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If you paint it, they will come

Temple Avoda reaches out to artists

Temple Avoda in Fair Lawn hopes to attract new members in a way that can be called, well, creative: It’s opening an "art space," to lure local Jewish artists.

"We’ve been rethinking the organization of our congregation" and are looking to increase membership from the current 150 families, said Rabbi Jonathan Woll in an interview. Artists are a segment of the population not served by the community, but "everyone should have a home in the synagogue" and not everyone is "in worship mode." Showing artists that their work is appreciated can provide them with a "portal" into synagogue life.


Costa’s Work

For the same reason, said Woll, he’d like the temple to have a poetry space some day. He hopes both the poets and artists using the space will one day draw on Jewish subjects, but for now he’s happy to connect with artists who are Jews. Eventually, he’d also like the temple to offer an artists’ beit midrash program, mixing art and text study, like the one at Cong. Beth Sholom in Teaneck.

"Art is part of American culture that may not have enough connection with the synagogue," he said, citing as an influence on his thinking the work of Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow, particularly Wuthnow’s ‘003 book "All in Sync: How Music and Art Are Revitalizing American Religion."

"We don’t have a lot of artists, but we have some," he said, and this month the temple is launching the art space with the work of one of them, Sharon Savitz Costa. There is an artist’s reception tomorrow from 5 to 7 p.m., with wine and cheese; although Savitz Costa’s paintings and drawings will be for sale while on display, they will not be for sale on Shabbat. The artist, who lives in Saddle Brook, runs a computer graphics business; she is married and has two children.

The art space, at least for the moment, is the walls of the boardroom, which is also used as the youth lounge, said Woll, estimating the space at about 30 by ‘0 feet, "a nice room, and it has nice clean walls."

"I enjoy photography myself and have an appreciation for art," he said. "Human expression" is the link between art and the synagogue; "graphic arts particularly allow people to put some physicality into their spirituality."

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