I will be participating in the Salon ha Cubia exhibit opening October 28, 2017, at 8 pm in Nayot in Jerusalem, as part of the city-wide Manofim project. Closing January 25, 2018. Hope to see you there. Invitation

Pleased to be participating in the exhibition HOME(less) at HUC-JIR Museum NY. Running through the end of June 2018. For details see post

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Eighth Candle: Fully Lit and then Ebbing Away

"The Eighth Night, the Jewish Quarter"  c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

In this last post for the week of Chanukah, I will be pulling together little bits of this and that didn't fit into a neat subject but  together summarize the week for me.

One of the things that I have always appreciated about living in Israel is how natural Israelis are about their Judaism. One such example is that store owners who can not leave their businesses at dusk to light their candles at home, will do so at their place of business in the most matter-of-fact way, as in this scene which took place in the open air market of Mahaneh Yehuda.

"Fishmonger Prepares Chanukiah" c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

"Chanukah at the Fish Stall"  c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

~~~~ ^^^^^^ ~~~~
"Chanukiah"  (glass bottle, olive oil, wicks) by Ken Goldman

This contemporary take on the chanukiah by Ken Goldman is one of the Chanukah-related artworks that caught my eye. Goldman, a trained industrial artist, took "the road less travelled" (thank you Robert Frost) when he moved to Israel to live on Kibbutz Shluchot in the Beit Shean Valley, not exactly a world art center. Nonetheless,  Goldman 's ripples are felt on distant shores as he explores edgy turns on issues relating to  Judaism in the current world.

Here, the essence of the candelabra is  reduced to a bottle of oil laid on its side and oil wicks inserted directly into the oil supply. (children:  do not try this at home). The minimalist take on the traditional ritual object makes this the white canvas of the Judaica world.

~~ ^^^^ ~~

Since so many people travel great distances to enjoy the Chanukah lights that are in my neighborhood, I will share with you a few glimpses of the street where I live.

"Chanukah Lights and Passers-by"  c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

"Channukah Lights and Geranium"  c. 201l  by  Heddy Abramowitz

"Chanukiot on Lane in Jewish Quarter"  c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

"Multi-story Chanukiah" c.20ll by Heddy Abramowitz

"Chanukah Lamps and Metal Door"  c.2011 by Heddy Abramowitz
"Women's Seminary Door and Chanukiot"  c.2011by Heddy Abramowitz

"The Last Glow"  c.2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

 ~~~~ ^^^^^ ~~~~~~

To close,  here is a cartoon from the legendary cartoonist, Yaakov Kirschen, whose "Dry Bones" cartoon series in the Jerusalem Post has made the world seem a little less bleak for so many people. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Seventh Candle: Unearthing the Past


Clay Seal, circa 1st century B.C.E. -70 B.C. (AP photo/ Oded Balilty)

 Jerusalem is a work in progress- and that becomes readily apparent in the field of archaeology where new discoveries expand the store of wealth about this location and what we know of our joint history. It was announced this week that a clay seal has been discovered in the ongoing digs adjacent to the site of the ancient Temple. The seal bears two words in Aramaic meaning "pure for God."  Archaeologists believe that it was used to approve the purity of objects used for ritual purposes and is a rare artifact linking to this time period.  

While this find apparently relates to the period of the Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans,  and not connected directly to the holiday of Chanukah,  it is a discovery which may reveal to us the kind of seal that could have been used during the time of the First Temple to mark the purity of the oil used in Temple rituals,  the basis for the story of the requirement of a cruse of pure oil bearing a seal of purity.

Pretty cool Chanukah present.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Sixth Candle: Persecution and Freedom

"Battle Between the Maccabees and the Bacchides"
Jean Fouquet, vellum, 1470, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France

A significant part of the story of Chanukah concerns the up-rising of the Maccabees against the Greek oppressors. The above illustration by Jean Fouquet (1420-1481 France) shows the Macabees in pitched battle and was from the French translation of Josephus Flavius 's historical  accounts, "Antiquites Judaiques." Fouquet, a master of the portrait miniature (and perhaps the inventor of the genre) and illuminated manuscripts, is also credited, some claim, with creating the first self-portrait and may have been the first French painter to travel to Italy for artistic inspiration, leading a long line who came in his wake.

One of the stories in the second book of the Maccabees details the martyrdom of seven brothers who refused to transgress Jewish laws as decreed by their conquerors, and one after another all seven brothers were killed in front of their mother's eyes. She, Hanna, even refused to plead for the youngest to be spared,  and then died herself. Their graves are said to be in the ancient cemetery in TsfatWith this but one tale of many instances of persecution, it  provides the background for the fierce motivation needed to fuel the few Maccabee rebels to rise against an enemy which over-powered them in numbers and strength.

Unfortunately, it is never too long of a historical stretch for one to find more recent examples of persecution in Jewish history. The Sixth Candle of Chanukah may be as appropriate a place as any to make this connection, six being a number with direct associations to recent tragic Jewish history. We may never know all the names of the Hannas who bore the unspeakable of seeing  a child killed before their eyes during the Holocaust - not for refusing to break commandments, but for the crime of being a Jew.  

The Jewish Museum in New York is currently exhibiting "An Artist Remembers: Hanukkah Lamps Selected by Maurice Sendak"  in which illustrator Sendak acts as curator. Sendak, who still feels the loss of the world of his eastern European parents, avoided the most ornate and chose instead the most square and simple lamps, saying

“Their very simplicity reminded me of the Holocaust. And I thought it was inappropriate for me to be thinking of elaboration.”
One of the lamps chosen has its own special significance. It was created by artisans who were Jewish Holocaust survivors in a Displaced Persons camp in 1945 and  was presented as a gift to honor the U.S. General Joseph McNarney, the Military Governor of occupied Germany, for the extra efforts he took to ensure not only their physical survival, but their spiritual survival as well.

The Obama White House requested this particular chanukiah to use in the White House ceremony, which focused specifically on the contribution of the military service. Not only did the White House decide to use a Chanukah lamp of such great significance, but it went the extra mile to address the comfort of all the invited guests to the ceremony, including those who adhere to the Jewish dietary laws. Continuing a practice started by Laura Bush, a team of religious experts were invited in to convert the White House kitchen to a kosher kitchen for the day.

This act should not be taken for granted. One of the distinguishing features of the United States is that it was founded by those escaping religious persecution and seeking religious freedom. One of the underlying messages of  Chanukah is preservation of the unique traditions of the Jewish People.Beyond what Martha Stewart would require in the way of  the niceties of formal hostessing (and even if our inner cynic knows it presented a great opportunity for a pre-election photo-op) the symbolism of this act speaks volumes about religious freedom and cannot be over-estimated.

"Chanukah Lamp" Landsberg am Lech, Germany, 1945 Collection of the Jewish Museum New York


Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Fifth Candle: Evoking Candlelight

"Hanukkah, Festival of Lights" woodcut from Minhoginbukh (The Book of Customs), Amsterdam, 1727 (Library of Congress)
Tonight we have a convergence of the celebration of Chanukah with Christmas Eve. They coincide when the Jewish holiday, which follows the lunar calendar, happens to overlap with the Christian holiday, dated according to the solar calendar. In North America this coincidence has turned into a convenient secular and commercial "holiday season."

Visitors to Jerusalem are usually struck by  the lack of commercialization of these celebrations. Yes, there are festive events and the city is decorated with bright lights, but it is a holiday atmosphere that is less about the material. The municipality of Jerusalem, for many years, distributes cut pine trees for Christians as a city service. During the day today, there were church bells pealing in the background and a light drizzle started at dusk, turning now into a steady strong rain, much needed in this arid country.

In art,  the images relating to these holidays provide an opportunity to depict light. Here are some of the images relating to Channukah from a variety of times.

"Chanukah" etching by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800-1882)

Hanukkah, 18th century, artist unkown, 35 cm X 41.5 cm

Here is a detail from the Ades synagogue in Nachlaot,  where the walls are covered with menora symbols.

"Ades Synagogue"  2010 by Heddy Abramowitz

It was painted by Yaackov Stark,  a teacher at the original Bezalel School, during 1911-1912.

And below,  a photograph of holiday lights in the alleyway of the Armenian Quarter:

"Bus and Passers-by, Armenian Quarter" 2010 c. by Heddy Abramowitz 

Best wishes for days that continue to spread light.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Fourth Candle: An Old City Custom

"Jewish Quarter Wall- Hewn Chanukiah Indentation" c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz
The wafting smell of  burning olive oil is in the air nightly as my neighbors light their candles and lamps.   Lighting candles,  or the preferred oil lamps, is most commonly done in an open window at nighttime while people are still walking about, in order to publicize the miracle of the single oil container that defied physics and lasted for eight full days instead of the expected one day. As with art, it is one thing to perform the ceremony and make the appropriate blessings, but these lights in the dark night are meant to be seen by others.  

It is preferred to light one's candles outdoors, near the doorway of the building, so that the flames are visible by passers-by. Commonly, people use a glass box to house their chanukiot so that the lit  flames will be protected from the evening winds. This is especially important on Friday evenings, like tonight, when care is taken to ensure that the Chanukah candles, lit just before Sabbath candles, will stay lit for at least an hour. It is also the only time during the holiday when all observant Jews light their candles at the same time,  so it is the chance to see the many lit chanukiot all at once - a draw for anyone  wanting to view this without the weekday commercial atmosphere on the other nights. Neighborhood children go on a chanukiah "hunt" to count the lighted candelabra they see in windows and doorways at dusk.

 "Chanukiah Window, the Jewish Quarter"  c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz
In the Old City,  this is sometimes taken one more step. There is a local custom, when possible, to carve into the exterior stone of the building and make an indentation - making  a special built-in window for the sole purpose of  housing the chanukia for this week.  

Here is my personal  Chanukah “window”  where I  light my candles.  It is placed on the left side of the entrance to my home, as is the custom, so that  with a mezuzah on the right side of the doorway, the portal to the home has religious commandments (mitzvot) flanking it.

"Menora and Ripening Oranges" c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

Third Candle: On Gates and Grates

"Window Grate, Nachlaot Synagogue" c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz
With so many religious institutions, schools, places of learning and prayer,  it is no surprise to see the motif of the menora or chanukiah incorporated into decorative  elements all over Jerusalem, often with a utilitarian function. Most homes and public-use buildings have metal grates and bars on windows and doorways for security - and these metal works, in some effort at creativity, go beyond the geometric, using symbols in their designs, such as the menora or chanukiah.

"Menora  Window Grate and Magen David Window"  c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

It makes sense that the Chanukah theme is incorporated so frequently. The word Chanukah really means dedication - it was named for the act of re-dedicating the Temple. In modern Hebrew, when one has a house-warming party, we call it a Chanukat-haBayit, or dedication of the home (or place of another sort- such as synagogue, yeshiva, etc.). Very appropriate, then, to have a Chanukah pattern in a new structure or a newly-purposed place.

"Geula Synagogue Gate"  c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz
Some of these uses, while exuberant in their zeal, vary in their aesthetic success.

"Women's Seminary Gate, the Jewish Quarter" c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz
And then there are others, which I think attain the level of a kind of folk art, their wrought metal forms achieving something quite beautiful in their naive formulations.

                 "Gate with Menora and Quote: If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem, Let My Right Hand Lose Its Cunning"
c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

And,  this final example harkens to an earlier time and the work of an artisan with a sense for simplicity.

"Nachlaot Synagogue Window and Grate"  c.  2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Second Candle: Carved in Stone

"Stone Carving, Musrara"  c. 2010 by Heddy Abramowitz

Wandering around Jerusalem, one can see the menorah motif used as an embellishment on buildings in various neighborhoods. These small details, I find, are what gives individual distinction to neighborhoods and buildings, in the same way that freckles and dimples define a face.

Above,  is a contemporary carving found along a wall in today's in the Morasha/Musrara neighborhood.

The following  photos are examples of  the menorah used as a lintel stone over the doorways of buildings.

"Door Lintel, Nachlaot, Dedicated 1935" c.2010 by Heddy Abramowitz

It puzzles me how these lovely details seem to be invisible to some residents,  with exposed wiring, pipes and all manner of infrastructure cluttering buildings all over the city, where practicalities often trump aesthetics.

"Aliza's Wig Boutique with Menora Lintel, Geula"  c. 2010 by Heddy Abramowitz

As cities everywhere become more similar, these small unique markings are ever more valuable in maintaining the distinct character of place in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The One Where Y'all Light the Little Candles

 Drawing of  Temple Vessels,  circa 1st century B.C.E. by unknown artist  (Photo c. Israel Museum, Jerusalem, by Yoram Lehmann)
Yes, Chanukah starts tonight at sunset,  the holiday when the Jews recall a miracle dating back 2,176  years to the Greek destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple. The story of Chanukah is likely familiar to most,  but, as I’ve noticed that I have readers in the most diverse of countries and cultures, you can find it here .

The menorah, the seven-branched candelabra of the Temple, is one of the most enduring of national symbols of the Jewish people. It differs from the candelabra  that is used for the celebration of Chanukah in the number of candles lit – a chanukiah is comprised of eight branches to re-enact the eight days of the miracle, plus an extra candle to aid in the lighting of the others (plural: chanukiot).

Scholars have long explored ancient texts for clues to the actual appearance of the ancient holy vessel. At the end of Jordanian rule in 1967, extensive archaeological digs were conducted in the Jewish Quarter, led by archaeologist, Nahum Avigad,  which uncovered a rare possible eye-witness documentation. During the excavations a large mansion was unearthed which showed a drawing scratched into a plaster wall located a number of meters away from the Temple itself (albeit during the time of Herod's Second Temple, after the Chanukah story). It is believed to have been drawn by a Jewish Priest who was familiar with the holy artifacts and sketched them into the wet plaster of the wall and is the earliest known depiction of the menorah.
Graffito with temple vessels; Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem; Herodian period, 1st century BCE, Plaster, The Israel Museum 

This ancient rendering of the menorah is housed in the Israel Museum archaeology wing in the newly renovated museum.  If you are visiting,  keep this image in mind when you cross into another wing of the museum, that dedicated to Jewish Life. The old museum displayed a truly impressive high wall of Chanukah lamps from all over the world-  which, unfortunately, was eye-straining and prevented close-up views of the details of the individual lamps which were as diverse as their countries of origin. And,  I presume, also presented a continuing battle with dust. The newly designed museum now  displays fewer examples in a room dedicated to these Chanukah lamps,  each in a display window of suitable height and  with individual lighting so that they can be better appreciated.

Preparations for the holiday are at their height,  with the first of eight candles to be lit tonight. My studio landlord's grandchildren invited me to see their family's preparations for the holiday, and this is one of the chanukiot their family lights - jumbo-sized, the better to publicize the miracle. I was struck by the remarkable resemblance it bears  to the one shown above from the first century, B.C.E.  And so it is with tradition.

I will be posting more images relating to Chanukah from around Jerusalem and beyond for all eight nights of the holiday. If there are artists who incorporate the menora or chanukiah image in their work are welcome to send a suggestion  for posting.

"Chanukiah in Nachlaot" ( Razel Family) c. 2011by Heddy Abramowitz