Sunday, July 28, 2013

Something Worth Sharing

At a recent Artists' Lab* retreat we focused on the balance between pride and humility. The act of exhibiting one's work is a delicate balance between those two points. It takes a certain confidence in one's work to exhibit, similarly to publish even on as basic a level as a blog post. You have to believe that what you do will interest others. You have to trust the quality of what you produce even if it is still a work in progress, no less so than each of us.

I have had the experience of displaying my artwork in a gallery space, each painting nestled within my husband's beautiful hand-crafted frames. Carefully lit, the paintings glow in the spotlights. The underlying stories are drafted with care and posted alongside the work. I look around and marvel that I created this body of work.

Yet before that same show I often have that moment where I decide I don't like any of my paintings and want to start over. Nothing feels adequate and I question my readiness to share my work with the public.

More often I am pleased with some paintings, but uneasy about others. I need to live with a painting for several months before I declare it finished. There is a process of coming to terms with my work that must precede that declaration. When I rush it, I am unsettled, not at peace with my artwork.

Then I stand up and give a talk. I breathe life into my creations with words. I share my process and passion with an audience and as I feel the connection with them I again find comfort in my work.

Pride, humility, feelings of inadequacy, satisfaction. Artists move up and down the scale like a keyboard, striking both soaring and troubled notes.

In the Artists' Lab we look at these topics through the lens of text, then translating it into the artist's experience. In this instance we talked about the story of Joseph (Genesis 37:9-41) and his maturation process from a naive youth insensitively recounting his dream to his brothers, inciting their jealousy. We followed his story as he is brought down and rises again as an adviser to Pharaoh. Along the way we note his movement from imperious speech and pride to a quiet confidence in his ability to both understand the meaning of dreams and the wisdom to respond to their meaning. As artists we also go through a maturation process, learning to trust our work as we find the courage to present it confidently to a broader audience, moving past doubts to believe that we just might have something worth sharing.

*The Jewish Artists’ Laboratory is an arts initiative through the Sabes Jewish Community Center featuring 17 artists exploring the theme of Text/Context/Subtext through study and art making. The project is funded through The Covenant Foundation and similar projects are being done in both Milwaukee and Madison. Artists explore how the theme of Text/Context/Subtext is relevant to Jews and non-Jews, to religious and non-religious, to the community and to the individual, to the artist and the non-artist.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Juxtaposing Time and Place

Collective memory is a ripe topic for artists. In a recent workshop we examined artistic responses to the Holocaust. The focus was on conceptual art which I often find inaccessible, but in this instance I felt that the work was well-grounded and thought-provoking. The discussion was led by Leslie Morris, associate professor of Germanic Studies and former director of The Center for Jewish Studies (University of Minnesota) , together with graduate student Juliette Brungs.

Much of the work focused on layers of memory, viewing past and present within the context of place. For example Hoheisel projects images on structures, synthesizing new meaning. One such juxtaposition was the well known gate of Auschwitz against the Brandenberg Gate, a party symbol during the time of the Nazis. In 1997 Hoheisel made a rather audacious proposal to demolish the Brandenburg Gate, grind it up, and spread its remains over the site for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, co-mingling German and Jewish memory. Needless to say it was rejected although it is a most intriguing concept. There is a certain appeal to the idea of taking a symbol associated with Nazi sovereignty and reducing it to a form comparable to that of the ashes of the Jews murdered under that sovereignty.

Another artist who made use of projections was Shimon Attie who projected images of Jews from the 1920s on the walls of the former Jewish quarter of Berlin. One could easily imagine the life that once existed in that quarter, again a layering of space and time.

Susan Hiller created the J Street project (before the pro-Israel peace group of similar name), an exploration of street names such as Judenstrasse which means Jew Street. While these names were changed during the Nazi era, most have been changed back, in one instance with a mark through the Nazi era street name. The names represent both the lost Jewish community, but also the segregation of many of those communities within German history.

Another juxtaposition of past and present through signage was done by Stie & Schnock. In what was once a thriving Jewish Berlin neighborhood they posted 80 signs with the original language of Nazi ordinances, creating a sense of the growing restrictions on the rights and ultimately existence of the Jews. Beginning with expulsion from choral groups in 1933 to phones being cut off in 1941. By 1942 they were to give up house pets and in 1945 the interesting edict to destroy all files having to do with anti-Semitic activity. Hmm, was that to assure no one would later be held accountable?

We shifted our attention to the work of an Israeli artist Yale Bartana who with film created a fictitious movement to bring Israeli Jews to Poland, a kind of reverse Zionism. Titled And Europe Will Be Stunned, she plays with the concept of the right of return and identity. The line between fact and fiction is thin for when she organized a conference in Berlin, it drew 1000 young people. I found the premise an interesting one as the Poles are very intrigued with their Jewish history even as many are fearful of Jewish decendants reclaiming their lost real estate now held by Poles. Europe would indeed be stunned.

In Trembling Time Bartana looks at the ritual on Remembrance Day for Israeli soldiers when at 10am on the designated day, all stop in commemoration. Traffic comes to a standstill and all get out of their vehicles, they then resume after a moment of silence and reflection.

We closed our discussion with a topic that proved to be one of those small world experiences that seem to occur with great frequency in my life. The topic was an exhibition of sorts in the Jewish Museum in Berlin called Jew in a Box. Many Germans have little exposure to Jews so a rotating cast of Jews are chosen to sit in a glass box like a museum display and respond to questions about Judaism. Now here's the small world part. Last year I had been contacted by a rabbi in Connecticut to learn about my experience in Lithuania at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute. He found me because of this blog. We had spoken and emailed and he and his wife did go to Lithuania. Recently I contacted him to hear how it went and he advised me that he was leaving the next day for Berlin where he would do a stint as the Jew in a box. I shared that information with Juliette, who had mentioned the project. Turns out she was going to Berlin later that week where she happily offered my regards to the rabbi. He later told me that some of the people who asked him questions had never spoken to a Jew. In addition to questions of what he thought of the exhibit and how he got to sit in the box he got questions on belief, circumcision, conversion and keeping kosher. It was a diverse crowd so his ability to speak German, Hebrew and Russian was put to the test. Despite the controversy around putting a Jew on exhibit it sounds as if it is furthering both interaction and education.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Creating Collective Memory

by Arnold Schwartzman for Voices & Visions
In remembrance lies the secret of redemption, while forgetfulness prolongs the exile.
-Baal Shem Tov

We talk about the Holocaust today as a distinctive event. The few remaining survivors are in great demand to tell their story. At a recent workshop at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, director Alejandro Baer reminded us that this was not always the case.

In The Destruction of the European Jews, Raul Hilberg writes " In the beginning there was no Holocaust. When it took place in the middle of the 20th century it's nature was not fully grasped."

There are many layers of memory about the Holocaust, many lens through which it can be viewed. There is Jewish memory and Israeli memory. There are the memories of German society and the memory of Nazi crimes. Ultimately there is a more global Holocaust memory which has taken shape.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, no one wanted to hear about the experience of survivors. They had not yet been termed survivors, rather they were thought of as DPs (displaced persons) and immigrants. There was discomfort that more had not been done to save them and suspicions as to how survivors had survived. The Cold War had emerged and with a new alliance with Germany it was not so politically desirable to mention German involvement. All of these factors contributed to silence.

The attitude in Germany in the 1950s and 1960s was best exemplified by Konrad Adenauer when he spoke of "unspeakable crimes committed in the name of the German people", a framing that distances the Germans from responsibility.

Attitudes began to change in the 1970s when Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt at the Warsaw ghetto uprising monument. In 1978 the Holocaust television mini-series came out and for many West Germans was the first time they learned of the scope of the Holocaust. The word "Holocaust" entered the German vocabulary.

In 1994 the US Holocaust Memorial Museum was created following a dialogue that began in 1978, a rather lengthy planning cycle. Its mission was to encourage its visitors to reflect on the moral and spiritual questions raised by the events of the Holocaust as well as one's personal responsibility as a citizen in a democracy. This universal message was framed by questions of ethics. They sought to make the Holocaust meaningful for non-Jews by examining it as a unique event with universal implications.

Remembrance has always been an important part of Jewish culture beginning with the destruction of the temples. The Holocaust was viewed as an event in Jewish history alongside a lengthy history of pogroms and anti-Semitism. The holiday Tisha B'av commemorates destruction of the temples and all other catastrophes, but in 1953 the Israeli Knesset set aside a separate day for Holocaust remembrance. Holocaust Martyrs and Heroism Remembrance Day commemorates the Warsaw ghetto uprising, the Jews who fought back dying a martyr's death rather than a victim's, a vantage point consistent with the new nation's philosophy.

Those in the midst of the Holocaust made efforts to preserve their experience for posterity. The Ringelblum Archive was preserved in milk cans and holds a trove of information on life in the Warsaw ghetto.

There are two distinct themes to memory. For Israel and Jews it is "never again victims", for Germany, "never again perpetrators". Have we in fact learned? David Rieff wryly notes that since 1945, “never again” has meant, essentially, “Never again will Germans kill Jews in Europe in the 1940s."

Dr Joachim Savelsberg shared with us his experience in growing up in Germany in the 1950s when there was no mention of the Holocaust. The war was discussed, uncles were missing, topics were raised and then shifted. He noted that silence is communication also and tells stories or as stated by Susan Sontag, "silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech".  Studies of that time found that the concept of genocide and the Holocaust was more rare in German media than elsewhere. He posited that the Holocaust crowded out other genocides. Germans couldn't draw parallels for fear of being accused of relativizing the Holocaust.

After the war Stalin wanted mass executions of perpetrators. America argued for trials to counter revisionists and isolationism. Roosevelt had recognized the need to construct a memory and did not want Hitler's guilt left in question. Robert Jackson, chief US prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials noted that " We must establish incredible events by credible evidence."

Savelsberg reminded us that the lens of a criminal trial is different than that of politics or art. While the law has the potential to tell history, it is limited by its structure. Adversarial in nature with responses limited by the questions asked, only certain content will be unveiled. Nonetheless, trials began to establish collective memory, knowledge of the past that is shared, mutually acknowledged and reinforced by a collective body of people. It was from these early trials that a collective memory of the Holocaust was first shaped.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A History Lesson

I spent the past week in an interdisciplinary workshop on the Holocaust. I have found that is a bit of a conversation stopper for many people who imagine a week of being bombarded with horrific images from death camps. As one who used to not be able to watch a Holocaust movie without leaving the room, part of me understands that reaction. For me it felt personal. It could have been me. Later I learned it was many of my family members. But as I've gingerly delved into this area, I've found subjects of great interest, especially in the realm of memory which was the focus of this workshop.

Most attendees were high school history teachers, but a friend and I decided to attend because of the multi-disciplinary aspect. The theme was how memory and history are shaped. Professors from different disciplines addressed such topics as how post-war trials and the law shaped memory as well as the impact of art, film, memoir and fiction. Because I've been doing more talks with high school and college kids on the stories behind my artwork, many of which relate to the Holocaust, I thought this might provide useful background. While I have read widely on the Holocaust and explored its history in my travels, as a self-taught person on this subject, there are gaps in my knowledge that I hoped to fill. Memory is a subject I deal with in my work so I found the vantage point of the course particularly intriguing.

The workshop was put on by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) at the University of Minnesota. CHGS is one of the repositories for the Shoah interviews done by Steven Spielberg and a resource for education about both the Holocaust and other genocides. While I thought I knew its scope, I was to learn of the many educational resources that it offered to educators.

The first day began with a review of the history of the Holocaust by Dr Ofer Ashkenazi. He gave a very succinct summary which I've outlined here. To say "never again" we need to understand how we got there. Our knowledge of the Holocaust is seldom neatly organized by its evolution as for most of us it comes from film or literature and maybe a chance mention in a history class on WWII.

The objective of the Nazis was to depopulate Eastern Europe and then populate it with Germans.The plan was to eliminate 20 million people or make them slave workers. While they started with Jews, Poles were next in line.

1. The process began long before the war. In 1933-39 Nazi Germany experimented with exclusion, persecution and violence.

Hitler became chancellor through a negotiation even though he didn't have a majority. Much to the surprise of some he became Fuhrer just two years later.

* In 1934 there were the first boycotts against Jewish businesses.

* 1933-38 saw the beginning of segregation, racial laws and definitions of who is Jewish

* 1938. Kristallnacht

* After Kristallnacht 75,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps as Jews (not as political prisoners) with many allowed back after a few months. This was consistent with the story as told by two German survivors who I had interviewed. Germany was still "encouraging" Jews to leave Germany, their version of self deportation.

* September 1, 1939 saw the outbreak of war, the invasion of Poland and the Ribbentrop agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union.

* By 1941 all of Europe except the Soviet Union was under German control or allies. While I knew of the individual countries involved, it was this sweeping statement that gave me pause.

2. 1939-42 was the beginning of the creation of ghettos and mass murder

Three weeks after the invasion of Poland there were the first orders restricting the movements and rights of Jews.

Germany had 500,000 Jews out of a population of 67 million, less than 1%. After 1939 many left and there were 200,000.

Poland had 3 million. The perceived "problem" of the Jews was largely resolved for Germany and Austria, but suddenly the "problem" grew when Germany invaded Poland. There was no escape for most Eastern European Jews. Anti-immigration policies of countries such as the US effectively barred the door even as they sent Hitler the message that no one cared about the Jews and he could proceed unchecked.

There were an estimated 10,000 ghettos. Life in ghettos varied, all had a Judenrat, a Jewish council, to govern everyday life. Many worked efficiently for their community facilitating the creation of schools and theaters. Ultimately the Judenrat was given the impossible choice of supplying names of those to be deported.

In the Fall of 1941 the Einsatzgruppe began killing Jewish populations in the Baltic territories and the Soviet Union. They worked independently from the military, but the military often cooperated in killings.

Initially the focus was on killing political officers, then Jewish men age 15-60 and then it was expanded to all Jews.

We forget about the many people who died in the forests near their own communities. Between 1 million and 1.5 million Jews were killed by a shot to the head. These were local initiatives and there was not a formal policy at this time. Many of the actions arose first on the local level. For example in Belzec the regional police chief initiated a local killing area for Jews who could not work. The regional police chief initiated a gas-van site in Chelmno to kill those from the overcrowded Lodz ghetto. Jews were sent from Germany to be killed on arrival in the Baltic states. These were at killing fields such as the Ninth Fort and Ponar as reflected in my artwork on Lithuania.

Meanwhile decisions were also being made from above. In Sept 1941 it was decided that deportation of Jews would start before the end of the war. Originally it was thought this would be a post-war activity. The approach was somewhat experimental. People conjectured what Hitler wanted done based on clues from his speeches and interpretation by his staff. I pictured a nation with wristbands bearing the legend WWHD (What Would Hitler Do).

In January 1942 there was a conference at Wansee, a Berlin suburb, with all the important people in Reich gathering to figure out how to implement the final solution.

3. 1942-44 saw the beginning of systematic mass murder through 2000 camps

There were centers of killing at places such as Treblinka, Majdanek, Auschwitz, Chelmno and Belzec.

There was a shift from shootings due to logistics. They needed bullets for the front and shootings took more manpower. Most importantly was the response of troops to killing, especially the killing of women and children. According to Hoss, the former camp commandant of Auschwitz, it was causing suicides and alcoholism. A less direct method was felt to ease this distress. Also by limiting the number of people involved there were fewer who could talk about what was happening.

In a year and a half, 3 million Jews were killed in camps.

Most survivors are from Auschwitz or Majdanek which were both concentration camps and death camps. Both camps had a selection for life or death. Auschwitz had 500,000 prisoners, a number that stunned me. The population was as large as the city I live in.

One of the students asked why the camps were in Poland. The response reminded me of the old Willie Sutton quote on why people rob banks (that is where the money is). in this case- that is where the Jews were. It was essentially an operations problem, how to get the Jews to the camps most efficiently. Originally there were 3.3 million Jews in Poland of which 2.8 million were murdered. In Poland and the Baltics 90% of the Jews were murdered while less than 1% were killed in Bulgaria and Denmark which resisted the murder of the Jews within their population.

4. Death Marches were the final stage. Jews were marched west as the Soviets approached. Some Jews were kept alive at the end as a bargaining chip, some as labor. Part of the reason for death marches was to hide the evidence.

Most death camps were liberated by the Red Army, not the US. Those that the US saw were the better off camps, yet still horrified the soldiers.

One of the questions that has puzzled me were the efforts of the Nazis to hide their tracks. That would seem to indicate an awareness of at least the world's moral sense. I learned that they began to hide their tracks after 1943 when traces of Poles murdered by the Soviets were found at Katyn and the world responded with horror. That heightened the awareness of world perception and it occurred to them that they could be judged likewise.

This step by step progression begins to highlight points where actions could have altered the course of events. More open immigration policies, less isolationism, resistance by countries and the weight of public opinion all could have made a difference. How much we will never know.





Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Curious Artist

Recently I spoke with an interviewer assessing the impact of the Jewish Artists’ Lab*. I found myself struggling with a key question… Did I identify myself as a Jewish artist?

"No, I did not", I replied. I was surprised at the strength of my reaction to the term. Yes I was Jewish and yes, I was an artist, but a Jewish artist didn’t feel like a comfortable label. Keep in mind I am not fond of labels in general as they narrow one’s universe rather than expand it. I’ve found the Artists’ Lab to be a fascinating project and it has caused me to evaluate concepts around the creative process from new perspectives. And yet, the label did not feel like it belonged on me.

"Did others consider me a Jewish artist?" she asked. The work I have done over the past seven years has been on my Jewish family history, the Holocaust and an interview series of Jewish elders. Hmm, probably they do. I asked my husband if he would describe me as a Jewish artist and he replied yes. As someone who isn’t Jewish he views the Jewish part of my identity as a significant descriptor, more so than it would be were I Christian. He argues that it wraps in culture and ethnicity, that one can be Jewish and non-religious, but if one claims to be Christian, one is religious. The content of my recent work is Jewish culture, therefore he views me as a Jewish artist.

Interestingly when I posed the question to my mother she responded no. To her I’m just Susan and she has seen me through enough life stages to understand that I can be interested in something without it necessarily defining me.

So what does being a “Jewish artist” mean and why do I struggle with the term? I certainly define myself as Jewish, albeit not in a particularly religious sense, and I do identify with the cultural aspects and values of Judaism. In part I think it implies a level of religious engagement which isn’t me. I find religion an interesting subject as something that has informed our culture. It is a rich source to mine and offers me another artistic engine. And I do have a particular interest in the religion and culture that is my heritage. It occurs to me that this is not just a recent interest although it lay dormant for many years. As a young college student I took many courses on religion, even a wonderful English course on the Bible as literature. As a child I was captivated by mythology. I was intrigued with how people try to make sense of the world around them, a rather amazing place whatever your religious beliefs. But a curious artist might be a better descriptor than a Jewish artist.

I want to be free to wake up tomorrow and go in a different direction with my work if I choose and it may not have a theme that relates to the fact that I'm Jewish. When we nail down the tent poles that define our identity it is much too easy to trap ourselves within. I need to define my world broadly enough to allow for a lifetime of exploration.

*The Jewish Artists’ Laboratory is an arts initiative through the Sabes Jewish Community Center featuring 17 artists exploring the theme of Text/Context/Subtext through study and art making. The project is funded through The Covenant Foundation and similar projects are being done in both Milwaukee and Madison. Artists explore how the theme of Text/Context/Subtext is relevant to Jews and non-Jews, to religious and non-religious, to the community and to the individual, to the artist and the non-artist.

 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Teetering on Finished

I am in an almost finished stage with my painting for the Artists’ Lab* exhibition, but still teetering on the edge of saying it is finished. I recently added a web page with the artwork, story and a poem that knits it together with the story of Abraham and Isaac. Despite this seeming act of closure, I commented to others at the Lab that I might still decide to change it. They directed me to read the sayings that were posted on the walls. Much to my amusement I discovered that each one was on endings and many were quite appropriate to what I was feeling.

Perhaps the one that spoke most directly to me was this:

When I’m finished, I always wonder what would have happened had I made different decisions along the way. (Brent R. Laycock)

I had commented earlier in the Lab that beginnings were difficult because they require us to choose a direction and abandon others. We move from all possibility to one. It is much the same thing which causes me to pause at declaring it finished. Part of me still harbors the thought of the roads not taken and debates whether I should attempt a change. In the case of this painting which is based on a Holocaust story from my friend Dvora, I am hesitating over the degree of artistic license that I am taking. Should I make Dvora look more distressed, should the subjects look as emaciated as they most likely would have been after months in Auschwitz. But I have been thinking of this painting more as one based on the concept of parallel stories rather than a Holocaust painting. The Holocaust just happened to be the setting in which it took place.

As the painting developed it reminded me of symbolist work, particularly that of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, a French artist from the 1800s. I did a search of his work to see if there was anything similar and found his painting Death and the Maiden (on the right), an allegory on the fragility of life. Here is an excerpt of the painting next to an excerpt of my painting. If you were to see the entire painting, you would note the figure of the grim reaper lurking stage left, perhaps an appropriate reference point for the story which I painted.
My painting can be viewed as symbolist also in that the bread represents life, the strewn cans on the road, imprisonment and futility. The stones represent those who did not survive and the trees echo the stripes of concentration camp uniforms.
Some of the other quotes that spoke to me were these:

A painting is like the façade of a house…and you’re like a janitor who goes around systematically trying to close all the windows and doors- but when you get to the top floor to close the last window, a wind blows open the one on the first landing. You rush down and close that one, and then one on the middle floor blows open and you rush to close that. But when you’ve closed all the entries to the house, then the painting is closed - not that it’s finished, it’s just that you can’t enter it any longer. (Graham Nickson)

Kind of like a game of whack-a-mole…

And yet another that speaks to me as someone who likes text and context.

The work isn’t complete for me until I add words, as reading is as important to me as painting. (Veronika Funk)

In the Lab we were asked if there was a difference between finishing and ceasing. We referenced the language in Genesis 2:1-4a which reads:

And on the seventh day God finished the work which he had been doing and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work which He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy.

Cessation was part of the creation story. Like breathing, it gives it space, the space between our breath as important as the breath itself.

Our discussion shifted to the question of commemorating a conclusion. In the creation story God concludes his work with a blessing and a cessation from work. We looked at I Kings 7:51-8:16 at the conclusion of the building of the Temple. It closes with a blessing and a poem. Well at least I have the poem, perhaps that's the benediction for my work.

With that we turned to the task of creating a ritual for closing our sessions of the Artists’ Lab and for the conclusion of our exhibition. We were all in agreement that it had to involve food and began to map out a ritual that would engage all within the Lab’s community of artists in interacting with the work of our fellow artists.

*The Jewish Artists’ Laboratory is an arts initiative through the Sabes Jewish Community Center featuring 17 artists exploring the theme of Text/Context/Subtext through study and art making. The project is funded through The Covenant Foundation and similar projects are being done in both Milwaukee and Madison. Artists explore how the theme of Text/Context/Subtext is relevant to Jews and non-Jews, to religious and non-religious, to the community and to the individual, to the artist and the non-artist.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Endings

At the prior session of the Artists' Lab* we talked about beginnings. This session closed the loop by exploring endings. We began with a quote from Rabbi Tarfon (Pirke Avot 2:21) who said "It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either." (Captured in artwork by Bob Gill for the Voices & Visions project). In the broader scheme of things we take an incremental approach to finishing the work of perfecting the world. What we leave undone is passed to the next generation. In the short term however we were reminded that we had an artwork to complete for an upcoming exhibition and catalog.

We began our discussion with a question, what do we do or say when we complete a project? The first thought that popped into my mind was, "Am I really done?" My work has a way of resurrecting, even when I think it completed. Often I have to live with it for some time before I conclude it is finished or perhaps needs more work. Assuming I believe it to be done, my second thought is "What's next?" I realized I'm not much good at celebrating completion. In fact I skipped both of my college graduations. I think endings make me a bit anxious because I like knowing what's next.

One of the artists spoke of taking a period of "fertile emptiness" after completing a project. I especially liked that phrase as it is that period that I am finding is both fruitful and scary. It is the gestational time when you don't know what is next, but if you relax into it, the "next" emerges. My faith in the next is not quite solid enough to fully relax into it without it being tinged with a bit of anxiety. What if there is no next? In fact I often find the seeds of the next harvest in the project I have just completed. My process is often one of reflecting on whether I need to expand my scope to a bigger question or alternatively narrow it and go deeper into some particular aspect.

We shifted our attention to words related to finishing and pondered the word "deadline" which purportedly comes for a boundary around a prison beyond which prisoners can be shot. Hmmm, gives new meaning to "drop dead date".

So how are endings dealt with in Jewish text? When a section of the Talmud is completed, one says "Just as I finish this part may I be privileged to begin a new one.". The Torah is read through to the end and then begins again. We talked of the word gollel גולל which means wrap around, like a Torah scroll, no true beginning or ending. Beginnings feeding into endings feeding into beginnings. Even the creation story in Genesis 2:1-4a is followed by yet another creation story in 4b-6. And then God still hadn't gotten it quite right and started anew with Noah. So creation is a never ending process with destruction and new starts built in. Perhaps not so different than my process after all.

*The Jewish Artists’ Laboratory is an arts initiative through the Sabes Jewish Community Center featuring 17 artists exploring the theme of Text/Context/Subtext through study and art making. The project is funded through The Covenant Foundation and similar projects are being done in both Milwaukee and Madison. Artists explore how the theme of Text/Context/Subtext is relevant to Jews and non-Jews, to religious and non-religious, to the community and to the individual, to the artist and the non-artist.