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Rabbi's Week in Review - 2/27/2024

02/27/2024 09:49:50 AM


Fay and I were in New York over the weekend. We had a wonderful time being with family and friends, seeing great theater and art, and eating way too much. We saw an interesting exhibit at the Jewish Museum by Argentine artist Marta Minujin. She is known for her soft sculptures, performance art and happenings.

The write-up on the exhibit indicated that she is Jewish. There was nothing in the exhibit, however, that would strike one as obviously Jewish. So in thinking about the exhibit and what might be the ideas that inspire her art, I tried to dig a little deeper — to at least find something in her work, while not reflecting ideas or values that are exclusively Jewish, where I could at least make some connections.

What I landed on was her tenacity in focusing on and representing the small details that go into a greater whole. For this, I give two examples. The first is a massive outdoor exhibit she erected in Argentina titled, The Pantheon of Books, wherein she amassed 30,000 books that were banned during the repressive Argentinean regime of the late Seventies. The banned books were used to build a replica of the Pantheon in Athens. This exhibit was repeated in Germany with 100,000 formerly banned books. In both instances, the banned books were distributed to the public after the exhibit was dismantled. At the Jewish Museum, the photos of the exhibits were accompanied by books that have recently been banned in various states in our country.  

It would be easy to connect the German version of the exhibit to the burning of books by Nazis, in order to make the Jewish connection. Also, including recently banned books, such as Anne Frank’s diary, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and Chik Chak Shabbat — you will need to figure out for yourselves how this innocuous book about helping an elderly woman make cholent for Shabbat is a threat to our kids — connects us as Jews.

What I found compelling from a Jewish perspective, however, was the artist’s selecting a massive number of books, book by book. The banning of each book is a loss to us and impacts someone to their detriment. For Jews, each individual life matters, each small detail of our human existence adds up to a greater whole.

The other work in the exhibit was the artist’s affixing 26,000 small slips of colored paper onto canvas in order to memorialize lives lost during the Covid pandemic. The task had to be enormous, time-consuming and painstaking in its detail. What it said to me was something I see as part of what makes us Jews: that every single life matters, that when we address human tragedy with massive numbers of lives lost, we should never lose a sense of human connection that comes with honoring each individual.

In Halakhah, Jewish law, and in the way we as Jews think about the world, we sweat the little stuff. We at least attempt to honor the small details and events of human existence and to honor each individual comprising Klal Yisrael, the entire Jewish community. 

Mon, July 15 2024 9 Tammuz 5784