‘A Paintbrush of Longing’
Art, grief, and living with and through tragedy
Three years after her 21-year-old soldier son Maor was killed in a terror attack in 2005, painter Evelyn Jan went through Maor’s photo albums and was struck by the sheer beauty of the nature scenes he’d captured through the lens.
Though she hadn’t picked up a brush in years, she was so moved that she began painting her interpretation of one of the photos.
After completing the first painting, she went on to paint a copy of another of her son’s photographs. And then another.
Letting her heart lead her hands, the bereaved mother finished an entire series and named it “A Paintbrush of Longing.”
These works — depicting flowers, animals, waterfalls, and seascapes — were displayed at a gallery in the Jans’ hometown, Netanya, in 2015, marking 10 years from Maor’s murder outside a local mall.
This month, Teaneck and Englewood community members will have an opportunity to meet Ms. Jan, her husband, Yossi, and their daughter, Oriya.
Oriya, conceived after the tragedy as her parents’ intentional affirmation of life, was born an aunt; Maor’s wife had given birth to a daughter just six weeks after Maor was murdered.
Copies of Ms. Jan’s “A Paintbrush of Longing” works will be on sale for the benefit of the community chesed — good deeds — projects of the Nahar Deah Hesder Yeshiva in Nahariya, where Maor was a student.
The northwestern Mediterranean coastal city of Nahariya is the sister city of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. This connection resonated with Yehuda Lanzkron of Petah Tikva, a volunteer fundraiser — he prefers the term “friend raiser,” he said, “because friends support your causes” — for the Nahar Deah Hesder Yeshiva.
Mr. Lanzkron’s company, Urbani-Art, is responsible for mounting well-known public art installations in Israel — they include colorful lion statues in Jerusalem, oranges in Rehovot, strawberries in Ramat Hasharon, and menorahs in Netanya. He often has used art as a medium for fundraising for worthy causes after his brother was killed in a terrorist attack in 2001. (See sidebar.)
Mr. Lanzkron was slated to land in New Jersey on April 17 with Maor’s parents and sister and with Dvir Dimri, a close army buddy of Maor, who will speak on behalf of the family at 16 events lined up over the course of two weeks.
During the Shabbat of April 21-22, they will be in Teaneck at Congregation Rinat Yisrael on Friday night, at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun on Saturday morning, and at Keter Torah on Saturday afternoon.
The following Shabbat they will be at Englewood’s East Hill Synagogue on Friday night and Congregation Ahavath Torah on Saturday morning.
“We will put some of Evelyn’s paintings in the lobby of each synagogue, with brochures telling the story,” Mr. Lanzkron said.
Anyone who wants to buy paintings or simply donate to the yeshiva can do so online or at parlor meetings organized in a private home in each community on Saturday night.
The Jans and their entourage also will put in weekday appearances at the Tenafly Chabad Academy; Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck; Yavneh Academy, Yeshivat Noam, Yeshivat Frisch, and Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus; and at the Teaneck community’s Israel Memorial Day and 75th Independence Day event on the evening of April 25 at the Richard Rodda Center and Votee Park.
Everywhere they go, they will distribute orange bracelets bearing the slogan “I Love Nahariya.”
There’s a double symbolism in this gesture.
First, when Sgt. Jan was killed by a terrorist’s bomb outside a Netanya shopping mall on July 13, 2005, he was there not in a military capacity but as a counselor with the local chapter of the Zionist youth group Bnei Akiva.
He and the kids were handing out bracelets signifying solidarity with some 9,000 residents of Gush Katif and northern Samaria who were to be expelled from their homes by the government the following month. The bracelets were orange, the color that signaled support for the settlers.
As for the message imprinted on them, Mr. Lanzkron said he is interested in strengthening the Orthodox community’s support of the JFNNJ’s sister city and hopes to work jointly with the federation to assist the charitable programs of Nahariya’s hesder yeshiva.
“Hesder” (Hebrew for “arrangement”) is an Israeli post-high school system, usually spanning five years, that enables religious young men to combine advanced Jewish studies with service in the Israel Defense Forces.
The hesder yeshiva in Nahariya was founded in 1996 by the municipal chief rabbi, Yeshayahu Meitlis, to be a center of Torah study and community service as well as a source for emergency civilian assistance in case of crises from floods to wars.
Among many other chesed projects, the students prepare, pack, and distribute weekly Sabbath meals to 120 needy families and to patients at Galilee Medical Center; volunteer at night to protect Jewish farms against agricultural crime; and operate a heavily subsidized grocery and baby supply store for underprivileged families.
“The families undergo a registration process, and based on the defined criteria, each family receives a sum of money to be used in the store. This amount is renewed twice a month,” Mr. Lanzkron said.
“The store currently supports approximately 100 families. We have folders with 200 applications submitted by families seeking to be included in the project, but unfortunately, we do not currently have the budget to enable us to serve them.”
The yeshiva, along with the JFNNJ and the Nahariya Immigrant Absorption Department, also has been aiding more than 1,200 Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in the city over the last year. The students visit these refugees bearing food and hygiene products as well as gift cards to help them buy food for Jewish holidays.
Mr. Lanzkron hopes this trip eventually will lead to the foundation of an American Friends of Nahar Deah Hesder Yeshiva organization in Bergen County.
This could take considerable time and effort, but he is inspired by the tagline of the IDF’s Givati Infantry Brigade in which Maor Jan served: “What is hard, we do; what is impossible, takes some time.”
Yehuda Lanzkron is the second oldest in a family of 10 siblings born to parents who moved to Israel from London.
Ten days before Passover in 2001, during the so-called second intifada, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed two teenagers — including Naftali Lanzkron, the youngest of the 10 siblings — at a gas station, the ironically named Mifgash Hashalom (Meetup of Peace), east of Kfar Saba.
“It was just two months after Naftali’s bar mitzvah,” Mr. Lanzkron said.
“I was already in business at the time, but after the tragedy I thought about what is really important in life, and I decided to dedicate myself to the people and land of Israel. I started helping different people and organizations, and the first thing they all need is money.”
That is only one positive outcome of the horrific tragedy. Another is the aliyah assistance nonprofit organization Nefesh B’Nefesh (Jewish Souls United).
“We had a cousin, a rabbi in Boca Raton, who could not let Naftali’s death pass without making a major commitment to Israel,” Mr. Lanzkron said.
This cousin, Yehoshua Fass, determined to make aliyah and take 100 families with him from the synagogue where he was serving as associate rabbi. But when he started speaking with members, he heard again and again that despite their Zionist ideology they couldn’t afford such a move. They had mortgages and businesses and other financial obligations.
Rabbi Fass calculated how much money would enable 80 families to join him. He approached local philanthropist Tony Gelbart, who agreed to foot the bill and joined Rabbi Fass in co-founding Nefesh B’Nefesh.
“My brother was killed on March 28, 2001, and on August 5, 2001, the first Nefesh B’Nefesh plane landed in Israel,” Mr. Lanzkron said.
“Since then, over 75,000 Jews from North America have made aliyah with the assistance of Nefesh B’Nefesh, founded in the merit of my brother.”