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)