Walking The Work

And tonight we put our work all around the room before it was hung.  We walked and walked around…and studied each other’s pieces.   So amazing to hear us say to each other “Tell me about this”. — and “This is my grandfather.” And “This is my story…”.   “It’s very emotional.”IMG_1189

AND שדךלחןקןחףךחןןממקלגלגלגלדץקןיישמשמגןגמששרירך״”    (Words spoken in Hebrew which I did not understand but where nevertheless heartfelt.)

Eve took pictures (they are posted here).      I heard some singing.    I heard “Do you have any more of your Zines”?     I heard “Megan is here and we have been waiting for her and all of this!”.IMG_1192

“This is gorgeous!”  “Do you need help with anything?”  “This is so nerve-wracking!”

“Wow, just wow.”  “We finally have a minyan!”IMG_1172

“Well, she made it”.   “It was like my Grandma.”   “The other paper I used was much more transparent”.   “I am still compiling, it is a process”.     “Oh, it’s Eva!  She is beautiful”.   “This is — like — so HOLY”.

IMG_1185“It was wet”.  “Oh, you painted it?”  “So, it was also performance”.   “It’s a photo of the painted work”.   “I love gesso”.     “It’s instant texture-pattern”.    “It like so familiar”.   (But not too familiar)    “It’s like the signs in Israel”.    “Leading community and all that”.     “I have been so jealous ever since you said that”.   “I have been thinking about that.   That is SO interesting.”    “Your piece makes me breathe better.”    “You painted in my palette!”

“That’s so great!”

“I came across the drawing you did on Chanukah”.

 

It is the Inside coming to the Outside.   What was and has been inside all of us is now being revealed.      We are subtending the boundaries of ourselves — of our imaginations and bringing our work into common reality.   What was concealed is now revealed.    We are finally unmasked.

Come see the show — opening SUNDAY, APRIL 30th, 3:00-5:00 PM at UW Hillel, 611 Langdon Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53703.

PIECES WILL REMAIN ON EXHIBIT UNTIL AUGUST 4, 2017.

 

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The Book & The Cover: Concealment & Revelation

There is a recurring motif in the Torah in which people reveal and then conceal – or first conceal and then reveal. So the peekaboo aspects of the telling of the Purim story are really only an echo of themes we have heard a million times (Jacob/Esau, Jacob/Issac).

We hide from each other.  We hide from HaShem.  HaShem hides from us, only revealing one name, then another…the real names are concealed from us.

We are not allowed to know.

So we spend our lives playing hide and seek with our loved ones, with our communities and with ourselves.   The holiday of Purim — with its costumes and masks…may tell us more about revealing/revelation in its hiddenness.

Purim happens in the late winter/early Spring, depending on the year.   It is the time when the hiddenness of life only begins to be revealed…only a little.  Even before we are aware that the sap in the trees is running, the bees are already gather pollen from the maples.    The life force, previously hidden, meekly shows its lovely face.

Purim is the beginning of the revealing.   Purim is the story which demands the end to the concealment.

Even if we begin by looking at the names we fine that the heroine “Esther” may share her name origins with “Hastir” which translates from the Hebrew to mean “Conceal”….and the story that we tell is told from the scroll called “Megillah” — but “Megalah” translates to “reveal”or “discover”.

We all wear masks in our lives…we play roles. We get to decide to whom we reveal our true selves and in the right circumstances.

What people wear, in fact, either reveals who they are or hides who they are. A black leather jacket can show someone’s ‘rocker’ personality or it can hide someone’s sensitivity. The ancient priests in the old temple wore specific robes – described very specifically in the Torah – which were designed to magnify their role as Kohanites.

In the story of Purim – Esther and Mordechai were clearly connected. Does she hide her identity as a Jew deliberately or is she blissfully unaware of who she really is until circumstances drove Mordechai’s motivation to finally tell her. Are we, in fact, sometimes blissfully unaware of who we really are until circumstances require that we rise to the occasion – on the occasion that the King raises his scepter.

No, that’s too much information.

We reserve the right to the privacy of our real selves. We reserve the right to reveal who we are…but be warned…sometimes life reveals who you are before you are ready.

Concealment is not forever.

Defender of the Outsider and Sunflowers: Seeing the Face of The Creator.

This evening we began with the text study of Isaiah Chapter 56.   Isaiah was thought of as the defender of the outsiders….eunuchs, foreigners, sexual outsiders….Isaiah was their champion.  This passage, photographed below, is read twice per year…on the Fast of Gedalia and on Tishe B’Av.  This passage is considered to be nourishment for the soul.

Rabbi Steinberger chanted this as Haftorah.    It was chilling and magical.

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In Verses 5 to 7 above, portions of this are posted on a plaque at Yad v’Shem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.     Meaning that one has a name and a place — a soul needs a place to call home.

Souls that are wandering — they are outsiders.    A soul needs a place to land.   A field, a flower, a windowsill.

Souls that are unsettled often feel on the outside of life.   Depression can cause this as well.   Depression — the unsettling of the soul.    Andrew Solomon wrote a book entitled  “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity” — which is very interesting and could pertain here.   Andrew Solomon also wrote “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression” which is also recommended to us to read.

Now Allen Ginsburg, writer, born in 1926, was a man who cared for his mother who suffered from Schizophrenia.     When he was twelve years old, he left her in a sanitarium.    He wanted people to say of him “He is gifted with poetry, he has seen the face of the creator”.

He wrote a poem which was a string of aphorisms, born of his experience growing up…with his mother.   It is called Sunflower Sutra.    Read it BELOW:

“Sunflower Sutra
I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry. 
Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery. 
The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hung-over like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily. 
Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust— 
—I rushed up enchanted—it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake—my visions—Harlem 
and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the past— 
and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye— 
corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb, 
leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear, 
Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then! 
The grime was no man’s grime but death and human locomotives, 
all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than-dirt—industrial—modern—all that civilization spotting your crazy golden crown— 
and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes of some cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos—all these 
entangled in your mummied roots—and you there standing before me in the sunset, all your glory in your form! 
A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze! 
How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul? 
Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive? 
You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!   
And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not! 
So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter, 
and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack’s soul too, and anyone who’ll listen, 
—We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not dread bleak dusty imageless locomotives, we’re golden sunflowers inside, blessed by our own seed & hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our own eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision. 
Berkeley, 1955″
I have made the third stanza from the bottom into bold type — to make a point.    Ginsberg is challenging the flower — who is feeling used up and grimy…to try to remember when it was young and fresh and beautiful….it is a flower.   A glorious sunflower.    A warning to all of us to not forget who we really are…
So…Ginsberg’s mother died in the sanitarium — and after she died, he found a letter which she had written to him:   “The key is in the window.   The key is in the bars in the sunlight in the window.  Get married.”
Perhaps he saw this as the yellow sunlight, for him, for his mother, was a divine image….it was a vision of the face of the Creator.
He became suicidal.  He read Blake’s poetry.     He could hear Blake’s voice reading “Ah, Sunflower….”   To Ginsberg, to his mother — everything outside the window looked beautiful and — and like G-d.
Then we had a change of activity and a treat — Sabrina Ross brought a portion of her play, Shalom Bayit, for us to read a chapter.

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Sabrina Ross, Playwright

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With Sabrina’s permission, here is a portion of the script:

ZAYDE

            She doesn’t like rugelach?! Vey is mir. You are a goy’s daughter aren’t you?

 RACHEL

            He’s converting you know.

ZAYDE

            Batya’s been telling me that for years.

RACHEL

            He studies hard, Zayde. He reads the Torah. He even knows some Kabbalah. Do you know Kabbalah?

ZAYDE

            Shah, child. Why do you defend him? Being Jewish is more than knowing the  stuff. It’s a matter of blood. And you don’t like kugel, you don’t like rugelach… you must not have  enough Jewish blood in you.

RACHEL

            I really don’t think that’s how it works, Zayde.

ZAYDE

            It’s a way of life, Rachie! Your father does not live like a Jew!

 RACHEL

            He keeps Kosher. He doesn’t work on Shabbat. He even yelled at me once for eating bread on Passover.

ZAYDE

            It takes more than that- 

 RACHEL

            Even his clients thought he was a Jew!

 ZAYDE

            It takes pain Rachel! It’s a burden! 

 A beat.

RACHEL

            His own sister called him a kike.

 ZAYDE

            Rachel! Do not use that word in my home! 

RACHEL

            I’m sorry!

 ZAYDE sighs.

ZAYDE

            Oh Rachel. Don’t repeat such a word! It hurts me so to hear it. 

ZAYDE puts his head in his hands.

ZAYDE

            I’ve spent so long forgetting the horrible, horrible pain that came with that word. You say it and it makes me remember. But I can’t let myself remember. It will kill me. It will kill me.

ZAYDE wipes his eyes and looks up.

 ZAYDE

Your Aunt Faith, I don’t know about her. I remember the day she said that word. It was the last day we saw her. I was so surprised, because she was always sweet to me.

RACHEL

            Why did she call him that? 

A beat.

ZAYDE

            She said she saw him do a horrible thing. 

 RACHEL

            What was it?

 A beat.

ZAYDE

            I will not repeat it to you. No good will come of it. Your mother said it was a  disgusting lie to try and break up your family.

ZAYDE puts his hand over his mouth and looks away.

ZAYDE

            But now I don’t know. I just don’t know, after what your father just tried to do.

A beat.

 RACHEL

            You don’t even know what happened that night.

ZAYDE

            Of course I do. Your mother told me.

RACHEL

            But she wasn’t even there. I was the one who found him. She just called the police after.

ZAYDE

            Okay, Rachel.

RACHEL

            She wasn’t even going to call them before I made her. She didn’t want people to  see the siren lights in front of our house! Meanwhile my knuckles were bleeding from punching through the bathroom door to find dad passed out with a backpack full of-

ZAYDE

            Rachel! Did I ask to hear this? No. I cannot.

NOTE:  Rachel’s play, Shalom Bayit, will be done in a stage reading on Thursday evening, May 4, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin.  Please email me at lesliecoff@gmail.com for details.

So many themes this evening of the outsider, the unstable, the prophet and seeing the face of the Divine.     (Read HERE ABOUT A PATIENT OF MINE WHO THOUGHT HE SAW THE FACE OF THE CREATOR.)

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Abundance, Mixed Media On Canvas, 30 x 60, Leslie Coff 2009

See The Work! – Part One

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Pamela Phillips Olson “Was She Wrong To Rejoice?” Collage 2016
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Pamela Phillips Olson “Could You Not Have Looked Back?” Collage 2016
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Deborah Kades “Blonke” Cotton Thread on Cloth 2016
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Deborah Kades “Merkhek” Cotton Thread On Cloth 2016
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Deborah Kades “Baytl” Glass Bead on Leather 2016
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Ellen Meyer “School Photograph” 2016  48×48″  Acrylic on Canvas

Echoes in Modern Music: Israeli Pop

Aviv Kammay led us this evening through a journey of Israeli music through the 1980’s and beyond — with imagery from Ezekiel — shared by Rabbi Andrea Steinberger.

Because the emergence of Israeli culture stemmed from a population of immigrants — and  because there was no one cohesive culture — except for Jewish religious liturgy…and because so many of the immigrants were classically-trained musicians from all over Europe, they had to somehow invent an Israeli folk culture.   This somehow set a high standard for what was considered ‘pop’ music in the new State of Israel — and there was (at the time) also this way of thinking that the music would have to have some form of sophistication.

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Aviv Kammay teaching about modern Israeli popular music.

A man named Yecheskel Brown (his name is Hebrew for Ezekiel), emigrated in the 1920’s to Israel.  He was a classically-trained German Jewish musician.   He felt as though Israeli music should sound like the desert, the palm trees, the bedouins.   He was inventing ‘folk’ tunes — based on messages of hope.

From Ezekiel he used “And the tree of the field shall yield its fruit and the earth shall yield its produce”. (Ezekiel 34:27)

Brown sought to make the music sound exotic.  He wanted to evoke positive imagery to bring hope to a new population of immigrants.   It has odd meters — seven beats per measure…creating a mediterranean sound.

The mission:  to work the land to bring forth new life.

Ezekiel the Prophet similarly gave a message of hope.  Although he predicted the exile, he also predicted the return to the land of Israel.   Not surprisingly, the public did not listen to him (did they really, really, listen to any of the prophets? — during their lifetimes, the prophets were almost all social outcasts)   Ezekiel is seeing G-d in some form — he sees the cherubim — the messengers who can lead him to G-d.

There is a word used in Ezekiel — “Cheshmal” חַשְׁמַל — the modern use of this word translates to “lightning, electricity, radiance” — but for the prophet Ezekiel — he used Cheshmal חַשְׁמַל  as the energy and communication from G-d.

[It is also interesting that another use for Cheshmal חַשְׁמַל is Amber — the stone which is petrified pine sap — which is thought to have magical properties — to be able to spark.   It is also translated as “Bernstein“, or Goldstone. ]

Back to the emergence of Israeli music, it is notable that at the beginning of the folk period of Israeli music, because so many people were classically trained, there were singers, lyricists, composers.   Nowadays — mostly singer-songwriters.

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Early folk music groups were comprised of military/ensemble-style ‘show choirs’.

Everyone in the photo above is wearing military uniforms — in the late 1940’s there was a popularity of these type of “show-choir” groups.  They continued in popularity in the 1960’s-1970’s.   The model began with military show choirs performing for soldiers…these songs were all about peace.   One example of this is Shir L’shalom by Miri Aloni:    Shir L’shalom by Miri Aloni (click on the link to listen)

As young people got older, more into their 20’s, they were no longer in the military but their penchant for this style of music continued.     Then, in the 1970’s, there rose the popularity of Poogy (actually, Kaveret, כוורת meaning ‘beehive’) — with their debut album Poogy Tales.   Poogy mixed military-style show choir style (yes, they all met in the military) with skit and humor.    Here is Poogy’s winning entry in the 1974 Eurovision contest.

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Poogy (Kaveret) albums

Next, we explored Arik Einstein, who began recording and performing in the early 1960’s — in many different styles.   In 1967, the opening track of his first Israeli album was called “Ezekiel” – but the song was actually banned on some stations because it was thought to have insulted the holy text.

Ezekiel — chapter 37:14, a verse that is still, today, at Yad v’Shem in Jerusalem:

“And I will put my spirit in you — and ye shall live — and I will place you in your own land.”  

Still, even in the diaspora, Ezekiel has given us a message of hope.

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Arik Einstein

By the 1990’s, Israeli groups had entered Eurovision music festivals and had won for multiple years.

In 1998, for the 50th Anniversary of the State of Israel, Arik Einstein and Judith Ravitz collaborated on Atur Mitzchech Zahav Shachot (“your brow is crowned in black gold”) LISTEN HERE — which represented the marriage between art song and popular idioms in song.     This song has been voted multiple times as the most popular Israeli song of all time.

(Judith Ravitz also performed this song — she was, incidentally, also the first Israeli recording artist to come out as gay.)

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Album cover from popular modern artist Ehud Banai
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Aviv showing Yehudit/Judith Ravitz

Even in children’s music, this style of highly intellectual writing continued — to make the music stimulating even for little ones:  Shalom L’Chem (children’s song)

 

Echoes of Tradition, Myth & Nightmare: The Dybbuk

In the spirit of our ancestral myths — the echoes of our predecessors — we enjoyed the old film production of The Dybbuk.

Created in 1937 (based on the 1914 play by S. Ansky), it tells the beautiful and tragic tale of a young woman and a young man, promised to be together since birth — but having nearly missed each other, she becomes possessed by The Dybbuk — the young man’s spirit.

All in Yiddish with subtitles, you can watch the movie from Youtube HERE.

The film itself is a beautiful tableau of life in Poland in the shtetl, a character study of communities and the worst — and best — traits of people.

In its tone the film shows us at our most vulnerable — in loss, in madness.   It is beautiful and it is haunting.

It is a story told by generations, playing on our deepest fears — that we will never find the one who is for us…that we will not live to see our children, our grandchildren…that all will not be okay in the end.

For so many of our ancestors, things were not okay.

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