Posts Tagged ‘Foundation for Jewish Culture’

Modern Exodus: The Sarajevo Haggadah’s Musical Journey

April 14, 2014

This piece was first published in The Times of Israel.

Detail of 'Maror' page of the Sarajevo Haggadah (courtesy of the Foundation for Jewish Culture)

Detail of ‘Maror’ page of the Sarajevo Haggadah (courtesy of the Foundation for Jewish Culture)

One of the millions of readers of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks’ 2008 “The People of the Book” was Merima Ključo, a Bosnian-born musician who left Sarajevo in 1993 during the Bosnian War. The novel offers a fictionalized history of the Sarajevo Haggadah, the medieval Spanish illustrated manuscript whose survival was oft perilous on its 650-year journey from Catalonia to Venice, to Sarajevo, to Vienna, and back to Sarajevo again, where until recently it was on permanent display at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Like all Sarajevans, Ključo, 39, was already aware of the Sarajevo Haggadah. A prized national treasure that Jews, Christians and Muslims alike have endangered themselves to keep from destruction, the book is seen as the ultimate survivor and a potent symbol of the non-sectarian unity of the people of the Bosnian capital.

Ključo, a concert accordionist who performs with chamber and philharmonic orchestras around the world, decided that she, too, must retell the story of the famed Jewish manuscript—but through the language of music. The result is “The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book,” a multimedia work, which is the 2013-2014 New Jewish Culture Network’s music commission.

Click here to read more and watch a video preview.

© 2014 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

New Art Initiative Facilitates Friendships, Not Funding

December 29, 2013

This article was first published in The Times of Israel.

Tirtzah Bassel working on her 'Your Dreams Available Now' installation. (photo credit: Peter Svarzbein)

Tirtzah Bassel working on her ‘Your Dreams Available Now’ installation. (photo credit: Peter Svarzbein)

Israeli-born, New York-based installation artist Tirtzah Bassel uses multi-colored duct tape in the way that other artists use oil paints. Harnessing the potential of the hardware store staple, she creates mural-size scenes that audiences can observe near and far to appreciate the unusual medium’s detail and texture.

Last May, Bassel created one of her duct tape installations in a storefront in El Paso, Texas. The colorful work, titled, “Your Dreams Available Now,” depicts scenes from the border crossing between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. It includes men in cowboy hats sitting and watching passersby, a woman selling flowers, people crossing bridges on foot and by bike, and even a statue of the Virgin Mary. The mural is meant to engage the local community in critical dialogue on the impact of the border.

It wasn’t by chance that Bassel created her installation in El Paso. She had been invited there by fellow Jewish artist Peter Svarzbein, an El Paso native. Svarzbein, who is a photographer and conceptual artist, is interested in subjects such as state security, bridges, border crossings and standing in line. Several of his recent projects deal with the nearby frontier, including “The El Paso Transnational Trolley Project,” which explores the tenuous relationship between El Paso and Juarez.

But El Paso residents would likely have never had the opportunity to enjoy Bassel’s thought-provoking installation had she not attended the first-ever Asylum Arts retreat in Garrison, New York in March 2013. It was there that she met Svarzbein, along with 63 other young Jews artists from North America, Europe, Latin America and Israel.

Asylum Arts is new global network for Jewish culture, and one of its main goals is to facilitate collaborations like the one between Bassel and Svarzbein. Formally established this past October following the successful March retreat, the organization hosts gatherings and training for artists and provides modest grants to foster connections to broaden the reach and impact of Jewish artists and arts institutions. Asylum Arts is supported in its pilot phase by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network and the Genesis Philanthropy Group.

Click here to read more.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Setting “The Yellow Ticket” To Music

January 1, 2013

This piece was first published on The Arty Semite blog at The Forward.

From "The Yellow Ticket" (courtesy of Deutsche Kinemathek)

From “The Yellow Ticket” (courtesy of Deutsche Kinemathek)

Klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals has experience scoring documentary and feature films. But earlier this year she faced an unusual challenge when she was approached by the Washington Jewish Music Festival to score a 1918 feature-length silent film called “The Yellow Ticket.”

Unlike other scoring jobs, where her focus was mainly on heightening viewers’ experience of onscreen action, this commission would also involve “creating a bridge to another time,” as she put it. Thanks to a grant from the Foundation for Jewish Culture’s New Jewish Culture Network, audiences at the New York Jewish Film Festival will have a chance to cross that bridge when Svigals and Canadian pianist Marilyn Lerner perform the score live at a screening of “The Yellow Ticket” at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater on January 10. A subsequent tour will travel to Vancouver, Miami, Boston, Philadelphia and Houston.

“The Yellow Ticket,” set in Poland and Czarist Russia, portrays a young Jewish woman named Lea (played by Polish actress Pola Negri, Hollywood’s first European silent film star) as she overcomes adversity to succeed at the university in Saint Petersburg. It is a story of secret identities and the redeeming power of love. For 1918 audiences, the meaning and implications of possessing a “yellow ticket” — a permit held by undesirables like prostitutes and Jews, allowing them to reside in St. Petersburg — would be clear. Now, it is Svigals’ remit to convey through her music the shame and hardship associated with such a document, as well as the risks Lea takes in assuming a false identity in order to pursue her studies.

Click here to read more and view the trailer.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.