Snippets

In the image.

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The traditional Jewish notion of not making images comes from Exodus 20:4: "...you shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth." After all, the Israelites had, just shortly before the Ten Commandments were handed down, made themselves a golden calf to worship and couldn't be trusted not to try it again.  Certainly, through the ages, Jews regularly broke this commandment. There were even coins with various rabbis' faces on them! There were also work-arounds like micrography, making pictures...

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Mamash. The reality of Jewish art.

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On my first trip to Israel, to study at Pardes, I kept hearing this word mamash. My street Hebrew being pretty limited, I couldn't quite figure out what mamash means. Turns out that, like most Hebrew words, mamash can mean a lot of things. In the Talmud, it means "literally," as in the Gemara to Bava Kamma 83b, which asks why not take literally (mamash) the Torah's eye-for-an-eye rule? In modern Hebrew, mamash can also mean literally, actually, or very, depending on the context. Mamash also has the sense of reality in a tangible way. For me, as a Jewish artist,...

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Orenu. Our light.

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On the night of my conversion to Judaism, I addressed the congregation gathered at my synagogue, Congregation Micah, in Brentwood, Tennessee, for Shabbat. It during Chanukah, so that holiday always always has an extra-special glow for me. This is what I said on that night... When I first encountered Judaism, I was immediately fascinated by the Hebrew language. Its sound was so ancient, and mysterious, and poetic.One of my favorite Hebrew words is orenu. It means “our light.” It is the literal light that streams into this sanctuary on a Saturday morning as a young person accepts the responsibilities of...

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A lot of trouble. And you're worth it.

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In the movie The American President, Sydney Ellen Wade receives a Virginia ham after her first date with President Andrew Shepherd. The assistant who gives it to her says, "It took him 10 minutes to write the card." Ten minutes? Surely he didn't write it himself, he staffed it out, thinks Sydney. Nope. Wrote it himself. And it took ten minutes. In the Mishnah (Berakhot 58a), it says, "What does a good guest say? How much trouble has my host gone to just for me!" If you are a guest, don't think, well, they had a caterer, or it was...

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Giving light.

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When asked to create a papercut for the Hebrew name "Meir," the challenge was on... how to "illuminate" with paper a name that means "creator of light?" In my head, I saw the blue of the daytime sky contrasting with the dark of night, and rays of fiery light bursting through the darkness. "Let there be light, and there was light." (Gen. 1:3) The recipient of this piece shares a name with one of the most revered sages of the Talmud, Rabbi Meir. It is thought that his name was given to him later in life for protection and because he...

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