For the past two years, while vacationing in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, I've been surprised by art exhibits that focus on Jewish themes. Two years ago, the wonderful Pissarro exhibit at The Clark Museum in Williamstown tied together the early Impressionist with his Jewish heritage and political leanings.
This year, while visiting the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield this August, I was struck by Wendy Rabinowitz's exhibit tying together Shaker and Jewish concepts of peace, through her exhibit, "Shalom: Weaving Threads of Peace." As it turns out, around 1842 the Shakers gave each of their villages a spiritual name and Hancock became City of Peace, the traditional translation of Jerusalem.
"I've always been a peace activist," Rabinowitz said in an interview. "This exhibit is about expanding the intersections of the traditions."
Following nine months of research, Rabinowitz says she started seeing the similarities in the shared Jewish and Shaker experience. She identified 20 aspects, such as Neshama/Soul and Healing Hands. She grew increasingly appreciative of both religions' deep reverence and respect for the earth and creation, the sacred work of our hands and craftsmanship.
Her artwork combines weaving and textile arts with other visual arts, graphics and the written word, resulting in mixed media assemblages. "All of my work is Jewishly based," she says. "I think Jewish art is the art of co-creation with God, nature and goodness in the world."
The month-long art exhibit, in the much prettier than named Poultry House, tied together common themes between Shaker and Jewish culture. Each piece of art was accompanied by an explanation of the intersection.
Rabinowitz's artwork ties together bright fabrics and other media with Jewish icons, such as the Ten Commandments, mezzuzot or tallitot. Often, there is Hebrew text embedded -- a related blessing or quotation from the Prophets. Her piece, Praise God, seen above, includes both the orignal Hebrew and an English translation, placed within a sea of pastels. Shakers, celibate and expressive through music and craft, were deeply committed to the praise of God.
Rabinowitz compares her artistic experience to common Jewish themes: self-discovery like the desert wandering, creation as an act of renewal, and Tikkun Olam as a healing process, responsive to God. "I see living as joyful, but also as a struggle with our relationship to God," she says.
"Shalom: Weaving Threads of Peace" will be on exhibit in January and February, 2013 at The Farber/Miness Gallery Ludwig Schenectady Jewish Community Center in Niskayuna, NY. A different show, "Journey of Peace: Art as Meditation" will be open in November at Osilas Gallery at Concordia College in Bronxville, NY.