Midwest Artists’ Lab Retreat – Day Three!

An early morning beginning with a bus ride to the newer Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun to see its sacred spaces and exhibitions by local Milwaukee artists….

We entered the sanctuary which had been designed by local architect Philip Katz, where Midwest Jewish Artists’ Laboratory visionary Jody Hirsch spoke to us about this sacred space.

Jody Hirsch speaking to us in Congregation Emanu-El B'ne Jeshurun's sanctuary.
Jody Hirsch speaking to us in Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun’s sanctuary.

Morning light was worth getting up for!

Outside the building, there is a cubist Shofar sculpture by local metal artist Richard Edelman.  A Shofar blown into the opening on the left will amplify the sound for the ears to enjoy.

Shofar sculpture by Richard Edelman
Shofar sculpture by Richard Edelman

Then, back on the buses to go to the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center.     Professor Dean Bell from Spertus in Chicago and our own Rabbi Andrea Steinberger led a session on Creating a Community of Artists:  Using Art, Exploration and the Digital World, dividing us into groups to explore text and technology.

Jody Hirsch begins to introduce our topic for the year — Echoes: Voices of Wisdom.

And finally it was time to introduce this year’s topic:  Echoes — Voices of Wisdom.  Mark Tasman from Milwaukee and Jody Hirsch presented the work of Ben Shahn — to inspire us!

Rabbi Andrea Steinberger leading our morning session.
Rabbi Andrea Steinberger leading our morning session.

IMG_1172IMG_1171Finally it was time to separate — after our work was shared and many new connections were made.   Few people stayed longer to see the Biblical Stories exhibit at the Haggerty Museum and to attend the Paul Robeson concert at Congregation Beth Israel – Milwaukee.

from left to right: Rachel Herbsman, Leslie Coff, Joshua Gilstein, Judith Zukerman, Rabbi Andrea Steinberger, Deborah Kades, Pam Phillips Olson, Ellen Meyer

But here is our happy group — on Sunday morning — enjoying the early morning Wisconsin air — and each other.


Midwest Artist’s Lab Retreat — Day Two!

A beautiful Milwaukee morning!   After more niggunim, storytelling and tefillah with Josh we had an opportunity to choose learning sessions.  People could choose from the following:   The Life Memories Project with our own Pam Phillips Olsen,  Woof and D’rash — Weaving the Jewish Experience with Berit Engen from Chicago, Simple Movement & Intuition with Barbara Chudnow from Milwaukee, Torah Portion Art Therapy with Sherri Jacobs from Overland Park, Kansas, The Torah of Music with Joey Weisenberg from Philadelphia; or Wisdom and Light: Maimonides on Prophecy and the Artist as Prophet with Leslie Coff.

Sessions were interesting and provided engaging dialogue — and frankly, could have gone on for longer — but alas, it was time for a bracing walk to Chai Point for lunch!    It was about a 30-minute walk to Chai Point Senior Living — along the lake and among the bright leaves — where we were served a wonderful lunch before walking back towards the Milwaukee Art Museum for special tours.

We were lucky to have a special behind-the-scenes tour of the new sections of the Art Museum as well as the Larry Sultan Photography Exhibition.

Interestingly, this Kandinsky Composition is one of his 'spiritual' pieces -- where he engages with the idea of The Artist as Prophet....
Interestingly, this Kandinsky Composition is one of his ‘spiritual’ pieces — where he engages with the idea of The Artist as Prophet….

Such a wonderful afternoon at the museum — a blustery walk back to the hotel and ready for dinner.

Havdalah with Joey.

After a beautiful havdalah with niggunim and Joey Weisberger, we were privileged to attend the Song of Second Avenue: Yiddish Theatre’s Enduring Musical Legacy – featuring Hankus Netsky, Lorin Sklamberg, Joanne Borts and The Hebrew National Salvage — at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Zelaso Center (The former Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun built at the beginning of the last century with amazing architectural elements and fabulous stained glass windows).   An amazing Saturday evening and a fitting ending to an inspiring day!


Midwest Jewish Artists’ Lab Retreat — Five Cities — Day One!

Oh, what an amazing opportunity to gather with artists from the Art Labs from Kansas City, Minneapolis, Chicago and Milwaukee.   Oh, what a wonderful group we are (if you don’t mind me saying.   We were gifted with the chance to meet together in Milwaukee for the weekend, welcomed by Mark Shapiro, Executive Director of the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center.   Helene Fischman began, then, speaking of the many disciplines of the arts — as ‘languages’ through which we communicate…challenging each of us to communicate in other disciplines.   We took pencil to paper and wrote nouns — and passed on the paper to our neighbors who wrote descriptions — and to another who illustrated.   Here was my “Pound Cake”.IMG_1162

Helene also spoke of psychogeography — a movement which grew out of Situationalism — which encourages playfulness and moving through urban environs.  So here we were — sixty-five artists playing together and exploring our new connections.

We explored niggunim in prayer with Joey Weisenberg –who spoke of the niggun as the sound a soul makes.   A niggun is the deepest form of prayer — the words behind the words.

We were fortunate to have Stephen Arnoff, President and Chief Executive Officer of JCCA, offer us the keynote after dinner.   He spoke to us of the artists’ role in inspiring the community — of the opportunity for the artist to elevate the community in our buildings of gathering and worship.     He was very engaging and gave us ideas…

Our Facilitators, 2015-2016

Teryl Dobbs is associate professor and Chair of Music Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, holding appointments in both the School of Music and the Department of Curriculum and Instruction while serving as a member of the University’s Disability Studies Initiative. Dobbs holds the Ph.D. in music studies/music education from Northwestern University and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in music education and pedagogy. As a scholar, she investigates musical representations of trauma and pedagogies related to the Shoah; undertakes archival study of child survivor testimonies regarding music learning activities in Theresienstadt; interrogates theories of disability and nondisability within music education; and explores preservice music educators’ constructions of teaching identity and praxis.

 Aviv Kammay is a music educator, Beatles scholar, and composer, born in Tel Aviv, Israel.  He received his degree in Music Education from the Lewinsky College of Education and Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music and his Masters’ of Music Education from Northwestern University.  He has taught students in both Israel and the United States, ranging in age from pre-kindergarten to adults. Aviv arrived in Madison in 2010 where he is the music educator at Wingra School. He regularly leads singing at local Jewish community events.

Since 2003 Aviv has been the music director at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute, a Jewish summer camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. He serves there as a member of the Tiferet artists team, leading a unique, collaborative fine arts program for Jewish youth who have a special interest in combining their art with Jewish studies.

Aviv’s compositions have been performed in Israel and the United States and have won him several awards, including the Guild of Temple Musicians 2009 Young Composer award. He lives on the East side of Madison with his wife, Parthy, their son, Noam, and their furry companion, Shmuely the cat.

Leah Kolb is associate curator at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Solo curatorial projects include Calculated Manipulations: Structural Films at MMoCA (2012), I Dream Too Much: Paintings by Leslie Smith III (2013), Jason Yi: A Fragile Permanence (June 2014), Narayan Mahon: Lands in Limbo (December 2014), and Kim Schoen: Have You Never Let Someone Else Be Strong? (September 2015). Most recently, she has also worked in collaboration with Stephen Fleischman on Eric and Heather ChanSchatz: 22nd Century (February 2015) and with Richard Axsom on the forthcoming travelling exhibition and accompanying catalogue raisonne Frank Stella Prints: A Retrospective (February, 2016).

Steve Olson spent eighteen years teaching English in New York City prep schools (mainly Jewish) before coming to Madison with his family. Much to his surprise, he was hired as a Madison police officer, and he spent three years patrolling the South Side at night before resuming his teaching career. He retired from West High School, where film study and English literature were probably his most sought-after classes. Among his former students are authors Elizabeth Wurtzel (“Prozac Nation”), Daphne Merkin (“Dreaming of Hitler”), and Ehud Havazelet (“Bearing the Body”) plus–from West H.S.–an assistant curator at MMOCA, Leah Kolb. The several hundred people he arrested shall remain nameless.

 Robert Skloot  (Bob) retired in 2008 after 40 years of teaching, directing and administrating at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His career has included serving as Fulbright Professor in Israel (1980-81), Austria (F 1988), Chile (F 1995) and The Netherlands (S 2005), and as Fulbright Specialist in England (2013). He is the author and editor of many books and essays about the theatre of the Holocaust and genocide, including The Darkness We Carry: The Drama of the Holocaust (1988) and the two-volume anthology The Theatre of the Holocaust (1981; 1999) and The Theatre of Genocide: Four Plays about Mass Murder in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia and Armenia (2008). In 2011, Skloot was chosen for inclusion in Fifty Key Thinkers on the Holocaust and Genocide, ed. Bartrop and Jacobs (2011). Over a generation, Skloot has presented scores of lectures throughout the United States and internationally on subject that include: the Arts of the Holocaust, the Theatre and Genocide, Holocaust Education, American Theatre and Drama, etc.

Skloot’s play, If the Whole Body Dies: Raphael Lemkin and the Treaty Against Genocide (2006), has been read around the U.S. and internationally (Sarajevo, The Hague,) and in its Spanish version (Aunque Todo El Cuerpo Muera) in Cuba and Peru. Polish, German and Hebrew translations have been recently completed.

Andrea Steinberger, site director of the Jewish Artists’ Laboratory, has served as the rabbi at the Hillel at the University of Wisconsin, Madison at the Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life since 1999. She received a BA in Psychology from Northwestern University and a Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters and rabbinical ordination from the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. She works with UW students through teaching, holiday programming, alternative break programs and trips, and one-on-one conversations. She participates in regular dialogue, projects and programs in the Madison Jewish community and at state-wide events in the larger community. Andrea is married to and works with her husband, Greg Steinberger, the executive director of UW Hillel. They have three children.

We begin!

At our first artists’ laboratory on October 8, we introduced the theme of Echoes: Voices of Wisdom. We introduced ourselves. Some of us are new members, entering the lab for the first time. Others of us have been here before. We got to know one another. We studied a text by Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, based on the Chief Rabi’s Haggadah, 2007. He wrote about the summer of 2000 when he was invited to deliver a lecture in the presence of Prince Philip in Windsor Castle, the oldest continuously inhabited royal residence in the world, going back almost 1000 years to William the Conqueror. Rabbi Sacks made the claim that, rather than bricks or mortar, the Jewish castle is built of words. It “has been preserved across the centuries, handed on by one generation to the next, added to and enhanced in age after age, lovingly cherished and sustained.” We inherited this story from our parents, and they from theirs. And it is our home. “More than it belongs to us, we belong to it.”

We talked about the romantic notion that we Jews are a part of a larger story. Jews are more than a country or a building. We are a story, and it is our story that keeps us going into the next generation.

We each brought an item from our art medium that represented the theme of echoes: voices of wisdom and we shared it with the group.

Pam brought chestnuts, which reminded her of the tree in her family’s yard. She brought drawing of the biblical scene of the Akedah – of Abraham nearly sacrificing his son. Her son, Ben, drew the picture. We looked at the faces of Abraham, Isaac and the angel in the drawing and noticed that they all had the same expression on their face.

Judith read a poem from the book, “The Wild Braid,” by Stanley Kunitz. She spoke about the layers upon layers of life; about standing in one’s garden, marveling about the beauty; about standing on life’s layers and remembering the people who have died.

Rachel talked about sound as an echo, talking about the science of sonar and what it reveals as it echoes. She spoke of the bat kol – as seen in the Talmud. It is the voice from heaven that comes down to the people and how the people receive it. Sometimes they do not pay attention to the heavenly voice.

Ellen wondered if an echo can exist in visual art. We spoke of Rothko’s luminosity. We wondered about the echo from one artist to another, and how one person uses past influences. How Helen Frankenthaler uses negative spaces. We spoke about photography.

Josh brought headphones and spoke about how meaningful it is to listen to a song through the headphones. We spoke about what it sounds like to holler in a tunnel, how it fades, gets bigger, then smaller and is never the same. Josh mentioned that with repetition the note does not fade or disappear. He spoke of hearing notes in a song that speak to him.

Deborah mentioned that the ancient and modern have so much in common. She brought in a book of postcards based on Native American art. They were modern, pop art, but held onto something so enduring that keeps bouncing back in all different places.

(Notes by Rabbi Andrea Steinberger)

Welcome to the Madison Jewish Artists’ Lab!

A wonderful initiative underwritten by the Covenant Foundation and facilitated at University of Wisconsin Hillel, the Madison Jewish Artists’ Laboratory is part of a multi city project intended to connect artists of all different disciplines with each other, with their work and with the greater community. Beginning in Madison, Wisconsin in 2012, our Artist’s Lab joined Milwaukee and Minneapolis communities — and in 2015, they were joined by Chicago and Kansas City Jewish Artists Labs.

We are led by Rabbi Andrea Steinberger and additionally facilitated by Aviv Kammay, Leah Kolb, Terri Hobbs, Steve Olson and Bob Skloot.    We are excited to begin our year!

Hillel at the University of Wisconsin — The Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life — 611 Langdon Street, Madison WI 53703 — Phone: 608-256-8361

Follow us as we explore and study together.