These days, if you want to hear who is spreading the Hanukkah message to the masses, first light your menorah, and then click into YouTube.
The Hanukka season is a popular time for a flurry of Jewish holiday YouTube videos. Although YouTube Hanukka videos may not be the epitome of high video art, they have proven to be a popular forum for musicians seeking to broadcast their vocal and lyrical talents, as well as their dancing skills, while spreading their individual Jewish messages to the virtual world.
Many aspiring musicians hope they will achieve the status of the Maccabeats’ now-legendary 2010 video which catapulted the Yeshiva University a capella group into the public’s (as well President Obama’s) eye, and to date has garnered more than 1.4 million views.
This year, the Maccabeats put their harmonies to work by focusing on the potential miracle of locating bone marrow matches for needy recipients. Since their “Shine” video was posted, it already has been seen over 124,000 times. Its message just might inspire some couch potatoes (and others) to get swabbed and possibly save a life or two.
Video of the rockets that recently besieged southern Israel, and the IDF’s response, make up part of the backdrop of the Pella Productions’ slick “8 Nights of Hanukkah A Capella Mashup".
Their distinctive harmonies, clever lyrics and trapeze moves make this a must-watch Hanukka clip.
“Chanukah Jewish Rock of Ages" which Aish Hatorah brought out last year, puts a tzitis-flying dancing spin on classic songs by Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beatles, Steppenwolf, the Bee Gees, Journey, MC Hammer, Sasha Baron Cohen, and Maroon 5. Here, the Hanukka story and customs are crammed into a foot-tapping 3.55 minute clip that has already proven its popularity with 2.4 million views.
For YU Maccabeat graduates, the holiday music didn’t stop once they received their college diplomas. Instead, they formed the group StandFour, and posted their video this Hannuka. “After graduating from Yeshiva University we wanted to continue to make music that is both fun and inspiring. We believe in bringing out the meaning present in all things – that's what we stand for,” they say in their post.
Their lyrics, coupled with their pitch for donations to the Israel Terror Relief Fund, reinforce that message: “When one night turned to eight, that's why we celebrate/In the dark of night the candles stand for…/8 nights that we know....no we're not alone.”
Don’t forget to watch these other fun-filled Hanukka videos from the Israeli Ein Prat Fountainheads: their catchy 2011 video as well as their 2012 clip.. And don’t miss the sweet voices of the Yeshiva Boys Choir, with their “Those Were the Nights (of Chanukah)", as they preserve childhood Hanukka scenes in their 4.42 minute video.
So take your latkes and doughnuts, head to your nearest Internet connection, and check out what Hanukka is sounding like in modern times.
Inspiration and tradition merge in an unconventional way, as Technion students light the Hanukkah menorah with the help of a "friend".
Check out this imaginative clip!
By Fern Allen
David Fisher’s papercut reproductions of wooden synagogues burned down by the Nazis during the Holocaust provide only a shimmer of the structures’ once-breathtaking magnificence. But for the Jerusalem graphic artist, they represent a deeply personal way to honor these architectural wonders.
Papercut of the interior of the Hemnits synagogue. (Photos courtesy David Fisher)
The Gombin synagogue.
“As the son of a survivor, I sought a way in which I could create a memorial to the communities that were wiped out in the Holocaust,” he says. “Since the art of Jewish papercutting [a popular folk art form in Europe] almost entirely disappeared, I chose that medium to preserve the memory of the synagogues that were destroyed.”
Before the World War II, approximately 100 ooden synagogues stood throughout Eastern Europe. They represented a unique, beautiful, hand-crafted form of vernacular architecture.
Recognizing their importance to world architecture, they were carefully documented in photographs and blueprints by the Polish government. This was an amazing stroke of fortune, for as the Nazis swept through these countries during the war, special German troops set the synagogues on fire, sometimes with the inhabitants of the community inside. By the end of the war virtually none remained.
“My goal is to bring back to life the mikdash me’at (miniature temple) and remind us what these wooden synagogues were like in their glory,” says Fisher, 46.
Several of his works are currently featured in a group papercut exhibit at the Kehillat Yedidya synagogue in Jerusalem. During the opening of the exhibit, an elderly woman approached Fisher in tears, relating that she remembered praying at one of the synagogues he had depicted.
The Wolpa synagogue.
So far, he has created papercuts of 8 wooden
synagogues. Among them is the Gombin Synagogue in Poland, built in 1710 and restored in 1893. It was considered one of the most exquisite wooden synagogues in Poland. The extremely tall wooden ark, 3 stories high, was magnificently carved and contained tens of Torah scrolls. It was destroyed by fire by the Germans in September 1939.
Another is the Wolpa Synagogue, near Bialystok, Poland (now Belarus), built in the 17th century and considered the most beautiful of the wooden synagogues of Eastern Europe. The exquisite aron kodesh and bima were made of painted carved wood.
Since Fisher began this project in 2005, he has spent countless hours in his spare time pouring over archival documents and historic books, examining the facades and interiors of these lost synagogues. He has received assistance from academics at leading research institutes, as well as from Holocaust survivors, who send him photos and recommend books.
“I need the images of the synagogues, but I must also study the story behind each place. Since I don’t read Yiddish, my father reads and translates those books to me,” he says.
His sleuthing on the Internet led to an unexpected find: a YouTube video, posted by Polish non-Jews, of historic photos of the Zabludov wooden synagogue taken in the decades before the Holocaust. By piecing together the frames of the video, he was able to recreate papercut images of the breathtaking interior of this historic house of worship, built in 1646 in Eastern Poland. In 1941 it was utterly decimated when the Nazis doused the building with gasoline and burned it to the ground.
The Zabludov synagogue.
In instances where the pictures only showed fragments of the interior of the synagogue, Fisher took some creative license and used his
imagination to complete the rest. He has had to redo some of his papercuts, as he uncovers new historical information about the wooden synagogues.
The self-taught papercut artist is extraordinarily
passionate about his project, which he diligently pursues in his spare time. To illustrate how much this is a sacred mission for him, he pulls out a special plastic pouch, in which he preserves every scrap of paper that he has cut away. These paper remnants, he explains, are also part of the story.
“For me, it’s another way to symbolically remember the destruction.”
This week marks the anniversary of Kristallnacht
(the “Night of Broken Glass”, a Nazi-inspired pogrom that took place in Germany and Austria on Nov. 9-10, 1938). It has been considered a foreshadowing of the destruction of life and property that the Nazis would later inflict on the Jews during World War II. During the rampage, 36 Jews were killed; 191 synagogues were set on fire, and another 76 were destroyed.
Dvar Omanut – Musings on Jewish Art – is a monthly Kol HaOt feature that focuses on the deeper meaning of Jewish art.
Rebecca Joy Fletcher reflects on her 3 memorable performances of "Cities of Light", an unforgettable romp through the cabarets of Europe of the 1920s & '30s, presented by Kol HaOt in Jerusalem this past June.
Read all about it here
A group of over 30 educators from the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City participated this June in Kol HaOt's "Mapping the Journey" program and workshop, conducted by Kol HaOt's founders (David Moss, Rabbi Matt Berkowitz, and Elyssa Moss Rabinowitz). The following excerpt is by Rabbi Neil Zuckerman, a rabbi at the synagogue, from his Travelogue about describing the effects the program had on the group.
"...The second experience came from our Artist in Residence, Ellen Alt. She had asked me before the trip if we could do an art project as a way to reflect on our experience in Israel. It sounded like a great idea and I told her we would make the time in the itinerary. On Monday in Jerusalem, we spent two hours with David Moss [one of the founders of Kol HaOt], one of the greatest living Jewish artists, “mapping” our journey through Israel through art.
"It set the stage perfectly for what Ellen wanted to do with the group and we agreed that when we got up north, we would spend an evening completing the work we had begun with David Moss. After dinner at the Kibbutz Lavi Hotel, we all got some wine, spread out the art materials, and went
"I stepped back and I was simply blown away by what I saw. People who barely knew each other a few days ago were working together on expressing deep personal feelings about what this experience meant to them. The group was laughing, sharing, and creating…together. We were 'building' an art project that would be an expression of what we experienced. But, truly, we were the ones being 'built up' in the process."
By Fern Allen
For artist Andi Arnovitz, sewing always had been an integral part of her upbringing. So it was natural for her to take essential principles of the Torah, such as the commandment to be charitable, and create vibrant artistic garments made – literally – from traditional Jewish texts.
Her “Vest of the Giver of Charity”, for example, weaves together the biblical injunction “to open your hand to your brother and to the destitute” and “not to harden your heart”, with the quintessential symbol of the hamsa – an open hand, which in her piece represents unrestricted sharing.
“Clothes are an important metaphor for me,” says Arnovitz, whose grandmother was a seamstress, and whose father owned fabric stores in Kansas City, Missouri, near where she grew up. “There are many layers of meaning and intent to clothing. There is the superficial aspect of what you initially see, and there is the more hidden intent of what is underneath it all.”
For inspiration, she turned to traditional Jewish sources, such as the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (a summary of Jewish law) to learn how Judaism categorizes the needy. She then attached cards with thin threads at the bottom of the colorful vest, and labeled them with the different types of people
and institutions that should be supported: the Jewish poor, the hungry, synagogues, mikvahs, clothing the unclothed, the non-Jewish poor, the oppressed.
Her work dramatically drives home the point that the needy literally have to “hang on by a thread” to the giver of charity.
Many of Arnovitz’s pieces are comprised of small wrapped scrolls, made from Jewish books that were sold or discarded on the streets of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She’arim – including prayer books, the Talmud, and the Book of Psalms.
“Andi rescued sacred and time-worn pages from ritual burial, revitalizing them and breathing new life into them,” observes curator Dvora Liss, in the catalog for Arnovitz’s exhibition “Tear/Repair”, held at Brandeis University, and at the Yeshiva University Museum, in 2010.
Wrapping, Arnovitz notes, is an essential part of many Jewish practices – for instance, wrapping the Torah scroll after it has been read, and wrapping oneself with tefillin. As a modern Orthodox woman, she has found a way to incorporate aspects of what are typically male practices into her own personal art. The result is her “Vest of Prayers”, made up of verses from Psalms and passages from the siddur, which she wrapped and meticulously stitched together.
Arnovitz conceived this piece as a Jewish response to suicide bombers, who pack their explosive-laden garb with nails and other hard, sharp items, in order to cause as much injury as possible to innocent bystanders.
“This vest, however, is made of soft things – words, paper, string. As Jews, our weapons often have been our words and our prayers,” notes Arnovitz, who made aliyah with her family in 1999.
The dearth of female voices and opinions in traditional Jewish texts, such as the Talmud, also deeply dismayed Arnovitz, who became religiously observant as an adult. To graphically demonstrate how the Talmud could have had “a woman’s touch”, she scanned pages from various Talmudic tracts, and had them printed in 42 different colors.
She then carefully cut the texts and painstakingly wrapped 4,000 of them into small scrolls. They were sewn into a rainbow-like garment, with colorful threads protruding from the work. Color, she says, plays an important symbolic role in her feminist Jewish message.
“Jewish law would have been much more vibrant if women had been involved in writing it,” she says.
With each piece – whether its message is social, political or feminist – Arnovitz weaves her viewpoint of Judaism into a distinctly modern and artistic commentary. And she’s determined to express it, even if she has to do it one stitch at a time.
Dvar Omanut – Musings on Jewish Art – is a monthly feature focusing on the
deeper meaning of Jewish art.
By Fern Allen
It’s one of Judaism’s best-known slogans, with its perennial cry for social justice and redemption: the haggadah’s HaLachma Anya passage – “This is the bread of affliction our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. All who are hungry come and eat”. For centuries, haggadah illuminators have found this ancient declaration– which intertwines generosity with a compact retelling of Jewish history and yearning – a compelling message to illustrate.The classic Sarajevo Haggadah is a prime example. Created in the mid-14th century in Barcelona, the illuminator of this exquisite work depicted a scene that could be considered a precursor to the modern soup kitchen. Here, the master of the household is seen scooping out haroseth from a large clay vessel, as people line up patiently for this seder delicacy. In another panel, a man sits on a chair, distributing matzah to the needy.
This haggadah’s journey over the centuries from Spain to Sarajevo is in itself a story of benevolence of spirit and redemption. It is believed that the magnificent work was taken out of the country in the wake of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and resurfaced in Italy later in
the 1500s. It eventually found its way in 1894 to the National Museum in Sarajevo, after a Jewish boy – whose father had died, leaving the family destitute – had brought it to school to be sold.
But the story of this illustrious Sephardic haggadah doesn’t end there. During World War II, it was hidden from the Nazis by the museum’s chief librarian, Dervis Korkut. At great personal peril, he smuggled the haggadah out of Sarajevo, and gave it to a Moslem cleric in Zenica, where it was safely hidden until the war ended. This artistic treasure is now in the National Museum of Bosnia Herzegovina.
OTHER MEDIEVAL haggadahs also depict scenes of bounty and kindness. The Yoel ben Shimon Haggadah, illuminated in the middle of the 15th century in Germany by the scribe for whom it is named, shows a group of people feasting at the Passover meal. Here, a regally clad husband and wife cheerfully host an assortment of colorful local characters at their table.
In contrast, the Birds' Head Haggadah (illuminated in southern Germany circa 1300, and renowned for the bird-like faces attached to human bodies) paints a more depressing scene. The husband sits at one end of a long table; his wife at the other end. There is no one else around it, and the table is conspicuously empty, save for the haggadah, with the words HaLachma Anya visible. The viewer can’t help asking themselves, “Who exactly are the needy ones here?”.
In the contemporary Moss Haggadah by artist David Moss, there are three pages where seder hosts can record the names of their guests each year. “I wanted to convey the connection between the table and the commandment to welcome guests. The table is not only a place where the
family gathers, but one where it reaches out beyond itself,” says Moss, whose acclaimed work has been hailed by the London Jewish Chronicle as the greatest haggadah ever produced.
Moss, a Kol HaOt co-founder, will be explaining the artwork from his famed haggadah to the public at the Kol HaOt center, 7 Emek Refaim, German Colony, Jerusalem, on Chol HaMoed Passover, Tues., April 10 and Wed., April 11. (Read more details of the free event.)
Moss emphasizes the talmudic comparison between a table and the ancient altar, where in the time of the Temple, Jews brought sacrifices to atone for their sins. In the center of one page, Moss places a commentary by the 11th century sage Rabbenu Gershom, who noted that inviting guests to one’s table is the equivalent of bringing a sin offering to the altar.
“Once I was giving a slide presentation of my haggadah to a group of women from kibbutzim around the country,” Moss recalls. “When I got to this page, I proudly announced that it was intended to keep a list of seder guests over the years and through the generations. A woman in the back quipped, ‘I don’t think there would be enough spaces for us for one year!’”
Clearly, HaLachma Anya’s ancient messages of hospitality and generosity of spirit have found their rightful place at the seder table… and beyond.
Dvar Omanut – Musings on Jewish Art – is a monthly feature focusing on the deeper meaning of
Dvar Omanut – Musings on Jewish Art – is a monthly feature focusing on the deeper meaning of Jewish art.
By Fern Allen
Flip through artist Eliyahu Sidi’s Scroll of Esther, and you’ll soon realize that you are absorbing two stories in one – the text of the ancient Purim plot detailing Queen Esther’s brave actions to thwart Haman’s plan to destroy the Jews, interwoven within a colorful, humorous storyboard of the Nazi scheme to decimate European Jewry.
Sidi is a seasoned master at inserting biting comic relief to his oversized, whimsical characters and scenes. He pokes fun of King Achashverosh, whom he depicts with a repulsive wart protruding from his chin. This is a king who sits on a chamber pot that passes for a throne, and dons a lopsided kettle cover for a crown. But Sidi also makes sure the reader is aware of Achashverosh’s deadly nature, stamping the decree calling for the destruction of the Jews with the king’s odious face and a Nazi insignia.
In one scene, Mordechai and the Jews of Shushan – clad in jagged-edged potato sacks – ponder their impending annihilation. To drive the point home, Sidi includes a sign in Yiddish announcing “Juden Kaputt” (Jews are doomed) echoing the Jews’ recurring despair throughout their sojourn in the Diaspora.
To differentiate the “good guys” from the “bad guys”, Sidi employs vibrant graphic colors to the primitive, one-dimensional figures in the story. Here, Queen Esther is reshaped into a seemingly innocent bird-like figure with a soft, blue body and purple hair. In contrast, Haman is portrayed as a dark, sly wolf sporting the Nazi emblem on his arm.
This past year, Sidi’s artwork was part of a group exhibition on naïve art at the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv; in 2009 his works were featured in a major exhibition at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem. Over the years his artworks, which blend Jewish and contemporary themes with a healthy dose of humor, have been part of some 25 shows at museums in Israel and throughout the world.
While his formidable works reflect the naïve art tradition, Sidi nevertheless has a lot to say visually about Jewish history and tradition. “Sidi’s domain is folklorist, his paintings are friendly and avoid
intellectual arrogance, even while rich in wisdom,” observes Gideon Ofrat, an art historian and curator, in the catalogue for Sidi’s Beit Avi Chai exhibition.
Born in Paris in 1936, Sidi and his family trudged by foot to the mountains of central France during World War II, and spent the war years there. He settled in Israel with his parents soon after the creation of the State of Israel. Yet he draws on his French roots in his Scroll of Esther, which he created 20 years ago: Sidi’s Jews of Shushan sport thin, savvy, curled mustaches; the king’s courtiers are clad with French berets, and the king’s military guards peer out from their distinctive French visor hats.
References to the modern Jewish state are sprinkled throughout Sidi’s Esther scroll. The lots cast for the fateful day of Purim are distributed from a modern Israeli Lotto booth. And the “Shushan
Tribune” proclaims triumphantly: “500 killed by I.D.F.; Nuremberg trial – 10 hanged”.
Throughout Sidi’s Scroll of Esther, there is plenty of visual comic relief to soften the narrative of near-disaster for the Jews. Perhaps Sidi intuitively knows it’s the only way to redraw the Jewish people’s painful 2,000-year trek through the Diaspora.
Twenty two participants in the Young Judaea Year Course are enrolled in a pioneering, cutting edge class designed by Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz (an Young Judaea alumnus!) and the team
of Kol HaOt: Illuminating Jewish Life Through Art. Founded two years ago, Kol HaOt showcases Jewish history, values and texts through a synthesis of the performing, visual and culinary arts.
The curriculum focuses on the visual and materials arts and is entitled "The 'Art' of Judaism." Among the topics covered include ceremonial art, ketubot, haggadot and journaling. Students are given an introduction and survey of the topic, meet with a guest artist and then engage in a 'hands on' project in each session. Though we always begin our class at the Young Judaea campus in Jerusalem, the past two sessions have continued at the new Kol HaOt home on Jerusalem's Emek Refaim Street -- in a cool, magical, enchanted space called the Martef.
During our first session, which focused on ceremonial art, we learned about the concept of Jewish art and 'hiddur mitzvah' (beautifying ceremonial objects in the tradition). This lead up to a fascinating trip to Jerusalem's Huzot HaYotzer -- where students divided into three groups meeting with Yaakov Greenvercel (sterling silver), David Moss (who taught on The Tree of Life Shtender) and Oshrit Raffeld (paper and manuscript artist). Each spoke about the creative and spiritual
influences on their work-- and how their work reflects Jewish ideas and values.
We concluded our trip together in the studio of Sari Srulovich, a talented and animated sterling silver artist who showcased some of her best pieces. Students were amazed by the breadth and depth of these artists. It was an energizing way to begin this new adventure.
Tickets to the upcoming Ein Prat Fountainheads concert, sponsored by Kol HaOt, are getting zapped up in record time! Kol HaOt is delighted that their music, ladden with Jewish content (and quite catchy as well!) is such a hit with people of all ages!
There are just a few seats left for the performance Dec. 31, at 9 pm at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem! Click here
to order online!