Of Qadosh, Otherness & Responsibility

Qadosh — being separate, sacred, holy — treasured.    Qadosh -of the Divine, separate from human impurity and sin…although Qadosh (aka Kadosh) implies specialness — there is also some tension associated with it.   When you are chosen, when you are Qadosh, separate, holy — you are isolated, you are the Other.

Qadosh can be morally or ceremonially sacred.   Qadosh can indicate an angel, a saint, a sanctuary — and once again, isolation.img_1781

The Artist as Qadosh must do their sacred work in Isolation.   Some might say that the Artist works hand in hand with the Divine.   What is holy for a Jewish Artist?   Some say that it is the pulling together of ideas — the inspiration (like breathing in…), the connection, the doing — the connecting color or line or sound or light with feeling.

The Artist is Qadosh when they cause the audience to draw in breath — be inspired.img_1804

If this work is not holy, it is nonetheless sacred.   And being an artist we have the responsibility to do our work — to do the holy work of inspiring that the Divine designed us for.

But as Jewish Artists, of Qadosh, there is an inherent responsibility.  Being chosen does not make you free.  It makes you worry.  It makes you work.   It gives you soapbox and mouthpiece and voice.     Art that is not qadosh — does not have voice or message or feeling — has vapidity?  Discuss.img_1805







We looked at the work of Elaine Reichek, a NY-based visual artist, born in 1943.   Although the work looks like Craft, the message belies the sanctity and surprise of it all.

“The Parents of Jewish Boys Always Love Me — I am the closest thing to a Shiksa without Being One.”  – Elaine Reichek



“We Shall Overcome” — Ben Shahn

Ben Shahn was a social realist — his work used his sacred mouthpiece to deliver messages on social construct.

“James Chaney” – Ben Shahn

















Perhaps it is our role as Outsider, Other, Separator, Qadosh — that allows us perspective.


Trending American

We have come to America. We were refugees ourselves, striving to live within it borders…on the inside.

Some of us came through Mexico.  My grandfather certainly did.   Some came through Ellis Island.

Rabbi Steinberger’s family came through Ellis Island, to Chicago, in 1948. Her mom was born in 1942…at a logger camp in Siberia.  img_1751 Her grandparents were married on the 31st of December in 1939 — in total darkness — in a basement in Poland by a rabbi — and then they walked to Brest, Russia.    She shared pictures of these courageous people.

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Her mom learned to speak English when she was six years old — in day camp.  She spoke Russian, Yiddish, Polish, German…and English.

And then it was 1948…and they were at Ellis Island, in line, waiting for their turn to tell the officers that their final destination was Chicago.

Coming into the Harbor, they passed Staten Island and saw the beautiful Statue of Liberty National Monument…and a poem, by Emma Lazarus, graven on a tablet within the pedestal on which the status stands.

Here is that poem:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame

With Conquering limbs ascribe from land to land;

Here at our sea-washing sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles.   From her beacon-hand

Glows worldwide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips.  “Give me your tired, your poor, 

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-toss to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Here she stands, the poem says, the Mother of Exiles.   Are we not a home to exiles….?  Was that not the promise?   Colossus was the picture of strength.   Of power.  Of protection.


And America as a community…not just a melting pot — which implies assimilation, but also a fruit salad — which implies careful co-existance among differences…intersectionality?

The dangers of the melting pot — that we would become SO American that we would lose parts of our identity that are so integral to us.

Becoming American…the promise of streets of gold and religious freedom, was a pipe dream.    Becoming American was Trending.   The map itself, though, was not the territory….as explained by Jacob Glatsein in his poem, “Good Night World”, written in America in 1938:

Good Night World

“Good night, wide world.

Big, stinking world.

Not you, but I, slam the gate.

In my long robe.

With my flaming yellow patch

With my proud gait,

At my own command–

I will return to the ghetto.

Wipe out, stamp out all the alien traces.

I grovel in your dirt.

Hail, hail, hail.

Humpbacked Jewish Life.

A ban, world, on your unclean cultures.

Though all is desolate,

I roll in your dust.

Gloomy Jewish Life.

Piggish German, hostile Polack,

Sly Amalek, land of guzzling and gorging.

Flabby democracy, with your cold

Compresses of sympathy.

Good night, world of electrical insolence.

Back to my kerosene, tallowy shadow,

Eternal October, we little stars,

To my crooked alleys, hunchbacked street lamp,

My stray pages, my Twenty-Four-Books,

My Talmud, to the puzzling

Questions, to the bright Hebrew-Yiddush,

To Law, to deep meaning, to right.

World, I stride with joy to the quiet ghetto-light….(….)”

This poem by Glatsein sheds light on the darker side of the new golden land…and in its transformation, the poet finds peace and light even in the chaos and dirt and brokenness of the New World….

“From Wagner’s pagan music — to tune, to humming.

I kiss you, tangled Jewish life.

It cries in me, the joy of coming.”

It was all at once a cool, trending thing to be an American and an embarrassment to be of the old country, to be a Jew.  Countless ‘celebrities’ dropped or augmented their surnames which hinted that they were really Jewish.

Bob Dylan was an artist who did such a thing.   Leonard Cohen, although keeping his surname, was not identified as a Jew…though for both of these particular recording artists…there was work of their which leaked their Judaism…

Here are the lyrics to You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen…

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord

There’s a lover in the story
But the story’s still the same
There’s a lullaby for suffering
And a paradox to blame
But it’s written in the scriptures
And it’s not some idle claim
You want it darker
We kill the flame

They’re lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggled with some demons
They were middle class and tame
I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the love that never came
You want it darker
We kill the flame

If you are the dealer, let me out of the game
If you are the healer, I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory, mine must be the shame
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord

Hineni, hineni

And our beloved Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman) perhaps outed himself in Blowin’ in the Wind:

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, ’n’ how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, ’n’ how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, ’n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

OR PERHAPS Like A Rolling Stone…?

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?
People’d call, say, “Beware doll, you’re bound to fall”
You thought they were all kiddin’ you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin’ out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone? You’ve gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street
And now you find out you’re gonna have to get used to it
You said you’d never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He’s not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And ask him do you want to make a deal?

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain’t no good
You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain’t it hard when you discover that
He really wasn’t where it’s at
After he took from you everything he could steal

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They’re drinkin’, thinkin’ that they got it made
Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things
But you’d better lift your diamond ring, you’d better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

It is, I believe, a dance that we do….a dance between assimilation and particularism, a wanting to belong and wanting to hold on to.  From the time that our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents gave their names to the men at the gates, suitcases in their hands and stones in their bellies….to now…when it is still a time when refugees want to come here and seek REFUGE.     How can we deny this when it is still a time that is Trending American?    Fixing the world has always been our inclination — as Americans…and as Jews.     Overlap.img_1746

Josh Gilstein joined us via Skype from Buenos Aires!
Josh Gilstein joined us via Skype from Buenos Aires!

New Beginnings & The Story Circle

img_1613img_1612As with all new beginnings of groups, we had some new folks and some veterans — and we were grateful to be back all together with new stimuli and creative minds and collaborators.  This year we begin with a new theme and the addition of a few new cities: see masthead above for complete list of cities!

We will be studying “Outside/Inside:  Exploring Boundaries and Otherness”.

Of course img_1616there are a zillion different ways in which we can explore all these…in terms of the material, the spiritual, societal rules and norms, gender, religion, political, cultural, spatial…but for us, tonight, we began with a story circle.   And what, do you ask, is a story circle?  Well, as everything begins, a story circle begins with a spark, a prompt.    Our sparks for the evening:

(1) Are you a Jewish Artist?  Tell a story about how your self expression came out…

(2) What makes art Jewish?   Tell a story on how this challenges you….

(3) Tell a story on how an interaction with a Jewish artist was especially meaningful for you.

And so we began.  The story circle was a beautiful opening.  It represented a gentle unfolding of ourselves to each other — and to ourselves.   We weave the stories of our lives — of our hearts — into our work, into our art, whether we are aware of this or not.

Interesting ideas which came out of the evening — Archie Rand describes Art as Midrash — and to me, I am thinking that we are the art — that we are the midrashim.

Rabbi Steinberger described for us the idea of HaShem — God — as Artist.  In the creation story all is carefully crafted, molded, sculptured, breathed-life-into….

Rabbi Andrea Steinberger

Imagine the world as a gallery — God as Artist painting the clouds onto the sky, adding light here and there as final touches…adding texture to the buffalo and the hedgehog with an impasto knife…composing the silent but staggering music that is heard when the sun breaches the horizon — or when we witness the aurora borealis for not just the first time — but for every time.


And for the world as art installation — where are the boundaries of the created and the framed….in other words…where does the piece of creation end and the framing of it begin?   Are there really any boundaries to a particular creation…or does it go on and on…?


Almost all the group…(not pictured:  Isabel Coff, Pamela Phillips Olson, Deborah Kades and Megan Katz — and Leslie Coff, who is behind the camera)

This is Madison

On Saturday evening May 7, Joshua Gilstein, at Gates of Heaven in Madison, hosted a night of painting, reflection, and social justice titled This Is Madison. The event brought together 25 students and young professionals who created a three-paneled mural of downtown Madison. Each panel highlighted injustices in our local Madison and Wisconsin communities, including sexual assault on college campuses, LGBT inequalities, and racial inequalities.image

One in four women at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will be sexually assaulted before they graduate.

As people entered the space, they gravitated towards the canvases and were instructed to let their thoughts and emotions guide their brush strokes. They brought life and color to a canvas that was dark with the unfortunate realities of our community. Throughout the event, they also had the opportunity to step inside a sound booth to record their reflections on the current state of Madison and respond to questions related to our theme this year.

“What voices of wisdom inspire you to make change in your community?”

The goal of the event was to show that although we regard Madison as a liberal place, we perpetrate injustices found all across the country.

Wisconsin Assembly Bill 469, which died in committee in February 2016, sought to designate bathrooms and changing rooms by biological sex and chromosomes in Wisconsin schools.

We know that these issues are happening around the country, but we can be uncomfortable confronting them in our community since that would require admitting that we are part of the problem.

Wisconsin is the worst state for African Americans to live in the United States. Milwaukee is the worst city.

Yet we have the great opportunity to make a positive impact right where we live. By starting these conversations and bringing these issues to light, we can pursue Tzedek and Tikkun Olam, and help those in need.

Joshua will display the finished piece at our exhibit beginning on June 2 at Hillel, where you will be able to both see the mural and listen to the voices of those that created it.13179002_10105263393653807_4440224969179018730_nimage