I grew up going to services. A lot of services. I was adept at counting the ceiling tiles, reaching into the thousands as my grasp of numbers grew more sophisticated. The melodies became part of my life soundtrack; I hummed them as my mind wandered during the rabbi’s sermon. I loved running wild in the basement with the other kids, trying to sneak a piece of rugelach before the adults came downstairs. And I really loved standing up with the entire room, waiting and listening for the shofar to blow, with all its loudness and strength.
With those memories in mind, I know it will be a different year in 2020. And I wonder how I will create holiday memories for my own son.
As I’ve grown up, I've moved toward other types of meaningful Jewish experiences. I’ve worked in the Jewish cultural field for several decades, and I’ve become firmly convinced that Jewish arts and culture is an essential part of how many Jews celebrate and experience their Jewish life. Artists are leaders and creators of meaning, and in this time, we need as much meaning as we can find. And although live art is something to cherish (something I, personally, desperately miss), we all encounter and enjoy music, books, films, and visual art on our own, in our homes, and online.
If we think about artists as part of our leadership cadre of meaning-makers, we have a lot to gain during these unconventional holidays. I run a network of Jewish artists called Asylum Arts, nearly 700 artists from 29 countries. This year, Asylum Arts, in collaboration with JArts Boston, put out a call to our artists asking them to create projects that would allow our communities to discover some of the magic and meaning of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.
We have supported and worked with four artists to create new projects to share with Jewish communities around the world, collectively creating “Inspired 5781: More Art, More Awe,” a series of educational and uplifting art works that we can enjoy throughout the holiday season.
Efrat Hakimi and Shabtai Pinchevsky, two visual artists from Israel currently living in Chicago, have created the Tashlikh Atlas, a digital way to engage in this powerful ritual that is usually a very individual process. When you visit the website, it zooms you to a nearby body of water, where you can read a short text reflecting on what you wish to cast off this year, thinking both personally and in terms of society. And then visitors can explore bodies of water around the world to see all contributions. The accumulated content will be viewable online through the end of Sukkot and will then be washed away, for a better year to come.
Chari Pere, an illustrator and comics artist living in Los Angeles, has been sheltering in place with her three small children during this pandemic and creating her hilarious Corona Mama comic. She has created a packet of games and cards, from a “create a new fruit” activity to a set of Jonah story puppets for families to print and work on together to learn about the holidays in a creative, age-appropriate format. Kids can help the raisin find its way to the center of the challah and make “I’m Sorry” cards for family and friends – and more.
Shay Arick is an Israeli-born artist, based in the U.S., who returned to Israel with his wife at the beginning of the pandemic. While sheltering in place, he began taking long walks through the countryside, collecting Israeli flora and fashioning spare elegant sculptures that he photographed before they began to wither and fade. As part of this new series, he created sculptures for the Seven Species, which hold special spiritual significance and are used to describe the land of Israel. Shay’s images are striking, and they can be sent as e-cards to your friends and family.
Israeli Musician Dvir Cohen Eraki comes from a long line of cantors from Yemen, and his work engages with Yemeni traditional melodies and prayers, weaving them into more contemporary musical traditions. In his two videos, ”El Nora Alila” and “Achot Ketana,” he explains and presents prayer songs that resonate with his life, giving us access to other ways of thinking about spiritual music and prayer. This will likely be new and beautiful for many of us who grew up with Ashkenazi traditions.
We invite you to explore these projects, engaging with them as a practice in solitude or with all of the people you love and celebrate with. And we encourage you to find ways to create meaning and memorable moments with your families and community during this unusual and unconventional holiday season.