What Being a Judaic Artist Means to Me
by AGJA member, Zahava Lambert (Toronto, Canada)
As the daughter of two holocaust survivors, I see my Judaic work as a statement of faith; faith that the loving practice of Judaism is alive and well; faith that the objects I make will be passed on to coming generations who will use and treasure them in peace and pride. I sometimes find it hard to justify my making more "things" in a world overflowing with things. The fact that my Judaic objects are used for Hiddur mizvah quiets and comforts that little voice inside me that asks, " Do you really want to spend your life making tchotchkes?"
I know I am not making meaningless tchotchkes when I remember stories of people smuggling candlesticks over continents and oceans because they meant so much to them. I hope the things I make will be that important to my clients and to their families. When I make my objects, it is not just a matter of my hands copying old forms and prettying them up. Judaism is a culture that values scholarship. Are we artists just craftsmen who work at a lower level of understanding? No! We artists are integral to the practice of Judaism. The Torah itself calls the women who spun for the mishkan "wise-hearted". The Torah itself tells us that the artist is a necessary part of Jewish practice. Bezalel, who received his instructions directly from G-d, is literally “in the shadow of G-d”. The Mishkan and all its appurtenances were mandated by heaven because it filled a basic and irrepressible need for ritual objects as a focus of religious practice.
In order to make my objects, I need to study. What is the purpose of this object? Where in the sacred literature is it described and what is both its manifest and hidden meaning? How can I bring this meaning to life in the design of this object? And in designing my objects, I am participating in the ongoing evolution of Judaism.
As a woman, it is important to me to celebrate the female history of Judaism in my objects. “Miriam Cups” are now commonly recognized as Judaica, but when I made my first, in the 1970’s, no one knew who she was or what role such a cup could have. My design for the cups varies as I delve into different parts of the midrash around Miriam.
(1)the timbrel she played at the red sea,
(2)her well which rolled along with the people of the Exodus until Miriam died,
(3)the water in which she waded to watch over her brother and which she provided for all until her death.
Each cup is my MIDRASH on Miriam.
I celebrate the female nature of the “Bronze Sea” used to purify the priests who entered the mishkan in my bull bowl.(4)
This huge water reservoir was made exclusively from mirrors donated willingly by the women of the Exodus in honor of their being unwilling to donate their jewelry for the golden calf. This hand washing bowl is my MIDRASH on the importance of women in the foundation of Judaism.
So my making of Judaic objects is my torah study, my affirmation of Judaism, my connection to the wise–hearted women of Exodus, the expression of my Jewish feminism, and my contribution the necessary growth and vitality of the culture I love.