A Journey to Jewish Culture
We just wanted to share with you the wonderful talk given by Carole Zawatsky, the Associate Director for Arts, Ideas, and Jewish Life at the SFJCC about her own experience with Jewish culture. She delivered this at our San Francisco board meeting, earlier this month:
“I am going to guess that I am not the only one in this room who has had an “aha moment” similar to mine – “aha, I can find art in Jewish, aha, I do have a voice in this whole Jewish thing!” For each of us, it may have been a different moment but something led us each to this place in time today.
For me, it was an exhibition about Jewish Folk Art from Alsace an exhibition from the Israel Museum that was at the Skirball Museum in the 1980s. My journey into art and Judaism began with connoisseurship and names of art historians like Bezzalel Narkiss and Avram Kampf. This was Jewish art for me: a rarefied particularistic world that spoke to me in a powerfully personal way. I found a voice for my own Jewish identity and began to incorporate ideas such as visual midrash into my notion of Jewish text, to understand there was a corpus of visual text that illuminated the written word.
Then came the exhibition from The Jewish Museum, “Bridges and Boundaries: African Americans and American Jews,” the next “aha,” the notion that exhibitions in a Jewish context can play an important role in the exploration of social justice and bring forth a critical dialogue. Years later “Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art” pushed my self-exploration further to an even deeper understanding of the power art holds to communicate the most difficult of ideas.
This was still contained within the traditional museum setting. All the while, Jewish film festivals, music festivals, dance festivals kept growing and taking on new energy and importance. It is said that the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is this city’s High Holy Day. Here in my new home of San Francisco at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, in my role as the Associate Director for Arts, Ideas, and Jewish Life, I have found the proliferation of arts and culture and Jewish identity to be beyond anything I could have imagined. Control/Alt/Delete, a new ritual for tashlich at the beach, Dawn, all night at here at the Contemporary Jewish Museum for Shavuot were two of the hottest tickets in town for a new generation of hipsters. I can barely keep up with HEEB, Guilt and Pleasure, Zeek, JDub Records, and Six Points artists and Rebooters, it is all dizzying and wonderful and deserves our serious attention.
The most sacred Shabbat I have spent in my year and a half here was at Café du Nord on a Friday night where Jeremiah Lockwood and the Sway Machinery, the grandson of a Cantor performed. It was there that a young woman struggling between the lines of her identity as an adopted Mexican with American Jewish parents let me know that in this setting at Café du Nord on a Friday night she felt Jewish! I don’t believe any number of Shabbat blessings could have made this a more important Jewish moment.
We are at a renaissance of Jewish culture, something uniquely American. It is the next iteration of the synagogue life that was transported from Europe to America. We are watching something truly historic unfold before us: proud, creative and inventive models for Jewish identity that bring together the spiritual, the visual and performative to create new and exciting visions of community. I would love to see a public conference take place here in San Francisco that captures some of this and helps us to appreciate and understand what is happening that the connoisseurship of Avram Kampf and the music of the great cantors has blossomed into a proud and dynamic new way to do Jewish.”
- Carol Zawatsky