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Art, Creativity & Community…in a Jewish Context

By Stacey Dresner

GREENFIELD – The Torah portion for the week of March 24, VaYakhel, describes the materials that were offered as gifts for the construction of the sacred space that would serve as the center of the Israelites’ community.

“It is the parsha where the materials are gathered for the crafters among the Israelites to weave brocades for the screens of the temple, engraved gold for the tools, the clothing of the priest,” said Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener, spiritual leader of Temple Israel. “There is a line in there where Moses had to stop them, saying when community is generous like this and creative like this, you have more than enough.”

Temple Israel will have more than enough creativity during the weekend of March 24-26 when they present “Art, Creativity, & Community” exploring the themes of art and creativity “in a Jewish context.” The weekend, will feature services, musical performances, a panel discussion and hands-on workshops with local artisans and performers.

Rabbi Cohen-Kiener credited artist and synagogue member Nancy Katz with envisioning this special arts-inspired weekend.

“Nancy Katz had a dream and in the dream she was making relationships with Jewish artists in the area and artists making crafts for Jewish life and she thought it would be a great energizer for the temple community and a great connector for the artist community,” the rabbi explained.

A nationally-known silk painter, Nancy Katz had moved to the Pioneer Valley 11 years ago to be closer to her aging parents, after living for many years in the San Francisco Bay area. Her work has been exhibited throughout the country and in Israel and she been an artist-in-residence at many synagogues, community centers, and religious schools.

The owner of Nancy Katz/Wilmark Studios with her husband, Mark Liebowitz, she joined Temple Israel when Andrea Cohen-Kiener became its rabbi. The idea to explore the themes of art in a Jewish context came to her in February 2016.

“I really enjoyed being here and continuing to do my Jewish art around the country, and was less connected locally…not really identifying so many peers to work and collaboration with,” she explained. “But I was so aware that there were so many creative people in these parts, some of whom are Jewish and identify as Jewish artists and some of them who make Jewish art for their livelihood and I thought, you know I don’t know how long I am going to stay around in these parts. I moved here to be closer to my family and they are disappearing, so I thought, while I am here, I should do something about it.”

Connecting with Jews who are artists…but not necessarily Jewish artists was something she wanted to explore.

“The Sunday morning panel discussion of making Jewish art and making art as Jews was really the key piece for me,” she said. “I was thinking of potter Molly Cantor who works in Shelburne Falls, who does amazing work. Actually one of the first gifts I was given when I moved here from friends from the Bay Area who were passing through was one of her mezuzzahs. To know Molly’s work you probably wouldn’t think she would make mezuzzahs, but they found it and I have it on my door!”

Bringing artists like Cantor to the panel helped to form the theme of the weekend.

“Part of this was to really engage Molly who isn’t necessarily connected to the visible Jewish community, as it is, and engage her in conversation. One of the things we wanted to do was invite her into a conversation…we are friends and friendly but we never really talked about that piece of her work.”

So one February day, Katz sat down at her computer and “visioned” a whole weekend, looking up the appropriate Parsha and date, and checking it with Rabbi Cohen-Kiener.

“And that was the beginning,” she said.

She worked with Andrea initially to see about getting funding. “Writing grant proposals helped to crystalize the vision.” They received funding from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Jewish Endowment Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass., with support from the PJ Library.

Katz’s vision went on to include Friday night and Saturday morning services with the arts theme.

The weekend will begin on March 24 at 
7:30 p.m. with a musical Friday evening Shabbat service with the theme, “Creativity, Community, & Abundance.”

“The services are going to be infused with more musicians than usual and sort of a conscious selection of different styles of Jewish music,” Rabbi Cohen-Kiener said. “For example we will be doing some chanting, which is sort of the old Levitical way of singing during services, and old and new and music from different traditions.”

A creative Torah service “Everyone’s Contribution Counts” will be held Saturday, March 25 at 10 a.m., followed by Shabbat afternoon menuch – free time with optional activities at the synagogue, including music and conversation or contemplative hiking at High Ledges. The temple will host a concert on Shabbat night with both music and storytelling – “a very mixed tableau,” Cohen-Kiener said. Yiddishist Joe “Yosl” Kurland will perform as will storyteller David Arfa. Folk singer and songwriter Sue Kranz will perform as will ReBelle the “powerful music force and vigor” of musicians Kalpana Devi and Emmanuel Manou.

Besides Katz, Liebowitz and Molly Cantor, the Sunday morning panel “Making Jewish Art and Art-Making as Jews” taking place from 10:30 a.m. to noon, will also include klezmer musician Ilene Stahl, Yosl Kurland, and Peggy Davis.

The Sunday workshops were also a part of the plan, Katz said.

“I knew there are people who have things to offer, with hands-on workshops or lectures about their interesting work that others don’t know anything about. I thought this could be for them,” she said.

Two sessions of workshops will be held: one from 12:30 – 2 p.m. and the other from 2:30-4 p.m. Family-friendly workshops and children’s programming featuring performers Anna Sobel and Felicia Sloin will be held all afternoon.

The workshop sessions will include bagel-making with a local baker, a bring-your-own-instrument klezmer workshop, a Jewish perspective on stained glass with Mark Liebowitz, easy embroidery for young ones with Melissa Pincus, an introduction to paper cutting with Edith Bingham and Hebrew Letters for Textile Art with Jane Trigere, and Vintage Hebrew Songs with Peggy Davis, among several others.

On Saturday evening and from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. wares will be available to view and to purchase from local artists and craftspeople.

The children from the Lander Grinspoon Academy Chorus will perform during a closing ritual and celebration on Sunday afternoon.

Katz stressed that this event is not only for the Temple Israel crowd, but also for unaffiliated Jews and the general community.

“One of the goals that became clear when we applied for grants – one of which we did not receive from the local arts council – was that it was important to reach out to the non-Jewish world,” Katz said. “I had this goal, before things were feeling sticky as they do, for the local community to see us and see who we are knowing that there are a lot of people who either know that Jews exist in the area, know there is this synagogue here and have no idea what goes on or who we are. [The Arts weekend is] an invitation for others to come in and see the breadths of who we are and the things that are important to us.”

For more details about “Art, Creativity & Community,” including fees and information about the Sunday workshop sessions, visit





ArtsFest to focus on alleviating childhood hunger

SPRINGFIELD – The Rachel’s Table Teen Board will present a Hunger Awareness ArtsFest on Sunday, March 26 from 4 – 6 p.m. at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Recognized as Outstanding Young Philanthropist Group of the Year in 2015 by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Rachel’s Table Teen Board works to alleviate childhood hunger and educate youth about hunger issues in the community.

The Basketball Hall of Fame will provide a unique setting as teens from around Western Mass. perform music and dance pieces and display visual art projects – all focusing on the theme of helping the hungry. A number of groups will create “CAN-struction” sculptures from food items, which will then be donated. Senator Eric Lesser and Mayor Alex Morse of Holyoke will be in attendance to pay tribute to the work of the Teen Board.

The Harold Grinspoon Foundation supports the Teen Board with a Teen and Family Initiative Grant that enables the group to expand each year, positively impacting both the members and the community.

The admission “price” for the ArtsFest is the donation of non-perishable food. The event is open to the public. Rachel’s Table is a project of the Rachel’s Table is a project of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts & 22News/

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