Old books, new art

Old books, new art

Artists' Beit Midrash at Teaneck's Beth Sholom displays creations

Debbie Schore created this artwork featuring pirates and a Jew to represent the Book of Jonah.

There’s a 10-year-old cover from the Jewish Standard pinned to a panel in the social hall of Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck.

The cover is from the first time this paper reported on Beth Sholom’s Artists’ Beit Midrash. While the program is now concluding its 11th year, the art produced by its students is new. It will be on display at Beth Sholom over the Shavuot weekend.

This sculpture by Irving Fruchter of Englewood portrays how Ruth (symbolized by the threshing floor at the bottom) led to David (represented by the silver crown at the top).

The Beit Midrash – or study hall – has three components. There is an hour of text study, led this year by Rabbi Gary Karlin, a doctoral student in Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who is writing a curriculum on Jonah for the Schechter day school network. In the six fall sessions the group studied the book of Jonah, which is read during the afternoon on Yom Kippur; in the six spring sessions it looked at the Book of Ruth, which is read on Shavuot. Then there is an hour of more artistic study, led by Harriet Finck this year. Ms. Finck brought in art and literature related to the biblical texts, and she led discussions of the third component: The art project that students worked on at home.

The program is open to everyone. Many participants are members of the congregation, but some come from as far as Nyack.

“You sit in the same room and study the same thing and you get all these different perspectives,” Myra Schulman of New Milford said. Ms. Schulman made a tallit bag for her grandson featuring Jonah. “When God tells you to do something, do it!” she said, summarizing the book’s message for her grandson.

Rabbi Karlin said the text study influenced the art produced by the students.

“By and large these works are pretty well known. People can tell you the outline,” he said. “People, even with strong day school backgrounds, realized how little they knew of the details.”

The overall theme of his teaching of the Book of Ruth was “some of the strangeness of it.”

He advises those who will read Ruth over the holiday to keep in mind these questions: “What’s the point of this story? And why are we reading it now on Shavuot? Beyond the barley harvest, what’s the connection?”

Ms. Finck is a painter and art teacher. She brought in works as diverse as E. M. Forster’s “Howards End,” Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” Jean-François Millet’s “The Gleaners,” and images of ancient boats to lend perspective on the biblical texts.

“Jonah” by Roselyn Altman
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