AILF, ROSEFSKY AND BREMAN HOST INTERFAITH ART WORKSHOP
Walking into one of the back rooms at the Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum in the middle of a recent quiet Sunday afternoon, you might have thought you had stumbled into a preschool art class.
At a half-dozen large round tables, there were stacks of colored paper, glue sticks, scissors and paper cut-outs in a variety of shapes, sizes and textures. But it wasn’t child’s play that had brought the participants to this makeshift classroom.
Instead, two dozen or so men and women were here to engage in an interfaith dialogue sponsored by the Atlanta Interfaith Leadership Fellowship (AILF); instead of words, they were to use art to come to a better understanding of each other’s religious traditions and by doing so helping in some small way to avoid the tragedies of the recent past.
Leading the class was Flora Rosefsky of Decatur, the immediate past president of the American Guild of Judaic Art.
“Use the scissors as an extension of your hand,” she told the group, many of whom probably hadn’t done anything like this since they were in grade school. “Cut directly into the color.”
She encouraged participants as they cut the colored paper into abstract forms meant to carry a message of faith. To spark the imagination, Rosefsky prepared a handout with a broad cross-section of quotes from the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Baha’i, Native American and Jewish religions.
The idea, she explained, is not to think too much but to just allow one’s self to be led by whatever feelings are brought up by the quotes. For example, cut and paste the admonition from the Shema – “to love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” – into an image of religious resolve.
Participants had less than an hour to be inspired and then to comment not just on what they had seen in their own work but also on what they had seen in what others had done. A Korean Christian woman chose Psalm 27, a Native American selected a quote that reminds her of an episode of television’s “Little House on the Prairie,” and a Muslim man reflected on an abstract bird of paradise.
Jan Swanson, who has led Interfaith Pilgrimages to Israel, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East cut a cascading series of hands reaching for one another to symbolize the text from Leviticus that she feels is reflected in the teaching of all the major religions: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
That, Swanson believes, is essential to our understanding of the divine and coming to terms with the future.
“If we can’t see the human or the God-spirit in the other person, no matter what their faith, we can’t see God,” she said.
It’s an idea that resonates in the tragedies of recent Jewish history. As Bill Voss, head of the AILF, commented, “The Breman plays a vastly under-recognized role in helping us remember the great tragedy of the Shoah.
“My prayer is: ‘Never again, not only for the Jewish community, but also for all of mankind.’”
Editor’s note: Bob Bahr is teaching a six-week course on “The Modern Search for Meaning In A World of Film” starting June 25 at PALS at Temple Sinai.
By Bob Bahr