Yeshiva University Museum has received a grant of $135,900 to expand its Re-Imagining Jewish Education Through Art program. The grant comes from The Covenant Foundation, and is part of the $1.2 million in grants approved by the foundation in January. The foundation plans to distribute a total of $1.7 million this year.
According to a press release issued by YUM, the program follows a model of “creative aesthetic education” created by the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts and applies it to Jewish education. The museum will partner with the Lincoln Center Institute to train teachers in New York and elsewhere.
YUM has already run the program in three New York high schools — Heschel High School, SAR High School, and Yeshiva University’s Marsha Stern Academy (MTA) — as well as at the Kings Bay YM-YWHA. The museum plans to expand the program to at least six Jewish day schools. Gabriel Goldstein, a project director and independent curator, and Ilana Benson, a museum educator, will administer the program.
The grant follows on the heels of a $1.5 million grant from the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust to the Center for Jewish History, of which Yeshiva University Museum is one of five constituent organizations. The $1.5 million grant will create The Lillian Goldman Reference Services Division, which will serve all of the institutions at the CJH.
Among the Nazis’ persecuted minorities were Jewish and non-Jewish artists, musicians and writers branded “degenerate” by the regime.
“Radical Departures: The Modernist Experiment,” an exhibition currently showing at the Leo Baeck Institute/Center for Jewish History in New York, gathers together work by these “degenerate” artists, including Georg Stahl, Samson Schames, David Ludwig Bloch and others.
Although compact, the exhibit presents a whistlestop tour through the major European art movements from the turn of the 20th century, taking in German Expressionism and Weimar Modernism, through to the Second World War period, and the Surrealism and Abstract art of the postwar era.
As part of the Nazis’ “cultural purification” campaign, Jewish artists were prohibited from showing their work in mainstream galleries, while “Bolshevik” artists affiliated with the Communist or Socialist parties were banned from exhibiting their art altogether.
Following the infamous “Degenerate Art” exhibition in Munich in 1937, in which the Nazis derisively presented some 650 confiscated pieces of modernist paintings, sculptures and prints in a haphazard and chaotic display, many artists fled the country, and many of the pieces were ultimately destroyed or sold abroad.
These artists continued producing art in their cities of refuge (in New York, Shanghai, as well as in South America). Some, such as Stahl, Schames, Arthur Segal and Martin Bloch, also spent time interned as enemy aliens in prisoner of war camps in the U.K. and Vichy France.
The exhibit focuses on Stahl’s artistic development, from his doodled watercolors of the 1920s and 1930s, challenging the exalted realism of 19th-century art with the bathos of themes such as “Advertising Kiosk in Rotterdam” (1932), through to the dreamlike oil paintings of the 1950s (“Composition with Pigeons,” 1953), and finally to the bold strokes of his purely abstract compositions in the 1960s.
The work presented from the War period is particularly expressive. Schames presents his time as a POW in “The Gate: Internment Camp at Huyton, near Liverpool” (1940s) in an eerie watercolor composition featuring a barbed-wire motif in the foreground and nebulous figures (presumably prisoners) disappearing into the mist in the background.
Another watercolor by Schames, “Bombed-out Houses of London” (1941), is an abstract depiction of the stark silhouette of jagged buildings rearing up against the night skyline.
The exhibit also displays ephemera — pamphlets, copies of Der Sturm (a magazine dedicated to Expressionist art), as well as photos, letters and diary extracts.
A cautionary note: My visit to the exhibit was somewhat marred by center employees setting up for an event in the main hallway right next to the exhibit space. The Center for Jewish History perhaps needs to reconsider the set-up of its exhibition rooms if it is to be taken seriously as an art venue.
View a slideshow of images from ‘Radical Departures’:
On Wednesday, Deborah Lipstadt wrote about eerie anniversaries. She is the author of the new book “The Eichmann Trial.” Her blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I have spent much of the past few weeks talking about my new book, “The Eichmann Trial.” I don’t want to make this blog entry about the book. (To be blunt, I’d rather have folks read the book.) But something has struck me in the talks and interviews I have conducted.
For so many people the issue of the Eichmann trial remains Hannah Arendt. They seem to have a hard time conceiving of the Eichmann trial independent of Arendt’s “analysis.” I am speaking of who abhor what she said as well as of those who espouse her views.
I take a more “middle of the road” or balanced perspective. Let me be explicit (for nuance, you’ll have to read the book. OK, I won’t repeat that again. Twice is certainly enough. Though, please note, I wrote read, not buy). When I speak about Arendt I try to discern where my audience — whether it be one person or a multitude — stands on the issue. I then try to stress the “other” side, i.e. if they hate — and that’s not too strong a term — her words I tell them the affirmative things she had to say about the trial and Israel. If they are enthralled with her views, I point out the glaring historical mistakes on which they are based.
Sometimes that leads to trouble.
At a talk I gave at the Center for Jewish History I assumed that many of the people in the audience were familiar with all the negatives that had been said both by and about Arendt. They knew of her [c]overt antisemitic — if not racist — comments about Israeli society and of her historically inaccurate statements about the Judenrate, the Jewish councils established in the ghettoes by the Nazis.
I, chose, therefore to speak of some of the insights she had and powerful statements she made about the significance of the Holocaust. I wanted to make it clear to them that there are a lot of grays when it comes to Arendt. Sure enough, I received a number of e-mails and comments accusing me of having “gone soft on Arendt.”
Conversely, when I have spoken with those, whose view of the trial has been completely refracted thorough Arendt, they hear me as critical of her and have also reacted viscerally. They defend her in a knee-jerk fashion and excoriate me for being critical of her.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if people set aside their preconceived conclusions and read what I have to say about her? (Oops, there I go again. Clearly this is the place to end this blog entry.)
When the anti-immigration laws of the early 1920s effectively sealed the gates of the United States to would-be immigrants, the Jews of Eastern Europe who had arrived en masse between 1880 and 1920 could no longer hope to see their loved ones join them in America. Instead, those who could afford to traveled abroad, visiting the cities and towns they had left behind. Often, they brought with them amateur film cameras, which were increasingly popular in the 1920s, to capture the world of their childhoods.
The exhibition features excerpts from some 26 films shot by Jewish immigrants to America during their visits to more than 16 towns and cities in Poland. Arranged to parallel the visitors’ own experiences, the exhibit includes film footage of landscapes, portraits, and candid shots of the people and places that these immigrants encountered on their visits home. For the contemporary viewer, the exhibit offers more than a recording of Jewish life in interwar Poland; it tells us something about how Polish-Jewish immigrants to America saw the world that they had left behind — an impoverished, vanishing world, but one that many still cherished as home.
In addition to personal films, some Jews were sent by various landsmanschaften to distribute money to needy communities and to capture on film the economic distress of Jewish life in Poland in order to raise funds in America. A particularly interesting feature of the exhibit is a film of two Polish-Jewish women viewing homemade films of their hometown, Tishevits, at YIVO in 1982, in order to identify the people recorded some 45 years prior.
All of the original films featured in the exhibit are available for viewing online, but some artifacts, including a rather sleek film camera from 1935, and documents relating to two men known to have traveled and filmed Jewish life in interwar Poland, can be seen only on-site. The artifacts are of interest because they provide context by adding names and dates to an exhibition that draws on films whose precise dating and provenance are often unknown. Thus, we learn that Gustave Eisner, born in the 1880s, became an insurance agent in America and soon expanded his business by offering to transfer funds abroad. This put him in touch with the shipping lines, and Eisner went on to become a travel agent, often accompanying the trips he arranged with his film camera in tow.
Watch an excerpt from the ‘Candids’ section of ‘16mm Postcards: Home Movies of American Jewish Visitors to 1930s Poland.’
Tearful laughter, raunchy story telling, and punchy witticisms are not the typical ingredients one expects to find in a tribute to a late literary legend. Then again, Grace Paley and ‘typical’ never met.
Last Tuesday the Center for Jewish History and Jewish Women’s Archive paid homage to the poet, short story writer and political activist, who passed away in her Vermont home in August 2007. The evening consisted of a panel discussion with excerpts from Lilly Rivlin’s new film, “Grace Paley: Collected Shorts.” The film, which premiered at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in July, will be shown at a selection of upcoming festivals on the East Coast, including the New York Jewish Film Festival in January.
Inspired by Paley’s vast collection of short stories, Rivlin’s film tells the tale of a woman whom a colleague described as “a very small woman who was a giantess.” Rivlin, a writer and political activist herself, shared her experience creating the film: “The challenge about making a film about Grace Paley is that she was a political animal and I saw her everywhere, and the challenge was to make a film about someone who did it all.”
Paley, born Grace Goodside in the Bronx, was raised speaking Russian, Yiddish and English, but the language she is remembered for was all her own. Whether in stories, poems, speeches, or passing remarks, all who knew Paley marvel at her ability to speak with a voice of almost eerie authenticity. In the film, Alice Walker says, “The first time I met Grace and she spoke I immediately knew her, and I realized it’s because I had read her books.”
Walker is not the only person who felt an inexplicable closeness to Paley. Most of the evening centered on the sentiment that Paley was a friend to anyone standing within 50 feet of her. “She had the remarkable ability to make every person in front of her feel like the most important person in the world,” said one panelist, Paley’s good friend Vera B. Williams. In fact, each of the women sitting on stage had at least a few bright, personal memories of the writer, including the whimsical visual of Paley flying down a moonlit hill in a checkered nightgown, unfazed by her outfit and eager to join a spontaneous soiree of African drumming.
The most remarkable and profoundly touching moment in the evening came when the panelists opened the discussion to the audience. When an elderly woman with a Yiddish accent rose from her seat, something magical happened. She did not ask about Paley’s books or share insights on Rivlin’s film. Rather, she simply told stories about Grace. As the microphone was passed up and down the aisles one was invited into pockets of Paley’s life, whether through a comical musing on how she opened her refrigerator to a neighbor’s surplus kugel every Passover for over 30 years, or the poignant reminiscences of a man who went to elementary school with her.
Grace Paley was a force, and with each person’s recollections one could feel her presence swell throughout the room, alive with mirth and vivacity. To quote a line from Paley’s short story “A Conversation With My Father,” which has become a mantra in the literary world, “Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life.” Those are the words of a woman who was certainly real, yet lived the life of someone who seems possible only in fiction.
Watch the trailer for ‘Grace Paley: Collected Shorts’: