At first glance it may not be obvious how the late artist Will Barnet’s painting “Sunday afternoon in Gramercy Park” relates to the Jewish notion of Shabbat. The piece simply depicts an older man watching a small child play on a park bench.
But Laura Kruger, curator of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum in New York, sees the images in the painting as representing a defining experience of Shabbat: sharing the day with others, multi-generationally.
“Yes, you could celebrate Shabbat with peers so that you are all the same age — but you are really encouraged by Shabbat to be with people of all generations,” said Kruger, who will be coming to Temple David in Monroeville the weekend of April 20 as its artist-in residence, along with an art exhibit from the HUC-JIR Museum titled “The Seventh Day: Revisiting Shabbat.”
The exhibit features the work of dozens of international artists exploring the sanctity of the Sabbath through provocative works of art from a 21st century perspective.
“Rather than having a scholar-in-residence, we have an artist-in-residence to help people of all ages connect to the subject matter of Shabbat,” said Rabbi Barbara Symons, spiritual leader of Temple David. “The youngest child as well as the oldest adult can look at a piece of art.”
The congregation has been participating in activities leading up to the weekend — which is part of Temple David’s 60th anniversary celebration — exploring the intersection of art and Shabbat, according to Symons, including various Jewish food tastings and the reading of Chaim Potok’s “My Name is Asher Lev.”
“We’ve been building up toward this,” Symons said. “Shabbat is foundational to what Judaism is. We want others to come in and think about it, and to think about their own practice.”
The weekend will commence with a Shabbat dinner on Friday night and a preview of the exhibit, as well as a presentation by Bruce Berman, a local architect, designer and cabinetmaker, who created the ark, lectern, Torah stand and recognition board in Temple David’s sanctuary. A wine and cheese reception with Kruger will be held on Saturday night, followed by a program for religious school students on Sunday.
Kruger said that her remarks Saturday night will center on the “gift of Shabbat to humanity.”
“It is one of the exceptional concepts of human behavior, that given a time of peace and reflection we will come to the realization that some of the most meaningful aspects of life are those of connecting with others — a time to listen and hear of the needs as well as the energy of people around us,” she said. “Life has always been filled with duties to be fulfilled and distractions to be assessed. However, it is within the silence and calm of Shabbat that we can contemplate larger relationships and actions.
“It is less about rituals to be performed, and more about outreach and connections to one another,” added Kruger. “Hence the focus on a family meal, about sharing bread — challah — wine, as a means to relax, music in the form of songs of celebration, of intergenerational activities.”
Shabbat, Kruger stressed, is a time for reflection and sharing.
“I would point to the Judy Chicago piece called ‘Rainbow Shabbat,’ and it is a table with people of different iterations,” Kruger explained. “They’re men, they’re women, they’re old and they’re young, they’re black and they’re Asian, they are from other continents, they’re more robust, they’re more fragile, they are from different religious points of view, they are certainly Jewish, and they are certainly equally sexually balanced. In this sense, it is the family of mankind.”
The exhibit includes art works based on Sabbath texts, and ritual objects.
“The celebration of Shabbat is a very visual and tactile experience,” Kruger said. “It involves humans, foods that are celebratory like challah, wine that is celebratory, it involves doing physical things — it is not just a reading and reciting holiday. It’s about what our religion holds as the substance values of being a Jew. Sharing things with other people, being with other people.”
The exhibit “will be meaningful to anybody that has an interest in Shabbat,” said Carol Gordon, who along with her husband, Bob Gordon, is coordinating the weekend’s events.
The exhibit will include a Torah mantle designed by local artists Louise Silk and Leslie Golomb, and will be open to the public on Sunday and Monday from 2 to 5 p.m., April 22-23. Students from area Catholic schools are scheduled to view the exhibit on Monday. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.