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December 26, 2014 / 4 Tevet, 5775
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Ruth’

Artifact Found in Time for Shavuot Proves Bethlehem Existed During First Temple

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

In a press release issued on Wednesday, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Ir David Foundation announced that a clay seal was discovered bearing the name of the city of Bethlehem, evidence that the city existed during the period of the First Temple in Jerusalem.  The find fortuitously coincides with the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, during which time Jews from around the world focus on the story of the biblical figure Ruth, set in the city of Bethlehem.

The 1.5cm seal – called a bulla – was discovered during sifting of soil removed from the archeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in the City of David, just outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.  The sifting is underwritten by the Ir David Foundation, which treated The Jewish Press to a private tour.

The clay bulla was meant to seal a document or object, used as a way of showing that the private item had not been tampered with.

The new bulla bears the words:   בשבעת   Bishv’at    בת לים    Bat Lechem [למל[ך   [Lemel]ekh

Eli Shukron, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said “it seems that in the seventh year of the reign of a king (either Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah), a shipment was dispatched from Bethlehem to the king in Jerusalem.”

“The bulla we found belongs to the group of “fiscal” bullae – administrative bullae used to seal tax shipments remitted to the taxation system of the Kingdom of Judah in the late eighth and seventh centuries BCE,” Shukron said.  “The tax could have been paid in the form of silver or agricultural produce such as wine or wheat”.

According to Shukron, this is the first time the name Bethlehem has appeared in an inscription from the First Temple period, proving that Bethlehem was a city in the Kingdom of Judah, and possibly in earlier periods.”

The first mention of Bethlehem in the Bible occurs in regard to the matriarch Rachel, wife of Jacob, sister of Leah, and mother of Joseph, who died while giving birth to Benjamin “in Ephrat, which is Bethlehem, and was buried there (Genesis 35:19; 48:7).

In later generations, when the region was settled by the descendants of Jacob and Leah’s son Judah, a man named Boaz made Ruth, a Moabite convert and daughter-in-law of Naomi, his wife (Book of Ruth).  The couple’s great-grandson, David, became the most celebrated king in Jewish history, and made his capital in Jerusalem, on the site of the modern day “Ir David” – City of David.

From Mein Kampf to Ruth, Now That’s Some Roundup

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

I was bored and so I Googled “Jewish jokes” and got this one. I chortled, I think you will, too.

Cohen and Levy are both in the antique business across the street from each other, and have been for years. Cohen hates Levy – he thinks he’s a gonniff and; a liar and; an ignorant bum, and says so publicly. Levy thinks the same about Cohen.

One day Levy leaves the door open to his shop and goes out for a few minutes. Cohen takes the opportunity to walk across the street and steal a magic lantern Levy has in the window. He gets it back to his shop and can’t resist rubbing it. Naturally a genie pops out of the lantern.

“Cohen”, says the genie, “because you have released me from a thousand years of confinement in the lantern, I will grant you one wish – anything you want – money, power, fame, anything. But because the lamp belongs to Levy, whatever it is you get, Levy will get twice as much.”

“You mean,” says Cohen, “if I ask for a million dollars, Levy gets two million?”

“That’s right,” says the genie, “and if you ask for a beautiful woman, Levy gets two beautiful women.”

“All right, genie,” says Cohen. “I know what I want.”

“What’s that?”

“I wish I were half dead.”

HOW COOL IS THAT!

The People of the Book…
I live in a country where the main language is Hebrew. For those of us who came here later in life with English as our mother tongue, we struggle to keep ourselves “in the book” – with enough to fill our time. I can’t go to sleep at night without reading for a while. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night and the fastest way to go back to sleep is to read for a while.

So – my brilliant friend came up with the brilliant idea that we swap books – for charity. We did the first one in my backyard and raised well over $1,000 in one night and all the money was immediately donated to charity. We did another a few months later and raised about twice that amount; and we did it again last night to the benefit of several local charities.
Paula R. Stern, A Soldier’s Mother

BEWARE OF CORPORALS WITH RIDICULOUS FACIAL HAIR

Good read, don’t miss.

Sending Mein Kampf Back to School
Important literature can’t be kept under wraps forever. A case in point is Mein Kampf. The German state of Bavaria, which holds the German copyright, has blocked the book’s publication within Hitler’s homeland; as recently as 2010, the state went to court to prevent an unauthorized academic edition. But in 2015, 70 years after the author’s death, Bavaria’s copyright will expire. So, the state has announced plans to fund two new editions, the first in German since 1945, including critical commentary. The aim, say Bavarian authorities, is to “demystify” Mein Kampf and make other editions “commercially unattractive.”
Alex Joffe, Jewish Ideas Daily

SHAVUOT IS NOT JUST FOR DAIRY ANY MORE

Delicious brain candy as usual at Hirhurim.

Megillat Ruth – Halachic Gleanings
Megillat Ruth is also the source for the Talmud’s ruling that, “One may not leave the Land of Israel to go abroad unless the price of wheat has risen…but if one can still purchase wheat, although somewhat costly, one may not leave.” As Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai used to say: “Why were Elimelech, Machlon, and Chilyon, the greatest scholars and leaders of the day, punished? Because they left Eretz Yisrael even though wheat was available, albeit at a high price.” Nevertheless, the halacha is not in accordance with this view and leaving the Land of Israel is permitted in a number of situations – a discussion of which is beyond the scope of this post.
Rabbi Ari Enkin, Hirhurim

WOULD YOU LIKE REDEMPTION WITH YOUR FRIES?

Batya, of Shiloh Musings, was saying stuff I’ve been saying since I was a school girl yea high, and read Moshe Dayan’s memoirs in which he related, unabashedly, how he opted to give the keys to Temple Mount back to the Arab Waqf, because he didn’t want a Jewish Vatican in the middle of his Israel.

The Door Was Slammed Moshiach’s Face
The more I read about how the Israeli Government planned the 1967 Six Days War, the more conflicted I feel. On one hand, I feel sick and embarrassed that the government showed such incompetence and lack of vision and faith. And on the other hand I feel more and more grateful to G-d for His willingness to save us and take over.

In Biblical times, the former slaves were punished, condemned to death in the wilderness. Only a new generation would enter the HolyLand. They only waited forty years. It’s now forty-five years, and it doesn’t seem like we’re ready to accept G-d’s gifts and welcome the Moshiach.
Batya, Shiloh Musings

I wonder if any serious research exists about the damage Dayan has inflicted on the Jewish nation since he was picked up by Ben Gurion, seemingly out of nowhere, to command the Jerusalem front in 1948. Undoubtedly, giving up the holiest sanctuary on the planet probably ranks way up there.

God bless you, Jeff Dunetz, for your service to history and to me and my readers.

Jeff put together a great multi-media commemoration of the events 45 years ago, including a stunning recording (which he translated) of the fighting men in the city over the wireless – with then Colonel Motta Gur’s immortal announcement: The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands!

And, like Batya and like myself, Jeff points the finger at the bad guy in that story.

Moshe Dayan: The Villian of Jerusalem
Dayan thought the Temple Mount should remain in Muslim possession. In his biography Dayan clearly stated that the last thing he wanted was the Beit Hamikdash (the Jewish Temple) rebuilt.

Dayan took it upon himself, he “gave” control of the Temple Mount back to the Arabs because he wanted to make sure that there wouldn’t be a third Temple.  There was nothing that Prime Minister Eshkol could do about it, after all Moshe Dayan, was a war hero.
Jeff Dunetz, The Lid

Finally, for insights into the mind of Moshe Dayan, the following might be helpful. It’ll cost you, though, the full article is offered at a steep price.

On Herbert Marcuse’s Conversation with Moshe Dayan
Herbert Marcuse visited Israel in late December 1971. Recently I found in The Israel Defense Forces and Defense Establishment Archives (IDFA) an unpublished document concerning his visit to Israel: the protocol of his meeting (December 29, 1971) with Moshe Dayan, the then Israel’s Defense Minister and the topmost Israeli politician at the time.

In my short commentary article, I seek to understand why this meeting was never publicized by Dayan or Marcuse. I also reconstruct Dayan’s and Marcuse’s ideas and statements, that came up in their conversation, while comparing them to the well-known political views and positions of each of them. Lastly, I dedicate special discussion and analysis to three relevant themes.
Zvi Tauber, Telos

GORGEOUS!

Thank you, Andrew Greene, for the great pointer. Man, I don’t think our Talmud has ever looked better. Wow! I understand the complete set will include 41 volumes, and that come July, there should be a Talmud App available.

Review: The Koren/Steinsaltz English Talmud Bavli
I got a sneak peek at the new Koren/Steinsaltz English Talmud Bavli this week. Regular readers of my blog know that I admire both Rabbi Steinsaltz and Koren Publications greatly. I am very pleased to report that this project blew me away, exceeding my expectations. Although I’m sure acquiring the entire set won’t come inexpensively, I will find some way to afford to buy these as they come out. They’re that amazing.

Surrounding the main text block are translations of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s notes, with headings, as in the original, indicating what each one is. Now here’s one of the brilliant touches: in the main text block, superscript sans-serif letters look like footnote indicators, but simply refer you to which section of marginalia to examine.

One thing that has always annoyed me about Artscroll’s footnotes, for example, is that you never know whether it’s worth interrupting your reading to follow the number. Are they just going to give you a cross-reference, or are they going to explain some concept in depth? Well, with this system, your eyes can easily gloss over notes that you don’t want to follow right now, while easily navigating the page when you do.
Andrew Greene, Live Journal

LOCKS WERE MADE FOR HONEST PEOPLE

The Rebbetzin’s Husband is presenting a list of vignettes and sources he’ll using for a Lunch & Learn Business Ethics series, which starts this Wednesday in Allentown, PA. Interesting read – say hi if you end up taking the class.

Business Ethics – Working with unethical people
Sarah is a certified tax accountant. Her friend Rachel, asks her for off-line advice on how to best report her earnings. Sarah advises her, but comes out of the conversation believing that Rachel is going to cheat on her forms. Is Sarah halachically obligated to pursue Rachel and convince her to obey the law?
The Rebbetzin’s Husband

From `Sin’ [China] to Sinai

Friday, May 18th, 2012

This is not my story at all. But when I heard it from Avigayil Madmoni, formerly Gin Lin Lug, a Chinese convert, I gained a new view of what Torah means to me. I know for sure, as anyone who has ever met this very charming, sincere, lovable young woman will agree with me, that Avigayil is my sister like any other Jew and that she surely stood at Har Sinai — together with my ancestors and the souls of their descendants, namely me and all the Jews alive today, and who have ever lived, since the giving of the Torah.

Having heard Avigayil’s story and internalizing its message, I know that Torah is everything. It is the past, present and future. It is the air we breathe, and the messages we receive all the time telling us that it is Truth, and the closer we cling to it, the more alive we are and the better person we can strive to become – and actually become, with the help of Hashem!

Our high school in Ofakim brought Avigayil to speak to us. A convert of six years (and incidentally, one of the dayanim who signed on her conversion is the husband of our principal), Avigayil speaks a fluent Hebrew with a slight accent. These are her words [translated from Hebrew]:

I have been a student at Seminary Neveh Yerushalayim for the past five years, since shortly after I converted. I have realized a few of my lifetime dreams – that of joining your people and also of earning my degree here as a certified nurse.

My third dream is to get married and raise a family of fine Jewish children, and that, like everything else, is in the hands of G-d, as I have clearly seen every step of the way. Who knows? Maybe just like the Chinese girl from the book, Bamboo Cradle, found her mate, I, too, will merit to get married and raise a family.

My story begins in China, of course, in the home of simple but honest and hard working peasants who taught me good values. I always felt that there was something more, something beyond just living a decent life. I thought that training to be a nurse would provide fulfillment, but my parents couldn’t afford to send me to nursing school.

Divine Providence found me a job in Israel as a caregiver to ten-year-old Elad Madmoni z”l, terminally ill with muscular dystrophy. He was confined to a wheelchair, but his mind was alert and his soul was pure and beautiful.

Elad attended school and spent recess in his wheelchair, watching his friends running around and playing ball. He was fully aware of his situation but never complained. In fact, he radiated peace and joy to everyone around him.

Elad’s family was religious, and I would watch him pray with fervor and study Gemara and Mishnayos. His good spirits always amazed me and I used to ask him, “How can you pray to G-d? Aren’t you angry that He made you this way and that there is no cure for you?” And he would answer so sweetly, “Lin, whatever the Creator does is for the best, even for me. Who knows, maybe He made me this way so that you could come and learn more about Him?”

Now I know that Elad was right, but how could he have known?

We had long philosophical talks, perhaps on a simple level, but I was always amazed how he knew the answers to my questions. “China is an ancient country with an ancient tradition,” I told him once, “but all Chinese people know that the Jews are the most learned and clever nation in the world. That’s what my grandfather told me, too. So tell me, what is written in your Torah?”

And he would patiently explain ideas that you’ve been familiar with since you were small children. I became interested in Judaism and at the age of 21, opened the Bible for the first time in my life and was actually able to read it in Hebrew. I had loved this language from the very first day I came; the very letters seemed holy to me and I used to copy them. When Elad saw my interest, he began teaching me to read and write and speak. He taught me Jewish history and told me stories about the Sages. Thanks to him, I was able to see that everything in this world has a purpose; nothing happens just like that. Then, right before Shavuos, he told me the story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz, and all the chessed that each did.

What We Can Glean From Ruth’s Posture

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Until one examines the Book of Ruth – which is read on the holiday of Shavuot – artistically and mines the text for visual fodder that would lend itself to dynamic subjects to paint, one is unlikely to realize how passive the book actually is. The overwhelming majority of action verbs have to do with speech, and there is virtually no violence or conflict. Save a spitting in a shoe here or uncovering an ankle there, the book is much more about states of mind and identity than it is about action.

 

In the central moment of the book, Ruth, in a grand act of self-negation and concession, declares to her mother-in-law Naomi, “Your nation is my nation, and your God is my God” (1:16). So determined is Ruth’s statement that Naomi, who has just seen her other daughter-in-law, Orpah, depart (1:14), knows that the former means business and doesn’t try to send her away anymore. In just a matter of verses, the book tells of Ruth’s intense decision to stay with Naomi, even though her own husband had passed away.

 

Just about the only other thing Ruth does in the book is to gather grain in Boaz’s field, another action of hers that represents obedience to Naomi’s charge or at least a decision she ran by Naomi before going out on her own.

 

The artistic tradition “Ruth Gleaning” has largely cast David’s forebear in a vulnerable position, reflecting artists’ interpretation of her character as a weak and passive woman. (It evokes the artistic tradition of “Esther Swooning” or “Esther Fainting” before Ahasuerus, though she is surely a courageous woman putting her life on the line, and the Book of Esther offers no indication that she swooned or fainted.)

 

Almost invariably, when artists represented the motif “Ruth Gleaning,” they presented her kneeling or bowing in the fields, often before Boaz. 

 

The following is a partial list of representations of Ruth kneeling in the fields: “Ruth threshing: Naomi counseling Ruth; Ruth at the feet of Boaz” in the Macejowski Bible (c. 1250); Ruth Gleaning in Marco dell’Avogadro’s Bible of Borso d’Este (15th century); Ruth Thanks Boaz for Letting Her Glean His Fields in an engraving by Philips Galle (1560-70); Ruth Gleaning Grain in the Field of Boaz, an engraving by Hendrik Goltzius (1580); Rembrandt’s pen and wash drawing, Boaz Meeting Ruth in His Fields (c.1648-9); Nicolas Poussin’s Summer (Ruth and Boaz) (1660-64); Michelangelo Marullo’s 17th century drawing Ruth and Boaz; Johann Ulrich Kraus’ 1705 illustration Boaz meets Ruth gleaning in his fields, and Boaz taking Ruth to wife; Marco Ricci’s 1715 Landscape with Boaz and Ruth; and Randolph Rogers’ sculpture “Ruth Gleaning” (1853-1860).

 

 


Southern German Mahzor. “Ruth and Boaz (text for Shavuot).”

First quarter of the 14th century. British Library.

 

 

           In Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones’ 1879 drawing “Ruth and Boaz,” which was created for a window in All Hallows Church in Allerton, Liverpool, and is in the collection of the Tate, the kneeling Ruth lifts grain off of Boaz’s shoe, perhaps foreshadowing the shoe removal ritual that will later make her Boaz’s wife. One gets the impression that Burne-Jones’ vision is that Ruth was gleaning and lifted some wheat up to reveal a foot. The drawing reflects the camera angle as it pans up revealing the owner of the foot.

 

In other works, Ruth bends over or bows, as in the initial R and story of Ruth in the 12th century illuminated Lambeth Bible, a 1550 etching by Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert (after Maarten van Heemskerck) The Story of Ruth and Boaz, and Simone Pignoni’s c. 1650 Ruth and Boaz.

 

However helplessly Ruth is portrayed when she is a woman encountering Boaz the man, Ruth is given equal treatment when she is in the company of just Naomi or Orpah. In two 13th century bibles, Bible Moralisée and a bible made in Bologna, and Rembrandt’s Ruth and Naomi on Way to Bethlehem (c. 1648-49), Ruth stands firmly beside Naomi. Ruth and Naomi are also equals in the illumination Ruth and Naomi on their way to Bethlehem from the Aurifaber Workshop, dated around 1275 to 1300.

 

 


Ruth, centrally located and standing before her mother-in-law in “Ruth and Naomi”

by a follower of Jan van Scorel. C. 1525-60. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

 

 

In Jacob Jordaens’ c. 1641-42 Ruth and Naomi, Ruth sits comfortably in front of her mother-in-law, while she peeks out from behind the grain in Boaz’s field in Niklas Stoer’s c. 1562-63 woodcut “Ruth and Boaz in the Wheat Field” and in Antonio Tempesta’s (1555-1630) “Ruth and Boaz in the Wheat Field.”

 

 


Jean François Millet. “Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz).” 1850-53.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

 

 

But there are artistic depictions of Ruth that come from more of a feminist perspective. In Jean François Millet’s 1850-53 painting Harvesters, a man in trousers and a vest (perhaps Boaz?) presents Ruth to a group of nearly a dozen resting laborers. Ruth wears a shawl, and modestly (or shyly) looks at her feet. A lamb (surely symbolic of innocence) follows Ruth as she is led to the group. Although Ruth is an outsider, she is presented as a real person rather than a caricature. However awkward the first meeting is, Ruth is not frozen in a servile position.

 

 


Archie Rand. “Ruth (For Kitaj).” Acrylic on fabric. 2002.

 

 

Archie Rand may have paid Ruth the best compliment in his Ruth (For Kitaj), in which Ruth, wearing a purple backpack (for gathering wheat of course!), is pursued by Boaz, who tells her, “Did you hear, my daughter? Don’t go glean in anyone else’s field.”

 

Ruth’s expression makes it seem like she’s considering Boaz’s offer. Of course, Rand has abstracted the story. There is no wheat. There are backpacks, trousers and contemporary attire. But Rand latches onto an essential aspect of the story of Ruth and Boaz – Ruth’s allure. Ruth definitely pursued Boaz, and even let herself into his private threshing room at night and uncovered his feet. But Boaz must have been struck by Ruth when he first saw her in his fields or else he wouldn’t have condescended to introduce himself.

 

Whereas Ruth had been depicted as helpless through centuries of art history, Millet, Rand and others liberated Ruth and sought to present her perspective. Richard McBee’s 2001 painting Ruth and Boaz achieves a similar balance, as a Chassidic-looking Boaz confronts Ruth, who looks away. Boaz has an intense gaze, but McBee, by offering viewers a glimpse of Ruth’s inner turmoil, reveals her to be the more interesting character.


 


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

Remembering Babe Ruth’s Concern For Jews During The Holocaust

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

The New York Yankees and their fans observe April 27 as Babe Ruth Day to remember the home run slugger’s exploits on the baseball diamond. Jewish New Yorkers, however, this year marked the day by remembering another side of Ruth – his little-known efforts to aid African-Americans and other minorities, including Jews in Europe during the Holocaust.

In a program at Temple Israel in Manhattan, Ruth’s granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, joined with Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, to describe their research on Ruth’s social activism. Rabbi William Gelfand, sporting a baseball cap with “Yankees” embroidered on it in Hebrew, emceed the event.

Tosetti shared with the standing-room-only audience a number of family stories illustrating her grandfather’s concern for the less fortunate. She also showed an excerpt from her forthcoming documentary film, “Universal Babe,” concerning Ruth’s efforts on behalf of minorities.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Ruth courted controversy in the off-season by barnstorming with players from the Negro Baseball League. At a time when racial segregation was rampant in the United States, Ruth defied convention and took part in exhibition games with African-American players.

“My grandfather made a powerful statement against racism,” Tosetti said. “Many people resented his actions – but they couldn’t lynch Babe Ruth. He was an American icon. And he used his status to demand equality for blacks.”
 
 

Ruth also actively assisted the Women’s Baseball League, which was later immortalized in the Tom Hanks film “A League of Their Own.”

Dr. Medoff spoke of Ruth’s key role in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times in December 1942, in which he and other German-Americans denounced the Nazis’ persecution of European Jewry.

“At a time when most Americans still doubted the truth about reports about the Holocaust, and few were interested in helping Jewish refugees, Ruth spoke out and tried to shatter the silence,” he said.

The ad, headlined “A Christmas Declaration by Men and Women of German Ancestry,” declared, in part: “[W]e Americans of German descent raise our voices in denunciation of the Hitler policy of cold-blooded extermination of the Jews of Europe and against the barbarities committed by the Nazis against all other innocent peoples under their sway,” the declaration began.

“These horrors … are, in particular, a challenge to those who, like ourselves, are descendants of the Germany that once stood in the foremost ranks of civilization.”

The ad went on to “utterly repudiate every thought and deed of Hitler and his Nazis,” and urged the people of Germany “to overthrow” the Nazi regime.

Medoff, who has written extensively about the involvement of athletes in political and social policy controversies, said Ruth’s willingness to participate in a protest against the persecution of European Jewry was “a welcome contrast with today’s athletes, whose off-field activities are too often sources of scandal and embarrassment.”

Widely regarded as the greatest baseball player in history, Ruth in his time held the records for most home runs in a season (60) and most home runs in a career (714) as well as other records – including the pitching record for the most shutouts in a season by a left-hander. The Sultan of Swat, as he was known, was one of the first players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The audience at Temple Israel also had a few standard questions for the baseball legend’s granddaughter. One attendee asked if there was any truth to the story that on one occasion Ruth gestured with his bat toward the center field fence, and then hit a home run in exactly in that place.

“Absolutely true,” said Tosetti.

The Heroes Among Us

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

In 1943, a Bulgarian baker named Rubin Dimitrov was at work in his Sofia shop when he saw Jews running from the police. He saved a group of them from a deportation roundup by hiding them in his oven. When asked about the incident, Dimitrov modestly replied, “One couldn’t sit idly by, arms crossed, doing nothing. A true human being is obliged to help . So, I opened the door of my bakery oven to hide these people.”

Why did Dimitrov use the term “a true human being”? All people possess genetic predispositions and a certain amount of potential. If some are “true” human beings, what are the others? Unfortunately, Dimitrov erred on at least one point: Many people could “sit idly by with their arms crossed, doing nothing.” Maybe the “true” human being he envisioned is the one who couldn’t sit by doing nothing.

What are the fibers that make up the common thread running through seemingly ordinary men who become heroes? Could it be that such men cherish human life more intensely than others? Or is it simply that they are acutely aware of their own humanity?

In his book The Righteous, historian Martin Gilbert quotes a member of the Yad Vashem committee describing righteous gentiles as ” noble souls of the human race, and when I meet with them I feel somewhat inferior to them. For I know that if I had been in their place I wouldn’t have been capable of such deeds.”

As we strive to understand what makes one person step up to a challenge while others assume the role of mere observers, we may realize that, unlike mythological characters, anyone we meet could turn out to be one of these heroes.

To a passenger sitting in the back seat of a particular Boston taxi years ago, it would not have been obvious that the driver would eventually go out to sea and, at age 53 and as captain of his vessel, surrender himself to Somali pirates to save his crew. That Boston taxi driver turned out to be Captain Richard Phillips, whose childhood friend described him as “an athlete and plenty tough but modest about his successes on the field.”

Listening to a math lecture at Virginia Tech, students of Liviu Librescu might have been astonished to learn that one day their Romanian-born Israeli engineering professor would save multiple lives by blocking with his own body the classroom doorway from a gunman, thereby giving others a chance to open the windows and jump out.

The challenges faced by “ordinary” heroes are not always life threatening and may occur in less than extraordinary circumstances. They do, however, always make a difference – to someone.

In Sweet Deams, Faye Kellerman’s fictional protagonist Peter Decker says, “… things that are less than horrendous can still affect you deeply.”

In the biblical story that bears her name, we find that Ruth chose to stay with her destitute and grieving mother-in-law, Naomi, even though she could have returned to her own family and an easier life. Naomi did not beg Ruth to stay; in fact, she kissed her and tried to send her away along with her other daughter-in-law. Every year we are reminded of Ruth’s compassion toward Naomi, which still stands as a testament of empathy.

Ask yourself who has made a difference in your own life; who made a decision to do something good when nobody else did. You might have had a dedicated teacher who took the time to make you feel special or kept you from slipping between the cracks of school-system anonymity. A stranger may have stopped to help you fix a flat tire in the rain.

Being a hero is risky. One’s offers can be rebuffed or misunderstood; unfortunately, noble choices can sometimes even prove fatal. Perhaps that is why the word “hero” represents something dear to us. We know the hero made a conscious choice to do good despite possible risk.

* * *

In a world saturated with pain and cruelty, opportunities to do acts of kindness are all around us. When I was a little girl, my mother represented such an opportunity.

All alone, on the run for her life by the age of eight and orphaned soon afterward, she came to America as a teenage refugee. She married, but was widowed at the age of 33. Her deceased husband left her with a mortgage, no life insurance and four children ranging in age from two to 13.

My mother worked the proverbial dawn until dusk to take care of my sister, brothers and me. She was always up and working before I awoke and still up working after I went to sleep, no matter how late. I never saw her relax except on Shabbos. She was very independent, and yet, because she was raising four children by herself, she was vulnerable and many people chose to take advantage of her tendency toward nurturing and her strong work ethic.

Some people, though, consciously chose not to take advantage of her. On the contrary, they attempted to give her a break – a badly needed, well-deserved break. Doing so not only helped her but also helped her children, and the remnants of their kindness have remained in the hearts of my brother and sister and me until this day.

The heroes of my childhood were two such men. One was cultured and educated in the fine arts and sciences. The other was a master tradesman and a skilled ba’al tefillah, steeped in heimish Yiddish culture. These men made it clear to me that kindness is not the turf of a particular social strata; it is available to all who wish to enhance their own lives by lessening the burden of others.

I knew Dr. Samuel Mendlovic from the time I was old enough to walk to shul on Shabbos at the age of three. My family lived on East Scarborough Road in Cleveland Heights. We were one of only two Shabbos-observant families on the street and it was a long walk to our shul on the corner of Taylor Road and Washington Boulevard.

I was seven when my father succumbed to a long, painful and draining illness. Dr. Mendlovic was always compassionate toward my family. One might think that because Dr. Mendlovic was a physician he was in a better position than most to be compassionate. Perhaps, but his generosity manifested itself in more ways than just a discounted or waived fee. He never behaved as though he were doing anyone a favor and this may have been the kindest thing of all. He was always ready with a joke but his demeanor was never without a deep sense of caring about those in his presence.

I was great friends with his daughter, and all the times I spent at the Mendlovic home I was treated like a member of the family. On Sundays, Dr. Mendlovic used to take us to the hospital to accompany him as his “nurses” when he would do his rounds. In later years, he took my niece and my daughter with him as occasional “nurses.”

I was struck at an early age by Dr. Mendlovic’s love for Israel and the Jewish people – both as a nation and as individuals – as well as the respect and dignity he afforded everyone he met.

As I grew up, I began to understand he was something of what one might refer to as an intellectual. He knew many languages, played the violin and enjoyed all sorts of cerebral pursuits. To this day I can’t think of many people I consider to be intellectuals who make kindness an everyday priority in their lives. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”

When I was 14, I lost my older brother to a tragedy. I remember Dr. Mendlovic coming to our home to make sure my mother and the kids were all right. To this day, I suspect Dr. Mendlovic used a ploy to make sure I would take care of myself – perhaps he suspected I would become depressed about my brother’s death.

He showed me a vial of pills that were meant to have a calming effect on my mother in case she needed help sleeping. He told me to count the pills. My mother never took any pills, and while it didn’t occur to me at the time, I feel confident he did this to make sure I would take the focus off myself and put it on my mother. He knew her quite well and was aware that she hadn’t coped with the devastating hardships of her life by taking pills. That’s the way he was – he thought things through in such a way that you never knew he was taking care of you.

As a young adult, I worked in his office one summer while his secretary was on vacation. I admired his quest for knowledge so much and wished I could learn some of the things about which he spoke. He gave me an Arabic primer printed in Hebrew so that I could start learning Arabic. I cherished that book and kept it with me for years. While I worked in his office, I saw how he treated his patients. Most of them were older folks and he treated each one gently and patiently. When I described to my sister how he treated his patients, she commented that he treated each one like his own parent.

Shortly after I became a grandmother, I saw Dr. Mendlovic for the last time. By this time he was a grandfather many times over and anyone could see he cherished that role more than anything. He asked me how it felt to become a grandmother and I told him I felt as though it was the reason I had lived my life. He looked at me and gave me that famous Dr. Mendlovic grin, the one with a bit of a smile and the weight of the suffering of the Jewish people.

* * *

Mr. Avrum Lebowitz, my uncle through marriage, once saved my mother’s life in Europe. My mother told me she was tiny for her age and my uncle, traveling with the unit of Czech soldiers of which he was a part, hid my mother up in the luggage rack of a train compartment and successfully smuggled her over the border.

That was an exciting story and certainly shows something of my uncle’s character. It is not, however, what makes him my hero.

From the time I first started speaking I called him Unkie. He loved children. Many adults did not have time to give the kids attention, but he always made a point to talk with us.

I could easily sum up Unkie’s influence in my life in one word: kindness. He was the epitome of a ba’al chesed. There were other people in our lives who could have stepped in to check on the well-being of the widow and her children, but only Unkie actually did. He plastered holes and painted walls for us. He stopped in at least once a week to visit us. He didn’t only speak to my mother as most adults did but always spoke to us as well, joking around, telling us little stories.

The selflessness he showed to my mother and my family is too vast to describe, but I must say that we kids took him for granted. We simply knew he was there for us.

My mother’s widowed and childless aunt lived in the old Kinsman neighborhood of Cleveland. She was the only Jewish person on her street (and probably in her zip code). She may have been the only white person there as well. Unkie not only visited her every day to make sure she was OK and to do various things for her, he actually walked all the way to her house on Shabbos from Shaker Heights, where he lived at the time, so that she would not be lonely all day.

So many people loved this good-hearted man. He was hard working and always ready to assist people, especially those who really needed help. He never talked about the people he helped. It was as though aiding those who he knew were vulnerable was simply part of his nature. He never seemed to give it any thought; he just did what needed to be done.

The last time I saw Unkie, he was the sandek at my nephew’s bris. Knowing my brother had bestowed this wonderful honor on him made everyone in our family so happy. By this time, Unkie had to keep an oxygen tank with him wherever he went, probably due to years of smoking as a young adult or from the plaster he was exposed to for so long in his work. He was never interested in honor and that made his role as sandek all the sweeter.

* * *

Describing to my children why I loved Unkie and Dr. Mendlovic so much is difficult. While I hope they understand why these men were such an important part of my childhood, I don’t want them to feel I am exaggerating.

Moishe Olszewicz, a Holocaust survivor, wrote about heroes like the Polish woman who saved his life by hiding him: ” the goodness and virtue of these people cannot be described. No amount of money can adequately compensate them and no words can adequately thank them.”

This seems to hint at the truth that a hero is a human being who comes to the rescue of his fellow with no designs on money or honor. I think back to the stories my mother told me about heroes like these in her life and realize it was not so much the words that stayed with me as it was a feeling of admiration and a desire to emulate their qualities.

The opportunities to assist people in need are all around us. I suppose the heroes among us don’t wait to be asked.

Susan Zien lives in Baltimore and works as a programmer/analyst.

Feminist Trends At The Jewish Art Salon

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Tzelem: Likeness and Presence in Jewish Art

April 26 – May 17, 2009

Stanton Street Synagogue

180 Stanton Street, New York

http://web.me.com/yvf/JewishArtSalon

 

 

It was a little surreal sitting in the sanctuary of the Stanton Street Synagogue at the opening of the Jewish Art Salon exhibit. It was hard not to notice the sharp contrast between the synagogue’s tragically decaying collection of Zodiac signs painted on its walls and its dusty interior – some parts of which might still bear original grime dating back to 1913 when the synagogue was built – and the vibrant new art created by the 29 artists affiliated with the salon (including both the authors of this column). And then it turned out that two of the speakers, Archie Rand and Richard McBee, shared a common Jewish art experience: each told the assembled crowd of nearly 75 that he had received a ruling directly from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l (1895 – 1986) encouraging him to paint without fear of violating the Second Commandment.

 

I did not speak up, but my father received smicha, rabbinic ordination, from Rav Moshe, and when I read one of the great rabbi’s decisions prohibiting elementary school instructors from teaching their students to draw lest they learn to illustrate the celestial bodies and come to violate the Second Commandment, I asked my father how he could have allowed me to draw. On a trip to New York, he approached Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, Rav Moshe’s son, at his Lower East Side yeshiva, Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim, and was told that it was permissible for me to draw. Even representational art was allowed, as my father presented Rav Dovid with one of my pen-and-ink drawings of Rav Moshe, which and as far as my father knows, Rav Dovid has kept. 

 

It takes a group of people obsessed with Jewish art congregating in an illuminated synagogue to tease out these sorts of connections. But what, if anything, can the Jewish Art Salon reveal about emerging trends in Jewish art?

 

Identifying trends in exhibits is a difficult endeavor. Reporters often tout movements of more painting or more sculpture at Whitney Biennials, but in my experience, the shows tend to be similarly organized as parking lots of works that are disjointed rather than unified. Trends have a way of popping up just about anywhere when one insists on looking for them. Yet, it seems significant to me that not only were a majority of the artists exhibiting in the salon women, but many of the works in the show could be said to have feminist content or themes.

 

 

 

Archie Rand. “Ruth (For Kitaj).” Acrylic on fabric. 2002

 

 

Archie Rand’s Ruth, (For Kitaj) references the late Jewish painter R. B. Kitaj (1932 – 2007). Rand represents Ruth the Moabitess as a red-headed woman wearing an ochre blazer and purple pants, and carrying a purple backpack (presumably for gathering Boaz’s grain). The blond-haired Boaz, clad in blue jeans and a lime-green blazer, and bearing an orange backpack (he is also harvesting his grain), approaches from behind, and speaks (via cartoon bubble) in Hebrew from Ruth 2: 8, “Have you heard, my daughter? Do not go to gather (grain) in any other field.” Never mind that Rand situates the scene in a field that seems better equipped as the set design of a horror film than for growing grain. Despite modernizing the costumes and the architecture of the houses in the background, Rand has remained true to the encounter between the two characters.  A literal reading of the text of the Book of Ruth may leave readers with a picture of an older man protecting and ultimately marrying a much younger widow.  However, Rand has empowered Ruth by representing Boaz as a younger man who stands off to the side, while Ruth occupies a prominent position in the middle of the canvas, and wears an expression on her face that surely conveys a mixture of pain and alienation on the one hand (she lost a husband and a people), and anticipation on the other (of her newfound faith and people, and husband-to-be).

 

 

Deborah Rosenthal. “Either/Or: Autumn Adam and Eve.” Oil on linen. 41″x31″. 1997-9

 

 

            Deborah Rosenthal’s Adam and Eve employs a different sort of strategy. Where Rand makes Ruth prominent by placing her in a central position – after all she is the  heroine of her own story, evidenced by the book bearing her name – Rosenthal’s painting blurs the boundary of where Adam ends and Eve begins, and vice versa. Somewhere in the composition the Tree of Knowledge also stands, and it may have sprouted wings worthy of a demon, or perhaps Satan disguised as a serpent. Rosenthal’s colors and forms are so visually seductive that it is easy to fall in love with the painting’s movement and to temporarily lose sight of the literal content of the work. Stanley Fish argued in his book Surprised by Sin that readers of John Milton’s Paradise Lost underwent a parallel journey to Adam’s. Just as Adam was tempted, sinned, and then sought forgiveness, readers are lured to Satan’s charismatic character; they then realize their “sin” and seek clemency. The same process might be said of Rosenthal’s Adam and Eve. Just as Adam and Eve confused the proper boundaries in the Garden of Eden, surely with a little help from their serpentine friend, viewers experience a bit of the taste of the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge.

 

 

John Bradford. “Judah and Tamar.” Oil on canvas. 24″x36″. 2008

 

 

If Rosenthal can be said to blur the boundaries between figures, John Bradford’s Judah and Tamar turns the figures into geometric boundaries. This painting, which looks like a Piet Mondrian grid with an orange, green, and blue palette, abstracts the figures of Jacob’s fourth son and his daughter-in-law to the point that though visible, they blend into the grid. Though Tamar dresses in red (perhaps because she is impersonating a prostitute) and seems to summon Judah, the characters seem frozen in space, as immobile and monumental as the colored rectangles that surround them.

 

 

 Ita Aber. “Evolution 1.” Paint, appliqu?, quilt, and embroidery, 22″x24″. 2009

 

 

Ita Aber’s Evolution 1 at first looks like a series of circumscribed hearts – the sorts to grace notes passed between grade school girls in class, or pasted in instant messenger chat windows. Yet the work represents not a rosy, melodramatic worldview, but the horns (karnayim, the same word that gets mistranslated elsewhere leading to Moses being depicted with horns) that were attached to the corners of the altar in the Tabernacle. Aber’s red then is not a stand in for love, but the blood of the sacrifices. “The use of red refers to the sacrificial blood that was daily splashed on these horns, thereby effecting the atonement for sin,” according to the exhibit catalog by Richard McBee and Joel Silverstein. “Her work stands in dramatic tension with the Christian and popular image of a valentine.”

 

It may be a misuse of mathematic induction to argue for an emerging feminist trend in Jewish art at large, just due to representations of Ruth, Eve, and Tamar, and media generally identified with traditional women crafts being used to show the altar’s horns. On the other hand, though, as I have often pointed out to peers in my master’s courses in art history, despite the fact that many people point to religious communities as the epitome of conservatism and repression of progressive movements like feminism, it seems like religious artists and exhibits can usually be counted upon to be even more diverse and progressive than even the most activist secular galleries and museums.

 

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

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts//2009/05/13/

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