Community Blog Faith in Isolation Expressed: A New Exhibit at Hebrew College

By Sydney Gross

How does one worship alone? How have people of different religions embraced their faith traditions during the pandemic? How have sacred texts and rituals provided comfort in these times of isolation? Hebrew College’s new Arts Committee will tackle these questions in a pandemic-inspired photography show entitled “Faith in Isolation Expressed,” which can be viewed in-person by appointment from April 12 to June 6, 2021.

“All religions have beautiful things to share with one another. I want to show how different religious practitioners who were isolated from their communities, were strengthened by their faith, revealing the core values of their inherent purpose,” said Beacon Hill photographer and teacher Brenda Bancel, who is curating the show. “I want to show how they embraced this time with grit and grace.”

Brenda BancelBancel’s show, which is supported by a grant from CJP, will be the first exhibited as part of the new Hebrew College Arts initiative, and the first in-person public event at Hebrew College since the start of the pandemic. Hebrew College established the initiative last year to provide another outlet for fostering love of Torah, social justice, pluralism, and creativity through visual art. The Arts Committee—with members Nancy Kaplan Belsky, Dorothea Buckler, Deborah Feinstein, Bette Ann Libby, Joshua Meyer, and Susan Schechter—selects various artists whose work focuses on creative dialogue with Jewish texts and related sources of wisdom.

faith-in-isolation-Rev. Miriam White Hammond
Havdalah-service photograph
mask making photo
faith in isolation exhibit
Kiddush cup and screen photo

Bancel, who is committed to using photography to bring awareness to important social issues, hopes that the new show will be a “testament of our resilience rooted in faith.” After a career in the advertising industry, she studied at the New England School of Photography and Harvard Divinity School, and founded the TAKE 5 Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on education and guidance to instill children with a sense of creativity, hard work, and success.  

Instead of featuring her own work, as she has in several past shows, she is showcasing the work of others, displaying how people around the world turned to sacred texts and rituals to express their pain, hope, and compassion during this unprecedented time. There are 40 photographs in the exhibition, ranging from “Before the Pandemic with the Western Wall” and “Mecca with the Hajj,” to St. Peter’s square with masks, barriers, emptiness. Images include parking lots where people come together for prayer; a memorial of white flags from a Mass Art Installation of those lost to Covid-19; weddings; Passover zooms; church groups feeding the hungry; outdoor bat mitzvahs, confessions, baptisms, and Shabbat services [see above]; and funerals in empty funeral homes.

The exhibit also includes public programming examining the notion of faith and related ritual expressions in the three Abrahamic religions. This initiative will begin with a special virtual event on April 18 entitled “Faith in Isolation: A Multifaith Panel Discussion,” sponsored by Hebrew College’s Miller Center for Interreligious Leadership & Learning.

During the panel, religious leaders from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions will respond to the exhibit and explore the ways in which they and their communities have expressed their spiritual commitments during the pandemic—through prayer, meditation, study, and acts of service and advocacy. Panelists will include Rabbi Or Rose, founding director of the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership of Hebrew College; Dr. Celene Ibrahim, author of Women and Gender in the Qur’an and editor of One Nation, Indivisible: Seeking Liberty and Justice from the Pulpit to the Streets; and Shively T. J. Smith, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of New Testament at Boston University’s School of Theology.

“This thoughtful and evocative exhibit provides us with a much-needed context to process all that we have experienced over the past year—loneliness, loss, gratitude, and hope,” said Rabbi Rose. “Our panel discussion and other programming will allow for powerful sharing across traditions.”

“Where do we look for inner strength to move forward? The light that shines through is how we approach the ever-changing mysteries,” said Deb Feinstein, Hebrew College Board of Trustees member and founding chair of the Arts Committee. “Brenda confronts these questions and doubts with honesty and care, providing us with hope in this powerful photographic journalistic exhibition.”

The exhibit will be open to public viewing through the length of the show, according to CDC guidelines. Ten people will be admitted from 10-4, from Monday through Thursday, April 12- June 6.

The Arts committee plans to curate a second show in fall 2021 entitled “Seeing Torah,” a visual diary documenting artist Anita Rabinoff-Goldman’s study and artistic response to the 54 portions of the Torah over the cycle of a single Jewish year. Seeing Torah was initially scheduled to be displayed in spring 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic.  

Please consider making a gift to Hebrew College to help support this creative work.

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