Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cultural Heritage Artists Project: Yona Verwer

On December 6th, the Cultural Heritage Artists Project will open its first exhibition, dedicated to the Orchard Street Synagogue. Before the exhibition opens at the John Slade Ely House in New Haven, 2Life Magazine will feature various participating artists. Each one will get three questions related to their artwork and their experience. Today we have Dutch-born, New York based Yona Verwer talking about her artwork.

Describe your artwork and its relationship to the Orchard Street Shul. How can it be positioned into a wider context of your art?
My art for the shul consists of a print series called “Temple Talismans: Orchard Street Shul Amulets”.
The Kabbalistic notion of Tikkun is the idea that the world is broken and can be fixed only by human acts. Amulets were traditionally made to be worn or placed in locations to protect & to bring good luck. Kabbalists made extensive use of amulets.
For the Orchard Street Synagogue I made three amulet prints to invoke protection and good luck. Orchard Hamsa Amulet I shows the hamsa, a traditional amulet shape, its center containing the top half of the shul's ark (Aron Kodesh): the lions, tablets, priestly hands, crown, and sefer. The five-fingered hamsa shape is echoed in the hands bestowing the priestly blessing. Orchard Fish Amulet Red & Orchard Fish Amulet Blue's main shape is the symbol for prosperity; its center is a detail of the Shul's ark. The line designs on the hamsa & fish are derived from henna tattoos, contrasting with the textural background paint..
With these works I hope to draw positive energy and protection to the shul and aid in the saving of this beautiful building, so that it can reclaim its role as New Haven’s vibrant Jewish center.
Most of my recent work features amulet imagery. My "Modern Amulets: Kabbala of Bling" series commented on the appropriation of Kabbala by pop icons. The “City Charms” amulet photographs invoke protection from acts of destruction on buildings, particularly terror-watch-list targets. I continue this theme in "Temple Talismans"; these apotropaic images aim to protect synagogues against attacks and to bring good luck. Two Manhattan synagogues, Congregation Orach Chaim and the Stanton Street Shul, have been featured so far in the Temple Talismans series; many more to follow.

How was your experience visiting New Haven and the Orchard Street Shul?
The minute I walked into the shul I felt a familiarity; as a Dutch native the architecture reminded me of the “Snoge”, the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam. By the way, the congregation there too has dwindled, most of the Sephardim having moved to Amsterdam’s suburbs or Israel.
Roz Croog, while giving us a ride from the station to the shul, had been reminiscing about her grandparents’ participation in the synagogue.
After her stories, which made the synagogue come to life, it saddened me to see the building’s disrepair.
It was exciting to meet fellow artists, exploring each other’s oeuvre, united by the commitment to help make a difference. I can’t wait to meet current and former Orchard Street congregants next time I’m in New Haven.

How important are artist networks such as the CHAP to you?
Artist networks such as the C.H.A.P. are very important to me. Creating artist communities is my passion, and it was the main impetus for founding the Jewish Art Salon (JAS) two years ago. Recently I’ve been reaching out to several Jewish art groups across the country to facilitate modeling our community building efforts; and C.H.A.P artist Maya Escobar is planning on starting a Jewish art salon herself.
It is through JAS. that I met artist Cynthia Beth Rubin, C.H.A.P.’s project director. I look forward to meeting many more C.H.A.P. artists and to future collaborations.

Curious about the exhibition? Then check out the catalog here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Mexican Filmmaker Ariel Zylberstein created this beautiful short film that is now making the rounds in the Internet. Thanks to the web, this film gets the exposure it deserves.

Monday, November 16, 2009

GWU Twitter

George Washington University is the most active Twitter University in the US (and probably in the world) and behind it is a friend of a friend of mine, Menachem Wecker. The video is an introduction to the topic. For more, read also the Washington Post article.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Living Memory

She might not be the oldest Second Life user, but with 87 years, Colorado resident Fanny Starr is one of the oldest (the oldest is, by the way, 97 years old, as reported in the New World Notes). In January, she spoke about her experiences during the Holocaust to an audience of avatars. The New World Notes reported here about it. The YouTube video above gives a little of the atmosphere during the event. Let's hope that this event can be repeated some time in the near future.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The other 9th of November

Newspapers worldwide feature today the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Another event that happened as well on November 9th seems today forgotten: Kristallnacht.

Zeek magazine features today photographs by Julian Voloj of the Muensterland, a small geographic area in the north west of Germany. Voloj was born in Muenster, the capitol of this region, and for this project, the New York based photographer re-visited his hometown and the surrounding area, documenting the last traces of the once vibrant Jewish culture in this area. None of the villages he photographed has a Jewish community today, but other areas witness a renaissance of Jewish life. Around 200,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union turned Germany's sleeping Jewish community of around 25,000 into the third largest of Europe with around 220,000 (only around half of them are recognized by the official Jewish community due to Halachic definition).

Voloj's photographs are traces of the past, taken nearly 70 years after Kristallnacht. Today, 71 years later, they are a silent reminder.
(To visit the slide show, click here.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Orchard Street Shul Cultural Heritage Artist Project

A month from now, a very interesting exhibition will open in New Haven: The Orchard Street Shul Cultural Heritage Artist Project.

The project was, at the outset, spurred by an urgent need to make the public aware of efforts to save a community building that has been designated a Historic Site by the State of Connecticut. The project is without religious mission, but rather is the outpouring of thoughtful response and integrated research by those who found the story of this building and community to be compelling.

The members of the Orchard Street Shul Cultural Heritage Project began with varying levels of familiarity with the story of immigration to New Haven at the turn of the 20th century, and the shared history of working class neighborhoods during a time of radical change throughout the United States. Through the fluid exchange of research and resources within the group, all participants are now finding new meaning in the narrative of the community and surrounding neighborhood of the Orchard Street Shul.

One of the expected outcomes of the project is a dialogue among artists on the conceptual inspirations derived from interaction with the building, as a symbol of a community.

This could be a proto-type for similar future projects for other historic sites of meaning to other parts of our collective community and memory.

For more information visit the projects website. The exhibition opens on December 6th and we plan to introduce some of the artists on this website.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Is Twitter the new Second Life? Tom Hale's Case Study at the Web 2.0 summit

My friend Wagner James Au recently reported in the New World Notes about Linden Chief Product Officer Tom Hale finishing his presentation on the Web 2.0 summit, 'attacking' Twitter. His presentation "Surviving the Hype Curve: A Case Study" warns Twitter that they might also see a backlash like Second Life did.
See presentation for yourself. One important difference between Second Life and any other "hyped" platform like Twitter or Facebook: Immediately perceivable, substantial impact beyond its user base. Yes, Second Life is still growing and yes, its users, the residents, are very loyal, once they stay for longer, but outside the virtual world, the impact is not very feasible.