibit together and promoting it on the Columbia/Barnard side.

 

         Over the next column or two, I will gather together a smorgasbord of voices of the 61 Jewish women artists who are creating exciting new works that grapple with Jewish issues and texts, both contemporary and ancient. The exhibit is traveling next to the Robin-Frankel Gallery at the Boston University Hillel from April 12 until June 30, 2007.

 

 


The Theory


 


         In the opening to the catalog, Fay Grajower and Simone Soltan explain that to People of the Book, “words have long played an important role.” They found the submissions they received “organically evolved into identifiable categories”: interpreting Jewish text; memory and history; Judaism and women; Jewish tradition, nature and spirituality; Judaism and identity; Judaism and present day challenges; and family and life cycle.

 

         Laura Kruger, curator at the Hebrew Union College Museum, expanded the discussion to not only the condition of Jewish women artists, but of Jewish art in general. “From the very inception of Judaism and the embrace of monotheism, Hebrew tradition has limited production of many images in art,” she wrote, citing the prohibition in the Ten Commandments to make graven images. But however much idols were restricted, Kruger found a balancing act in the Torah’s encouragement of Jews to engage in hiddur mitzvah, which she called “the positive act of enhancing prayer by beautifying ritual and ceremonial objects for the visual glorification of G-d.”

 

         Within this beautification, Jews engaged in a variety of art works that used calligraphy, micrography, stained glass, weaving, and paper cuts of Hebrew words and phrases, which “became the sustaining cultural identifier of the Jewish people.” To Kruger, the artists of Words Within embrace the “basic theme of Judaism, extolling texts and words and their interpretations.”

 

From Hegel To Carob Trees


 


         In their comments at the opening, Drs. Mann and Katz outlined a more academic template for viewing and contextualizing the works. Mann cited 18th century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who claimed there was no such thing as Jewish art. What Hegel would have thought of contemporary Jewish artists’ work, like that of Words Within, is up for discussion, but Mann said she found it “very fulfilling to look at pieces with great textual components,” which held women’s voices as the “main ingredient.” Mann cited the example of the prophetess Devorah, who composed her own Jewish texts (the Song of Devorah). “There are many instances where women spoke by their deeds.”

 

 


Maya Katz (left) speaks, as Vivian Mann looks on at the exhibit opening.

Photo by Menachem Wecker

 

         Mann also found memory to be a large part of the exhibit, though she said she finds the “new” Judaica, in general, to lag behind in creativity.

 

         Katz’s remarks focused on specific texts. Unlike Mann, she found that “women did not have an active role in the writing of traditional Jewish texts.” The important discussion, then, is “the role of women in elucidating and interpreting male written texts.” As an example, Katz addressed the Talmudic story from Bava Metzia where Rabbi Eliezer tries in vain to rally nature to support his position in a debate with the rabbis. He instructed a carob tree, a stream and the very walls of the study hall to miraculously testify to his position, and they all did. Each time, the rabbis assured him that the Torah was not in the heavens, but quite grounded in the world and in “nuts-and-bolts” processes like majority rules. Even a heavenly Bat Kol (literally daughter voice) could not protect Rabbi Eliezer’s argument, which led G-d to “smile” and say, “My children have defeated me.”

 

         In the story of Rabbi Eliezer, Katz found the Talmud to be less “impressed with the original authorial voice” than with “the interpretive dialectic instead.” Extending that lesson to the exhibit, she added, “Words don’t compete with images; they generate the images, they exist for the images and they co-exist with the images.”

 

Turning Back The Biblical Clock


 


         Fay Grajower’s “reset the clock” is a mixed media collage with ink on layered paper, with an accompanying poem. The palette is mostly yellow, purple and black, with some blue, white and red. Floral patterning occupies two of the paper’s corners, and with the exception of a watch face in the lower right corner, the work evokes a cubist still life. The poem is worth quoting in full, because it is almost a painting itself:


 


reset the clock


there is no chronology


to the


Torah


 


yet traditionally


we learn


sequentially


relate stories


in some order


a beginning and an end


seder – order


time


flies right by


when did something happen?


time – order


 


if we could only


reset the clock

 



Fay Grajower’s “reset the clock.”


 


         In an interview, Grajower, who calls herself “an artist who is female and Jewish” but chooses not to “market” or label herself specifically, explained that her inspiration for the piece derives from the “Talmudic idiomatic expression, ayn mukdam u’m'uchar ba’Torah [there is no earlier or later in the Torah].” The commentator Rashi invokes this phrase, in part, to explain the question: which came first, the Golden Calf or the revelation at Sinai.

 

         Grajower says the piece also is influenced by her “upbringing, learning and life style,” though she is careful to speak about her own work and not Jewish art in general. “Just as my artwork is influenced by my heritage, so is my participation in the Jewish community at large influenced by my perceptions as an artist and my involvement in the greater world community influenced by my being Jewish and an artist.”

 

Sibling Rivalry: Jacob And Esau


 


         In response to my question whether she identifies herself as a Jewish artist, a Jewish woman artist or a woman artist, Yona Verwer assured me she identified as all three, as well as “a Dutch-American artist and a New York artist.”

 

         I met Verwer at the Makor Gallery at the 92nd Street Y, where we were both artists-in-residence two years ago. At Makor, she showed works about amulets, which she called “The Kabbala of Bling.” Verwer has also painted a series of abstract works on the Urim vTumim and, as an artist-in-residence at the SAR school in Riverdale, she is painting a large-scale installation based on the seven days of Creation.

 

        

 


Yona Verwer’s “Sibling Rivalry: Jacob And Esau

 

 

      Verwer’s painting, “Sibling Rivalry,” shows Jacob and Esau glaring at each other. One (presumably Esau) is covered in earth tones: reds, browns and yellows (he was after all, a “red man” and a man of the field), while the tent dweller (Jacob) is lit with cold blues. To Verwer, Jacob and Esau fought (and their descendents follow suit), despite “the brother’s similarities,” which she commemorates with grid work in the background of the painting that joins the figures together.        

 

      “Whether it’s the Jewish or non-Jewish art world – it’s still pretty much a boys’ club,” Verwer said in response to my questions about the challenges of painting as a Jewish woman. But she is not discouraged and in “Sibling Rivalry” managed to create the kind of Jewish art she says she likes best: one that “grabs you by the throat; that bounces off the walls.”

 

         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 opening March 25.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/jewish-women-artists-talk-about-their-work-part-one/2007/03/21/

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