JCC textile arts exhibit explores Jewish history and issues

Menorah by Miriam Schapiro

About 10 years ago my mother introduced the Miriam’s Cup to our Passover Seder. Each year she reads a passage that speaks of the multi-talented Miriam as a dancer, prophetess and stitcher, among others.

We have always been a little skeptical about the stitcher claim because my mother is an accomplished needle artist. So, I did a little research. If anything, I thought the stitcher claim may have evolved from Debbie Friedman’s wonderful Miriam’s Song in which she sings.

“And Miriam was a weaver of unique variety; the tapestry she wove was one which sang our history. With every strand and every thread she crafted her delight! A woman touched with spirit, she dances toward the light.”

I still think that passage uses weaver as a metaphor, but there are many other references to weaving in the Torah. Exodus 35:25-26 says the women wove curtains for the wandering Tabernacle of the Sinai desert: “And all the women who were wise hearted did spin with their hands and brought that which they had spun, both of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine linen. And all the women whose hearts stirred them up in wisdom spun goats’ hair.”

Portrait by Estelle Yarinsky.

Interest in Jewish fiber arts is more popular than ever. There is a local chapter of the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework whose mission is to pass needlework traditions to other generations of by sharing knowledge and techniques needed to create handcrafted items intended for both Jewish ritual and cultural use.

I have received unbelievable (and unexpected) international response to a Dreidel constructed of woven beads that I designed. There is a wide variety of local competitions inviting artists to design Judaic art and ritual objects.

Further evidence of this unprecedented attention to Judaic needle arts is an upcoming exhibition at the Dave and Mary Alper Jewish Community Center, which presents the work of 44 significant international textile artists who each address issues of memory and reflection, interpret history and ritual or find links between the past and present.

A Stitch in Jewish Time: Provocative Textiles opens on Sunday, Dec. 2, and runs through Jan. 13. The exceptional contemporary artists of the exhibit, organized by the Jewish Institute of Religion Museum at New York’s Hebrew Union College, use both humor and poignancy to reveal their interpretation of aspects of the Holocaust, war, patriotism, celebration, prayer, feminism and sexuality. They apply their skillful creativity to the ever-evolving understanding of Jewish values, pushing conventional boundaries and often challenging traditional forms. Among the artists represented are Judy Chicago, Estelle Yarinsky, Mark Podwall, Arlene Fisch and Carol Hamoy.

The textiles in this show leave an indelible impression that expands our perception of contemporary art, and enhance our understanding of Jewish history, experience and values. These works, which build upon the vast foundation of Jewish textile creativity, are overwhelmingly conceptual artworks, firmly set within a postmodern context. Their power stems from the artist’s ability to coax enormous meaning from the threads and stitches of ordinary fabric seen anew.

For gallery hours and more information call 305-271-9000, ext. 268, or log on to www.alperjcc.org

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