One of the foundational tenets of Judaism is that G-d is the Creator. On a smaller scale, artists are also creators. The year-end presentation from Tzohar Seminary, titled “Creation,” showcased students’ talents in the written, visual and performing arts. The presentation was held Sunday afternoon, June 9, in Levinson Hall at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill.
“We live our lives b’tzelem Elokim, in the image of G-d,” said Amy Guterson, the founder and director of Tzohar. The creation of art is an “act of stepping forward, of giving something and also receiving something,” she said.
That dynamic – of using G-d given talents and channeling them through artistic expression — which in turn brings inspiration to others — is at the core of Tzohar’s mission. The post-high school seminary for women seeks to integrate the study of Judaism, and more specifically Chassidus, with the development of artistic talents. The school just completed its second academic year, with 17 participants.
Sunday’s presentation highlighted the range and depth of students’ talents, from classical piano to painting, photography, poetry, songwriting and filmmaking. Over the course of the last year, students received instruction in each of those creative areas, and others, and were given the opportunity to focus more deeply on personal projects and the development of particular creative areas. Because the students come from a range of backgrounds – some with years of training in a specific art form, and others with none at all – their skill levels at the end of the year are also quite diverse.
“The process is more important than the product,” said Guterson.
In many ways, Sunday’s presentation was a showcase both of process and product. For example, students performed a scene from the Oscar Wilde play “The Importance of Being Earnest” twice during the show. Shira Marcus played the role of Cecily Cardew each time, but the character of Gwendolen Fairfax was played first by Chana Schweitzer and later by Freidel Shwarzberg. The repetition showed multiple dimensions of the roles and highlighted the actresses’ unique talents.
Many of the artworks in the show had themes implicitly or explicitly rooted in Judaism, but the dramatic scenes were an exception. Guterson expressed hope that in the future Jewish playwrights will produce works with the dramatic heft of some of the classical plays. Scenes from Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” and William Snyder’s “The Days and Nights of Beebee Fenstermaker” were also included in the presentation, as was an unnamed screenplay by student Rickel Hayes that was performed in a dramatic reading.
While the show was a natural venue for performing arts and film, it also skillfully presented students’ poetry, photography, paintings and drawings. A video montage, accompanied by live piano music, showed many of the visual arts, including a striking painting by Chana Schweitzer of a silhouetted young woman on a mountaintop against a brilliant sunset and red, orange and yellow sky. This painting was featured in the poster and printed program for the event.
Among the highlights of the show was “The Book of Life,” a 10-minute film written by Sheina Brummel, directed by Chavie Resnick and filmed by Yita Rochel Fettman. Brummel, who attended Tzohar’s first year and returned to continue her studies this year, wrote the screenplay last year and refined it under the instruction of Melissa Martin, who wrote and directed the 2001 film “The Bread, My Sweet.”
Another memorable piece was the music video, “Fortress,” created by Freidel Shwarzberg, Rickel Hayes and Yita Rochel Fetmann. With its raw poetry, the video expresses a young woman’s feelings of isolation and searching.
“Creation” was intended to focus on students’ collaborations, and the joining of their talents was most evident in several vocal performances that blended students’ singing voices together.
Above all, the show was an opportunity for women in the community to see the range of arts that Tzohar students have studied intensively over the last year.
Rabbi Aaron Herman, Tzohar’s principal, said that Chassidus and art both help people to see things in a new or deeper way, and studying the two disciplines together is natural because both are about “using talents or ability to promote positive things in the world.”
“It’s opening up an awareness,” he said. “It’s about channeling talents in a particular direction.”