Hebrew College Arts Initiative
In 2021, Hebrew College established its Arts and Culture initiative in keeping with the College’s long-standing mission of fostering love of Torah, social justice, pluralism, and creativity. Our exhibitions are open to the public, providing access to learning and on-going conversation.
The same year, Hebrew College also launched an Artist Beit Midrash in partnership with the Jewish Arts Collaborative and CJP. This new Jewish learning salon brings together Boston artists to study Jewish texts, share their creative processes, and build community and connection.
Please visit our Events page for current show information.
Fall 2021 Show: “Seeing Torah”
Show dates: September 12-December 10, 2022
Location: Hebrew College Ted Cutler Atrium
Hebrew College Exhibit Partner: Rabbinical School
Sponsors: Deborah Feinstein and Susan Schechter
Seeing Torah is a visual diary documenting artist Anita Rabinoff-Goldman’s study and artistic response to each of the 54 portions of the Torah over the cycle of a single Jewish year. Each piece is a visual midrash in the tradition of Jewish creative commentary: imaginative re-envisionings as seen through a woman’s lens illuminating the spiritual, political, and feminist lessons living in the Torah. Accompanied by a short commentary, every piece allows viewers to consider how Torah can be a continuing source of learning and discourse and reflect on what it means to them.
Exhibit viewing hours
- September 12 – 30: Due to the numerous high holidays this month, we ask that you please call 617-559-8600 in advance to confirm whether the college will be open at your desired date and time.
- October and December 10: Mondays thru Thursdays 8:30 am – 4:00 pm; Fridays 8:30 am – 12:30 pm; Sundays 9:00 am – 1:00 pm.
- Visitors must be masked to come into the building.
- Please call our front desk at 617-559-8600 to ensure that other events are not scheduled for your desired time so that we can maintain safe social distancing for everyone.
Inaugural Hebrew College Arts Initiative
“This idea of seasons within faith, was one I thought of often. In Genesis 8:22 it reads, ‘For as long as Earth lasts, planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never stop.'”
— Brenda Bancel, curator of “Faith in Isolation Expressed”
Over the past challenging year, many of us found ourselves looking for strength and faith when separated from our communities. In Hebrew College’s inaugural Arts Initiative project “Faith in Isolation Expressed,” photographer and curator Brenda Bancel has created a photo installation looking at how we found that faith despite our challenges. “At one point I began looking through the Internet for photos of faith and how people were digging deep into theirs in order to be comforted,” she said. “People were getting creative in order to engage in their faith. It was so moving to see believers unite together in this period of separation.”
Hebrew College is grateful that our Arts Initiative is supported by Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston’s (CJP) Arts and Culture initiative.
Exhibit dates + in person touring schedule
Title: The Faith in Isolation Expressed
Dates: April 12 to June 14, 2021
Location: Hebrew College Cutler Atrium
About the Curator: Brenda Bencel
Brenda Bancel is the President of the Champions of Love Foundation and owner of Brenda Bancel Photography LLC. She spent ten years in the advertising industry working with clients such as Apple in Los Angeles and IBM in New York, Paris and London before realizing that she wanted to focus on non-profit work. She was President of the TAKE 5 Foundation for ten years where she gave photography lessons to kids in underserved communities. She is a 2011 graduate of the New England School of Photography where she received honors in documentary. She also recently studied for two years at the Harvard Divinity School as a special student. Brenda is interested in the cross section of where creativity and compassion intersect.
Faith in Isolation: A Multifaith Panel Discussion
In response to Brenda Bancel’s “Faith in Isolation Expressed” exhibit, religious leaders from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions will explore the ways in which they and their communities have expressed their spiritual commitments during the pandemic. This will include discussion of prayer, meditation, study, and acts of service and advocacy. Panelists 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. is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Boston University School of Theology.
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One of the things that I can’t live without in my life is faith.
It’s like breathing for me.
But when Covid seeped into the world, fear and uncertainty sank in; governments, news channels, organizations all scrambled to try to understand this deadly virus.
Fear, is mentioned a lot in my faith, The phrase, “Fear not, “ is mentioned over 70 times in the bible. Yet, here I was, afraid. I needed my spiritual nourishment. The world was in quarantine, all of us collectively trying to figure out how to be safe to ourselves and to others.
This time was an incredibly challenging season for myself and my family.
This idea of seasons within faith, was one I thought of often. In Genesis 8:22 it reads, “For as long as Earth lasts, planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never stop.”
This moment for me felt like a very long, cold, dark winter.
As a photographer, I felt zero inspiration to capture this moment in time. I only wanted to see the other side of this pandemic and still do. But at one point I began looking through the Internet for photos of faith and how people were digging deep into theirs in order to be comforted. I saw photos of people finding ways to celebrate the high holidays, perform sacraments, conduct prayers and even do baptisms by squirt guns. People were getting creative in order to engage in their faith. It was so moving to see believers unite together in this period of separation.
There were also photos of extreme sadness. The solitude of death, the inability to be together to celebrate a life lost felt unbearable. These were moments where only being together could bring serenity and comfort.
But globally, across all religions, the beauty of the believers in their quest and thirst for spiritual practice brought hope into my days.
As I was also looking to nature to comfort me, I was reading about the amazing life of the sequoia trees. Their life felt like an analogy of faith.
The sequoia is the oldest and one of the largest tree species in the world. It never stops growing in its lifetime. They can live 3000 years and be 300 feet tall. To put this in perspective, it’s the size of a twenty-six floor building. They can be 30 feet in diameter. So the tree, is just an amazing force and presence.
Yet in order for the tree to reproduce, the pine cones must be set on fire so they open and the seed is released.
So for the sequoia to bear life, it must suffer.
The sequoias greatest risk of dying is not fire however, as its bark protects the tree, but its greatest risk of dying is that their roots are too shallow, far too shallow for their height and weight.
So in order to live, they grow near each other, and they pull on each others roots for support.
They pull on each others roots so they don’t fall down.
For me it perfectly sums up this moment, this season. We all pulled each other up in order to make sure we didn’t fall. It showed that even the strong are vulnerable, and that sometimes the suffering can lead to a beautiful harvest. Let’s talk about what the harvest will be. Let’s find the beauty in the harvest.
Selections from the Exhibit
Rev. Miriam White Hammond, Pastor of New Roots AME Church
in Dorchester, MA.
Havdalah service at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, MA
Online Shabbat service with Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, MA
Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center member making masks
Artist Beit Midrash
Hebrew College partnered with The Jewish Arts Collaborative (JArts) and CJP to create the Artist Beit Midrash in March 2021, bringing together Boston artists to study Jewish texts, share their creative processes, and build community and connection. All Boston artists are welcome to apply The first cohort included artists of all disciplines who met in spring 2021 on Zoom for facilitated salon discussions of ancient and modern texts and other sources, including visual art and music. Recruitment is underway for artists who will participate in the 2021-2022 academic year cohorts.
Centering Judaism around creativity is exhilarating, so the conversations between artists in the Bet Midrash are both resonant and invigorating. But the best part of the Artist Bet Midrash is taking that energy back into my studio and painting through it.“In Place” oil on board, 16x16 inches, 2020
The Torah famously begins with an act of creation, yet creativity has gotten a relatively short shrift as a site of Jewish communal contemplation. The Artist Beit Midrash re-establishes the importance of creativity in Jewish life, revealing it as a locus of artistic exploration of identity, history and meaning through text.
Anthony Russell, bass vocalist, composer and arranger specializing in music in the Yiddish language and founder of Tsvey Brider (“Two Brothers”). Photo by Stefan Loeber