Pleased to be participating in the exhibition HOME(less) at HUC-JIR Museum NY. Running through the end of June 2018. Would love to hear from you if you get to see the exhibit. For details see post

Monday, September 4, 2017

HUC-JIR Museum NY invitation

I am very pleased to invite you to the opening of HOME(less) at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum  in New York.

Please note that registration is requested for the opening: here.

You can have a sneak preview of my work on the exhibition page here, but with 70 varied artists from all over, it will surely be an interesting show and worth visiting. Opening this week September 7 at 1 West Fourth Street, 5:30-7:30 p.m. and closing late June, 2018.

To my regret I won't be at the the opening, but would love to hear from anyone who gets there.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Jerusalem: City of Miracles of All Sizes

Neighborhood playground (Ir Ganim- Kiryat Menachem facebook page)

Not a dry eye in the hall. Bet you’ve heard that phrase before, but how often do you really see a room full of guests sniveling collectively to keep composure at a seemingly routine family event?

Eleven years of waiting, hoping, praying for a child came to an apex at a recent brit milah in an obscure Jerusalem neighborhood synagogue.
Ir Ganim-Kiryat Menachem is best known for the culture clash between the old-timers and the newcomers. The older residents are comprised of Jewish families from Arab countries which had been forced out after centuries of living in thriving communities. In Israel’s infancy they were settled in quickly-constructed shikun (cheap public housing) buildings in the 50’s and 60’s and have since been joined by Russian immigrants who came in the big waves of aliya from the former Soviet Union. They have carefully guarded their secular lifestyles. Add into the mix immigrant families from Ethiopia with their own culture and traditions. The new faces on the blocks are the young, sincerely observant families lacking the means to choose more established religious neighborhoods. Together this makes for a tasty Salat Yisraeli with a touch of pilpel harif (hot pepper).

Both mother and father came from strongly devoted Jewish families. They married young, the click between them was fast and strong and, as their beliefs and education would presume, they expected to raise a family, much like their own large, warm, loving families.
But it just didn’t happen for them. Year after year went by, they watched as siblings gave birth to baby after blessed baby. Cousins, friends, colleagues delivered newborns one after the other, endless family gatherings centered on strollers, toys, discussions of maternity departments, then kindergartens, then schools, and they remained on the sidelines as it seemed everyone else was living their own dream but they themselves.
It is assumed that married religious couples are trying to conceive, and part of the cultural norm in religious circles is not to ask about such intimate private matters. In some circles one does not even comment on heavily pregnant bellies, to avoid any reference which may be immodest.  It is also assumed that the couple is seeking medical help to help achieve fertility, but beyond the technical treatments to conceive, what is not obvious to the outsider is the anguish they are going through as individuals, as a couple, as adult children in their respective families, and as part of their wider communities.
They felt ever more isolated, while each family event became a painful reminder and seemed to shine a spotlight on their disappointment, causing those who most loved them to be at a loss for how to help them cope. . . 

Relief came through a careful reading one Shabbat of a sheet that gets distributed in synagogues. The ad brought them to seek out Adva,  an organization started three years ago by a couple who had experienced long infertility and eventually succeeded in conceiving. Sara and Doron Befler have since devoted themselves to helping others through the difficult emotionally and physically taxing process of starting a family when the conventional ways fail.

The father credits the Beflers, saying, “They were our light in the dark. We met with other people going through the same process and discovered that we were not alone, we found people that we could share our experiences with. Other people from the neighborhood were scared to make contact with us because they did not how to handle us.”
Improving the social network for the couples is just one way Adva helps. Despite having limited resources, they are reaching out and developing projects to meet the needs of these couples.
Religious communities are accustomed to helping each other when a mother brings home a newborn.
Unlike when bringing home a baby that most realize is a stressful time, the struggles of the infertile are often privately carried and unknown to others. These couples need to expose their needs and the gaps can be closed – but only by letting people into their private pain. When exhaustion and hormones make cooking for Shabbat (or any other time) seem insurmountable, Adva finds volunteers to bring meals. They involve the parents and families in getting to know the ways that unintentional hurts can be rectified, in both directions.
Joining the Cousins Club, 11-year wait for baby on the far left. (Photo: Heddy Abramowitz)
So one bright and beautiful spring morning we gathered to share in a piece of the miracle we witnessed. And how we gathered! So many well-wishers came to welcome this long-awaited first-born son to the world, to his place in the Jerusalem sun.
A framed picture of the father’s family displayed the portraits of the now 8 generations of Jewish men that stretched back before this 8-day-old infant’s arrival, to his father, grandfather, and recently- deceased great-grandfather and so on, many in the rabbinical garb of their times as an indication of their piety.
Of the 8 Jewish men in the frame only the infant was born in Israel, the first Yerushalmi after generations of men who fervently prayed ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’ as had just been repeated at the Passover seder the week of his birth.
And when the proud dad completed his first words of Torah given as a father, he turned to his wife, still uncomfortable from the C-section delivery, and said “This is the song I sang to you at our chuppah (wedding ceremony) eleven years ago and I will sing it for you again now.” The somewhat less-young chatan  (groom) sang out Chapter 128 of psalms  a capella, including the poignant words:
Your wife will be as a fruitful vine in the innermost parts of your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. 

(see clip here for a rendition of this from a different wedding).

Even the most stoic faces in the room were wet with fresh tears.
And so it was to be. This year in Jerusalem.
This was first published on Times of Israel here and

and was re-published on Rachel Sharansky Danziger's collection Jerusalem Moments.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Jerusalem Exhibition Invitation

Very pleased to be participating in this exhibition opening tomorrow. Please do come.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Prints under Pressure - International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Karl and Ise Koch Residence, Buchenwald, 2016 screenprint, 56 x76 by Gil Yefman

The old joke goes that for every two Jews there are three opinions – if not more. That well describes the state of Holocaust observance. There are no less than three different days in the calendar that are devoted to ceremonies and events marking the Nazi extermination plans to murder the Jews.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed this year on Jan 27. This marks the day that Soviet troops entered Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp and liberated the inmates. Though my mother had been interred there in April 1944, by the time Soviet troops arrived she had already been sent to Theresienstadt in German-occupied Czechoslovakia and was liberated there.
In Israel, the day selected by the Israeli government for observing and commemorating the victims of the Nazis is connected to a different event. Yom Ha Shoah, Holocaust and Hero Remembrance Day as it came to be known, was intended to fall on the day marking the bitterly courageous, quixotic, and ultimately futile Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The actual date of that event was too close to the 8-day Passover holiday, so its observance was held till close thereafter, this year falling on April 23-4.
To complicate matters further, there is no consensus within the Jewish population of Israel that this is the appropriate day for observing these events. The larger secular and national religious populations observe Yom Ha Shoa, while a smaller segment of more devoutly observant (and often corresponding with those who pass on army service) choose to maintain their commemorations on the Tenth of Tevet (a few weeks ago) that marks the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem, a period that ultimately lead to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This day was designated by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate as the general day to recite the Kaddish, the Mourner's Prayer, especially for those who had no date of death on which to do so.
Each of these days affords opportunities to reflect, to recall the non-aging faces that remain as if they are frozen in amber, to connect with the losses, and to honor those caught in the Nazi trap of evil. As mentioned here last year, there are many ways to recall and remember.
The Jerusalem Print Workshop recently mounted an exhibit, Under the Press of History, which culminated an art project of looking into days gone by. The word press in the Hebrew incorporates a double enténdre referring to pressure as well, a clever reference to the act of heavy pressure that is used to create etchings.
Six artists incorporating the past into their artwork were invited to work with the master printers of the Workshop. Illit Azoulay, Maya Zack, Merav Solomon, Gil Yefman, Moshe Roas and Ruth Schreiber created prints dealing with their understanding of “courses of history and memory processes.”
Curator Irena Gordon, in her catalogue essay, groups their work as “exploring the manner in which the past destabilizes the present.”
The exhibit stretched over the lower level gallery space and continued to the original low-ceilinged top floor, allowing observers a glimpse of the printmaking equipment and etching station along the way. The deep velvet blacks of printing inks are seductive in themselves, and the separate sets pulled the viewer into the very different approaches.
La Veritas, 2016 screenprint and photo etching 150 x 76 cm by Illit Azoulay

Illit Azoulay explored the history of the location of the Print Workshop itself through randomly distributed printing tools and detritus found on site, In her exhibit called Veritas, she searches for the truth underlying the technical aspects of printmaking. Moshe Roas created 2 sets of prints: one concentrating on the elements of an antique piano and its separate parts, and one focusing on organic plants, including dying date palm trees near Ein Gedi, resulting from sinkholes in the area. He observed that the entire history of the palm tree is incorporated in its stubbed protrusions.

Etching from Tectonic Plates.2016 various techniques, by Moshe Roas
Four of the six artists chose subject matter dealing with World War II and the Holocaust, they were of three different generations, with four approaches to confronting the past.
Spoke, Spoke 2016, etching. 29.5 x 20.5 cm by Maya Zack

Maya Zack turned her formidable drawing skills to explore Jewish-German poet Paul Celan’s post-WWII ruminations on loss and death as being something that cannot be resolved through words, but only through acts, posing a question that has no answer. Her installation of prints was exhibited in a circular layout to allude to a detective’s crime-scene investigation. She searched the breaking down of words, writing, technical aspects of writing itself as being an act of drawing, elements of the poet’s past, and the build-up of compiled details. Gordon notes that Zack dives into the
 “memories and traces of memories. . . into the obscurity of the collective history of Europe’s Jews, and into Celan’s personal family history, which tells the story of his mother and father who had been sent away to concentration camps where they were murdered.”
Notable among the works was a triptych etching, Groundwater Traces, of a high-heeled bleeding woman (Celan’s mother?) laid flat on a low-to-the-floor elevated stage etching herself over and over.  Seen in profile from above, the etching leads off the stage, connects to a desk, where there is an etching of a hand in the act of writing, returning the viewer to beginning of the investigation, the word, and so she completes the crime scene.
Post Man, from Letters from my Grandparents, 2012 38 x 56 cm by Ruth Schreiber

Ruth Schreiber, daughter of Holocaust survivors, is an artist whose works are often autobiographical. Both parents narrowly escaped the grim fate of Europe’s Jews, one having been sent as a child on the Kindertransport to England, the other sent to London by boat some time later. Both grew into adulthood parent-less and the artist grandparent-less.
Letters from my Grandparents is an artist’s book comprised of 8 screenprints, each containing fragments of handwritten letters, elements of memory, and child-like icons such as the postman who connected the far-away parent with the anxious child waiting, 

These postcards go beyond the cheery postcards sent when on an adventure abroad, they are a child’s eye-view of an adult world entered too soon, some printed in somber tones, some in candy colors but laced with raised death masks, ominous train tracks, mixed in with double-decker buses, photos of faces never to be kissed again, and last words. Schreiber traverses a high wire, balancing a rod of innocence and optimism over the abyss of senseless loss. Her reconstructions of a lost childhood are set against a backdrop of the rhythmic marks of her grandparents’ handwriting, unifying both the works and the invisible binding of the broken family. Together they describe a world gone wrong.
Illustrator Merav Solomon also invokes a child’s view in her artist’s book relating to natural catastrophe. Pompei serves as the story which combines the telling of a macabre tale told in a theater-style elongated format replete with drawn curtains, but the images shown, both real and imagined, belie the innocent setting.
Pompei #7, 2016 artist's book, etching 16 x 40 cm by Merav Salomon

Solomon also shows a second series of very simple illustrations documenting a family mystery solved through serendipitous coincidence. The Archive of the Hand of Chance series chronicles stations along a path leading Solomon’s mother to learn the fate of her own mother, Solomon’s grandmother, in a saga spanning war, time. and countries. The key to the mystery was a tube of hidden lipstick, which leads to the family’s confirmation of the grandmother’s demise and their own closure.
Eerily, I could relate Solomon’s family story to my own mother’s survival, who spoke little of her experiences, but would never leave the house without lipstick, including when being hospitalized with fatal cancer. Bluntly, she would say “If you look dead, they will treat you like dead.” I can only surmise that perhaps Solomon’s grandmother, Regina Koren, and her lipstick may have also helped my own mother survive line-ups in Auschwitz.
The youngest of the artists, Gil Yefman, created some of the most difficult images of the exhibit. While an artist-in-residence in Germany, Yefman did extensive research in the archives and concentration camps, giving him the material which aided him in creating these works.
The autobiographic aspect was also a motivator, Yefman says, “…as a transgender person, I identified with the need to examine and oppose the ‘social fall between the cracks…”
Among the works shown is an annual calendar with a twist on the pinup girl image, each screenprint includes the photo of real female German concentration and extermination camp guards, as well as the three ‘first ladies’ of the Third Reich: Klara Hitler, Eva Braun, and Magda Goebbels.
The process of printmaking is one of layering image and technique over the one before, often entailing careful planning. Here the layering is metaphorical too, the images Yefman presents are unflinching in their honest depiction of the context of the camps, the piled corpses as backdrop, the twists of grotesque victims, the contorted positions, the un-romanticized aspects of sex and voyeurism. Pasties of the Mercedes-Benz symbol points to the collaboration of the big corporations who benefited from slave labor, others confront the brothels operated to reward Nazi soldiers, a perk which brought terror and further suffering to the hundreds of women who serviced them and were voiceless.
The strong imagery and the harsh colors make this artwork defiant and confrontational. It dares the viewer to look away. The unbearableness is still a shock, no matter how much we’ve read or seen or heard.
October - Irma Grese from Time Table 2014 12 screenprints, 53 x 38 cm by Gil Yefman

The catalog notes for this last image, includes that Miss October was Irma Grese, known as “The Beautiful Beast”,"The Blonde Angel of Auschwitz”, and “The Hyena of Auschwitz”. She is presented along with Liselotte Meier, known for her hunting and killing Jews for sport in the Belarus area. Yefman shows Grese and Dr. Mengele as conjoined twins, Irma was known for her sadistic sexual tendencies and Mengele was one of her lovers. She was convicted of crimes against humanity and executed at the age of 22 and 67 days. Her last comment to the executor/hangman: “Schnell.”
Paul Celan wrote in his 1959 poem quoted in the catalogue: “Do not read any more – look! Do not look any more – go! ("The Straightening")  If he was right, by extension these artists seem to say: Do not wait any more - make! create! These artists’ works are on the right path to commemorate the traumas of the past and the preservation of personal memory as part of history.
Pressure released, pressings revealed.
Unfortunately, this exhibit has closed, but the catalogue is available for purchase. Link to the exhibit page here.
The Jerusalem Print Workshop is now participating in the Sixth Biennale for Drawing in Israel,  The Nature of Drawing / The Paper's Calling,
Opening hours:
Sun.-Thurs. 8:00-15:00
Fri. By appointment
38 Shivtei Israel St., Jerusalem 9510561, Telefax: 02-6288614

This post was originally published on Times of Israel here or

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

UNESCO: Black is Back

Jewish Funeral on the Mount of Olives © 2016 by Heddy Abramowitz

This is a non-art post, but if you think of it in a certain way, it is the most-art post. UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). On the international level, it is the Mother of all cultural and educational endeavors, the funders, the promoters, the movers, the ones who make it happen at that level. 

So I am posting this here for my international readers, of whom there are many. Anyone who cares about Jewish heritage needs to care about this, and by extension Christian heritage. And obviously World Heritage.

The funeral of a 92-year-old mother of 2 adult children is normally a fairly routine occurrence. The small crowd gathered, family and friends, few knew her in her prime. Words were said.

The unadorned corpse shrouded and covered respectfully was carried on its stretcher from the van by male relatives within hours of her passing, in accordance with Jerusalem custom.

Yet only in Jerusalem would this type of funeral pass for normal. Cell-phones communicated to the army and fully-armed border patrol for the go-ahead and the parking lot gate was opened. Traffic was stopped. The short cortege crossed the traffic circle by foot to the other side and continued towards the site of the open plot, as a coordinated convoy.

The moves of other pedestrians were relayed to the soldiers maintaining eye contact one to the other along the short route. There was a vegetable stand, there was a drinks stand, and we passed an otherwise nondescript small hotel with a panoramic view that was breathtaking.

After wending our way through the closely spaced graves, the great grandmother was lowered into her ultimate resting place on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, just as Jews have been interred for thousands of years before her.

The funeral occurred this past Thursday, the day after Yom Kippur when the Jews believe the Book of Life has been closed for the preceding year, and, coincidentally, the same day the UNESCO proposition was passed glaringly omitting reference to Jewish connection in Jerusalem.

Her gravesite was in direct view of the ancient site of the City of David, one ridge over, and the Temple Mount rose across the valley, surrounded by ancient and new Hebrew-incised gravestones, some mere fragments due to the effects of harsh years of sun and of the elements on their surfaces since being set ages ago, but also due to vandalism and war.

Echoes of Jewish presence reaching back deep into history reverberate at this site. The Sacrifice of Isaac, Jacob’s Dream happened here. Solomon’s Temple, Herod’s Temple stood here. They harken back more than a thousand years before the dawn of Christianity here, more than 1600 years before the start of Islam elsewhere.

The destroyed Jewish Temples are no more. The relative newcomers are evident by the well-maintained churches on the ridge, the Dome of the Rock and El Aksa Mosque sit like sentries on high in the close distance. A strong tall cypress pierces the deep blue of the late afternoon sky, relieving the monotony of pale Jerusalem stone spreading in every direction.

What should be a routine and peaceful end of life took a surreal turn in the City of Peace. With Jewish presence driven out by pogroms, like the Yemenite neighborhood once in Silwan, this site is now flanked by Arab neighborhoods. Some hostile populations live incited by their political and religious leaders and they exacerbate daily tensions. Mourners and their vehicles are often attacked by rocks, and worse.

On a different occasion, I sat helplessly as a boy who could not have been more than 9 took advantage of August heat and an open window to spit at my elderly father-in-law when on his way to pay respects at his mother's grave.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, I am reminded that Israel united the Temple Mount and the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives to the rest of pre-1948 Jerusalem, after Arab armies attacked the modern State of Israel while still in birth throes.

Under the 19 years of Jordanian rule, Jews were denied any access to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest sites. While in Jordan’s hands, rather than preserving Jewish heritage, cemetery stones on the Mount of Olives were used to make latrines, pavements, roads, and graves were desecrated. The deliberate destruction and attempted erasure of Jewish heritage continue today and are the essence of this UNESCO vote.

Seeing the gleam of the Golden Dome on the Temple Mount in front of me I could not escape the thought that while Israel has honored the ability of Jerusalemites of all faiths to pray at their holy sites, despite ongoing terrorism, for some it remains a one-way street.

There are those who do not recognize that mutual respect must precede as a foundation for any advancement in this shared space. The most modest of Jewish life events – a handful of mourners needing an armed escort – illustrates the tension Jews still live with at the very source of Jewish history.

UNESCO’s denial of the indigenous Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the holiest site of the Jewish religion exceed chutzpah. I hear my late father who lived through the Anschluss in Austria in my ears, saying  “black turned to white, white turned to black.”

Notwithstanding Ban’s spare remarks about the outrageous vote, as with most things, the damage is done at the inception and cannot be unheard.  No one reads corrections. Fewer read footnotes.

Witnesses to the Big Lie, the stones scream.

Originally published on Times of Israel here or: