This year, the Jewish Home at Rockleigh submitted two pieces of art for the Jewish Federation Partnership2Gether Art Contest. That simple act, and the art created by the Rockleigh seniors, had a major impact on both Rockleigh and the contest organizers.
“We are very proud to be a part of a community that encourages participation in the arts, no matter the age of the participant,” said Sunni Herman, the executive vice president of the Jewish Home. She noted also that she is proud of the speed at which the pieces were created.
“We decided to do it last Thursday and submitted on time yesterday” — February 24 — “less than a week later,” Ms. Herman said. “It is a true testament that age is just a number, since no matter the age, when individuals come together, anything is possible.
“This is the first time residents at the Jewish Home have submitted to an art contest,” she added. “How noteworthy that it is for our own federation contest.”
The federation was equally excited. Generally, according to Danit Sibovits, JFNNJ’s director of Israel engagement, individual artists submit artwork for the annual contest, which now is in its fifth year.
The contest itself — a joint project of JFNNJ and its sister city, Nahariya — is a juried exhibition, “providing a special opportunity for artists to exhibit in Israel, at the Belskie Museum in Closter, and at the Waltuch Gallery at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly,” Miriam Allenson, the federation’s director of marketing services, said. “All submissions from northern New Jersey and Nahariya will be jointly exhibited.”
While the artwork will not move between the United States and Israel, they will be transmitted through a process called giclee, Ms. Sibovits said. That means that images will be generated from high-resolution digital scans and printed onto canvas with high-quality inks.
The theme of this year’s contest is Saving Fruitful Trees, based on the teaching in Deuteronomy, “All trees that produce edible fruit must not be destroyed, even during times of conflict, so they can provide nourishment and sustenance for future generations.”
“It’s one of the many projects we do with the people of Nahariya,” Ms. Sibovits said; it’s a way of “finding common ground with people.” Lay leaders on both sides work together to come up with the theme. “They submit their art there, we submit here. We exhibit on both sides.” Receptions are held in both places to showcase the artworks. “Ours will be March 13 at Belskie; they will plan one too,” she said.
Ms. Allenson pointed out that “one of federation’s main priorities is our relationship with the people of Israel. One of the ways we express this is through our relationship with Nahariya. That’s what this is about.”
JFNNJ and Nahariya each choose its own winners. One of the New Jersey judges, Bergen County artist and art educator Sheryl Intrator Urman, the contest’s curator, was the force behind the contest’s creation. After visiting Nahariya in 2011 as the first artist representative of JFNNJ, she suggested that the two communities hold simultaneous art shows. The founder of Art for Learning, Ms. Urman has curated many shows, is a noted lecturer, and leads group tours to museums.
For the last four years, Ms. Urman has served as resident art lecturer at her synagogue, Congregation Ahavah Torah of Englewood, which hosts a program, Dor va Dor, headed by Ruth Shapiro. “Ruth and her committee feel their programs — of which I am only a part — are meant to bring generations together for the purpose of learning,” Ms. Urman said. The program’s value is in making seniors feel part of a larger group, she continued. “I knew that the federation art show would be an inclusive way for the residents of Rockleigh to join in a group” where they too could overcome social limitations. “This aspect of inclusiveness was very important to me, so I made the decision to allow them to exhibit as a group submission.”
Last year, residents of Rockleigh visited the Belskie Museum, saw the artwork from the exhibition, and heard a speaker talk about the art as well as the importance of Jewish art and Jewish artists. This year, Rockleigh residents will attend another artist talk presented by volunteers from JFNNJ’s Partnership Art Committee, including Ms. Urman herself, as well as Fred Spinowitz and Adele Grodstein.
The judges made their decision this week. The winners for outstanding artistic achievement are Gila Bretter, Deborah Kmetz, Mindy Schultz, and Rachel Unter.
The Jewish Home’s Sunni Herman first saw an announcement about the contest in an ebrief compilation sent out by federation. She called Ms. Urman to express the Home’s interest in the project.
Ms. Urman said that when Ms. Herman first asked her about possibility of residents participating in the art show, “I said of course — they are over 18 years old and can join us. Later Sunni called to ask me if it was OK for a team to join in.
“I had to evaluate it at first. As the curator, I feel strongly that our show is meant to be inclusive.” Still, “We wanted it limited to artists, professional, emerging, and new artists. We wanted to make a connection to artists using a Jewish theme that was also used in Israel — connecting artists to artists and to the land of Israel.
“I also thought that since the Jewish Home is part of the federation, opening access to the show for its residents confirms that artistic merit is not limited by age, gender, or any other classification. Our art shows provide a great way for the residents to be part of an intergenerational show as ‘vibrant artists,’” Ms. Urman said.
“We put together two spectacular pieces of art, and the residents are very excited,” Ms. Herman said, adding that about 80 residents participated in the artwork Life’s Promises, depicting a fingerprint tree. “The fingerprints are the promises — promises made to the next generation. The bark on the tree was made from blowing paint through straws onto the canvas.”
She added that staff art therapist Soli Choi coordinated production of the two works. “Soli is dynamite,” she said, describing her as “a recent graduate from NYU who relates so well with the seniors and, through art, allows them to be so expressive. She has such passion when she explains how the pieces came together.”
The second piece, Life’s Blossoms, “is a collage of pictures from many of the intergenerational activities held at the Jewish Home and especially commemorates the fifth anniversary of our relationship with Yavneh Academy students through our Better Together program,” Ms. Herman said. “Every time we look at the piece, we see something new and inspirational.
“As the team was discussing the theme of growth, from the seeds to branches, our intergenerational programming, bringing children to the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, immediately came to mind,” she continued. “We knew we had beautiful pictures capturing moments from these interactions and thought it would be great to use them as leaves for the tree we would make.
Commenting on the creation of Life’s Promises, Ms. Herman said that “In Korean, Soli’s name means ‘evergreen tree.’ She grew up with the custom of using fingerprints to sign important documents instead of using a signature. Since fingerprints are unique to each individual and similar to the shape of a leaf, she thought it would be a great idea to infuse a Korean custom into one of the designs.”
Ms. Herman pointed out that several of the Home’s seniors are artists, “and they have their original works hanging in their rooms, whether they are paintings, drawings, or photographs. However, most of the art created here at the Home comes from those without any art background. They have a common enjoyment of self-expression and creativity.”
The average age of the residents who took part in the project was 85. One participant will turn 104 in April. Eleven residents together created the collage, and more than 80 residents and staff made the fingerprints picture.
“The subject of the flowering tree really struck a chord,” Ms. Herman said. “The team felt very strongly that our seniors represent the flowering tree that exists through wartime, since our seniors struggle every day with physical, psychological, and emotional trials, and maintain the will to nourish others with their wisdom.”
She added that it is her understanding that the artwork may be sold during the show. But “if it is returned to the Jewish Home, we plan to definitely display the work at the Home in a prominent location.”
Jewish Home residents plan to attend both the opening reception and the exhibit “at a special session when the museum will be opened exclusively to the Jewish Home as well as Yavneh Academy students.” Family members of residents who participated will also be invited to attend.
“The Home has been abuzz with both residents and staff talking about the art — about how much they enjoyed being part of the process … as well as the significance of the artwork,” Ms. Herman said. “According to Soli, one participant who usually stays in her room thanked her for letting her take part in this project. She said that it made her feel really important.”
The art submitted for the contest will be on display from March through July.