27 April 2017

Art Medium as an Expression of a Jewish Message


This Times of Israel blog post is the second in the “Art, Zionism, and Identity in a Networked World” series.  The series explores my thoughts and experiences at the interface between art in a postdigital age, Zionism as the creation of the vibrant State of Israel after two millennia of exile, and multiple identities as an American-born Israeli artist, educator, writer, and blogger. The entire series can be accessed at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/author/mel-alexenberg/.
            
          “Art, Zionism, and Identity in a Networked World” was first published in Hebrew in Zipora: Journal of Education and Contemporary Art and Design. I wrote about the conceptual background for this series in my books: The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press) http://future-of-art.com, Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life (CreateSpace) http://photgraphgod.com, and in Hebrew Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Four Essays on Judaism and Contemporary Art.

Art is a biofeedback-generated self-portrait

The photograph above demonstrates the medium conveying a Jewish message.  It shows my Inside/Outside: P’nim/Panim artwork, a biofeedback generated interactive system that I created at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies.  It plays with the words p’nim (inside) and p’anim (face) that are both spelled with the same Hebrew letters.  This dialogic artwork creates a feedback loop in which one’s internal mind/body state (p’nim) constantly changes a digital image of one’s external self (panim).  A portrait derived from Jewish consciousness is a dynamic changing system presenting the flow of life forces between spiritual and material realms rather than a static painting of a frozen face enclosed in a gold frame.       

Art conveying its message through form and medium

The significance of form and medium in Jewish life is so strong that we only read the Torah portion in synagogue from a scroll hand-written on parchment.  If we have no Torah scroll, we read nothing at all rather than read the identical content from a Hebrew Bible printed in a rectangular codex book form.  Tradition teaches how the Israelites were enslaved in the malben, which means both brickyard and rectangle. The Torah trapped in a malben between two book covers cannot convey a message of liberation expressed by a free-flowing spiral scroll.  The heart (spelled LB in Hebrew) of the Torah is the place where the last letter L in the word yisrael (Israel) is linked to the first letter B in b’reshit (In the beginning) in an endless flow.  Both changing form and medium radically changes the message.  A Torah written on Japanese rice paper is bizarre and one written on pigskin would be the ultimate anti-Semitic statement.  We can recognize the life-affirming parallel between the double spiral of the Torah scroll and the DNA molecule in which all life forms are encoded. 

To explore form and media in Jewish thought and experience, I invited fellow artists at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies to collaborate with me in creating LightsOROT: Spiritual Dimensions of the Electronic Age, 8 an exhibition for Yeshiva University Museum. Creating art in a digital age in a networked world offers Zionist artists unprecedented opportunities to invent alternative art forms and explore new media confluent with the structure of Jewish consciousness.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the first Zionist artists Ephriam Lilien and Boris Schatz, the artists who participated in the exhibition at the 5th Zionist Congress in 1901, and the theoreticians of culture Martin Buber and Ahad Ha’am saw Zionist art only in terms of content and iconography.7 Landscapes of the Land of Israel, Jewish subjects, and biblical scenes idealizing the Bedouin types as if they were ancient Israelites were the content of their artwork expressed in alien European forms and media.   These first Zionist artists did not liberate themselves from the Hellenistic definition of art that was plastered over their Jewish consciousness by centuries of indoctrination living in Europe.

Art revealing the power of Hebrew letters in an era of digital and bio technologies 

One of the Zionist enterprise’s greatest accomplishments is reviving Hebrew as the common everyday language uniting Jews who have returned to their homeland speaking scores of different languages. There is an aesthetic and spiritual power in seeing Hebrew letters dancing across storefronts in the Jewish State, flashing across TV screens, using smartphones set for Hebrew language, and surfing the Internet in the ancient biblical language.   Hebrew letters have a special meaning for the artist.   The mishkan’s artist, Betzalel, is said to have had the divine secret of forging combinations of the 22 Hebrew letters to create new worlds. The digital era makes this kabbalistic notion of artistic creativity through making permutations of bits of information more than a quaint legend.  It is computer science rather than mysticism, physics rather than metaphysics that lets us reveal in our times this ancient wisdom.  All the multitude of words, sounds and images that we can access today on the Internet, CDs, and DVDs are encoded in bits strung together in groupings of eight called bytes. The 256 bit permutations in one byte are in turn grouped into billions of combinations that we perceive as a web site, a computer game, a text, a song, or a movie.


This image is a computer-generated hologram of the two versions of the Ten Commandments that I created with laser experts at MIT for my exhibition “LightsOROT: Spiritual Dimensions of the Electronic Age” at Yeshiva University Museum. 

         Jewish tradition sees the 22 sacred Hebrew letters as profound, primal, spiritual forces, the raw material of Creation.  The numerous alternative arrangements of the letters in words results in different blends of cosmic spiritual forces that finds a parallel in natural systems where different numbers of protons, neutrons, and electrons form the atoms of each of the 92 different elements. These atoms, in turn, combine into molecules, and molecules into supersized molecules like DNA in which the code of all life’s forms is written with only four letters: A-T, T-A, and C-G, G-C.   The interplay between combinations and permutations of Hebrew letters in the spiritual realm, of atoms and molecules in the physical realm, and bits and bytes in the realm of digital media, provides raw materials for creating artworks that generate a lively dialog between the Jewish past and Israel’s future as a world center of digital and bio technologies. 

Art revealing the spiritual dimensions of everyday life in the Land of Israel 

The great transgression of ten of the leaders of the Israelite tribes who were charged to spy out the Land of Israel after their exodus from Egypt was their inability to discern the difference between hard work as slaves in Egypt and hard work building their own land.   Only Joshua and Calev met the challenge.  The Torah tells us that Calev of the tribe of Judah had “a different spirit” (Numbers: 14:24).  Unlike the others, he was able to make the paradigm shift to recognize that the challenge of living in the Land of Israel was to see spirituality emerging from all aspects of life. 

Ten of the spies chose to remain in the desert where they could live a totally spiritual existence learning Torah all day.  They would not have to work at all since food was delivered daily for free at the opening of their tents.  In the Land of Israel, they would have to grow their own food, build houses, fight enemies, and collect garbage which seemed to them like returning to the slavery they had just left.  These ten spies were sentenced to death in the desert for their inability to see that the spiritual arises from the quality of one’s encounter with the material world.  The descendents of Calev’s tribe of Judea are almost all of the Jews who have the great privilege of returning to our homeland and rebuilding it 3,500 years later.  Most of the descendents of the ten spies who lacked “a different spirit” have disappeared.

Calev’s great-grandson, the prototypic Jewish artist Betzalel, sets a direction for today’s Zionist artists by having created an environment that invites holiness into our concrete world – “God walks in the midst of the camp…therefore shall your camp be holy” (Deuteronomy 23:15).  I invited my students at Emunah College School of the Arts in Jerusalem and at Ariel University to reveal holiness by photographing divine light emanating from their everyday life in Israel.

We can appreciate Calev’s alternative viewpoint through the 20th century experience of the Rebbe of Sadegora, Rabbi Avraham Freidman (1884-1961). The Nazis attempted to humiliate the Rebbe in the eyes of his Hasidim by forcing him at gunpoint to work all day sweeping streets and collecting garbage and at night to march waving a Nazi flag.   The Rebbe survived the Holocaust and moved to Tel Aviv where he rose early every morning in the week before Israel Independence Day to join the city’s sanitation workers in sweeping streets and collecting garbage.   At night, he could be seen walking through the streets of Tel Aviv waving the Israeli flag.  He marveled at the great privilege he had to keep his city clean and to honor his nation’s flag.

20 April 2017

Art, Zionism, and Identity in a Networked World


This blog post is the first of a series in The Times of Israel that explores my thoughts and experiences at the interface between art in a postdigital age, Zionism as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, and multiple identities as an American-born Israeli artist, educator, writer, and blogger.

The AT&T Annual Report photo above shows me receiving a digitized Rembrandt angel returning from a five hour circumglobal flight via communications satellites from New York, Amsterdam, Jerusalem, Tokyo and Los Angeles, returning to New York after having flown into tomorrow and back into yesterday.    

“Art, Zionism, and Identity in a Networked World” was first published in Hebrew in Zipora: Journal of Education and Contemporary Art and Design. I wrote about the conceptual background for this series in my books: The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press), Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life (CreateSpace), and in Hebrew Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Four Essays on Judaism and Contemporary Art.

Renew the old and sanctify the new

The great biblical miracle of liberating one nation of thousands from enslavement in the one country of Egypt after hundreds of years of exile pales in comparison with the Zionist miracle in our time of liberating millions of Jews from persecution, pogroms, and the Holocaust in scores of countries after thousands of years of exile and bringing them home to Israel.  Choosing to be an integral part of this Zionist miracle, unprecedented in world history, offers me enthralling creative opportunities as an artist. 

I draw inspiration from the Zionist challenge of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook to “renew the old and sanctify the new” as I explore the vibrant interface between the structure of Jewish consciousness, the realization of the Zionist dream in the State of Israel, and new directions in art emerging from postdigital creativity in a networked world.  The wellsprings of my Zionism flows from my Jewish roots and values while the form and content of my art emerges from Jewish thought and experience in a networked world in which of art, science, technology, and culture address each other. 

As an artist born and educated in the United States, I chose to leave a country that I love and that gave me wonderful professional opportunities to be part of the Zionist enterprise that permits me to be more fully immersed at the center of Jewish life.  Zionism seeks to ensure the future and distinctiveness of the Jewish people by fostering Jewish spiritual and cultural values in its historic homeland (World Zionist Organization, Jerusalem Program, 2004).  As a Zionist artist I strive to create both an intimate dialogue with the Jewish people and a lively conversation with people throughout the world.

Art crossing over into a new reality

The biblical story of the Jewish people begins with the journey of Abraham as he crosses over from his all too familiar past to see a fresh vision of a future in a new land.  Indeed, Abraham is called a Hebrew (Ivri) – one who crosses over into a new reality.  Abraham is told: “Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)   This passage can also be read as: “Walk with your authentic self away from all the familiar and comfortable places that limit vision to a land where you can freely see.” Here, the dynamic Hebraic mindset is established as new ways of seeing emerge from the integration of our journey to the Land of Israel with our inner quest for spiritual significance.

The personal power of Abraham to leave an obsolete past behind and to cross conceptual boundaries into an unknown future presents a powerful message to me as a Zionist artist living in a democratic Jewish State in a postdigital age.  Today in Israel and at the leading edge of technologically advanced societies worldwide, we are beginning to cross over from the digital culture of the Information Age to a Conceptual Age in which people in all walks of life will succeed most when they behave like artists who integrate left-brain with right-brain thinking.  Industrial Age factory workers and Information Age knowledge workers are being superseded by Conceptual Age creators and empathizers who integrate high tech abilities with high touch and high concept abilities of aesthetic and spiritual significance.

Art debunking art

Subverting idolatry with a twist of irony has been the mission of the Jews from their very beginning.  As a prelude to the biblical story of Abraham beginning his journey away from his father’s world to the Land of Israel, the Midrash tells that Abraham was minding his father’s idol shop when he took a stick and smashed the merchandise to bits.  He left only the largest idol untouched placing the stick in its hand.  When his father returned, his shock at seeing the scene of devastation grew into fury as he demanded an explanation from his son.  Abraham explained how the largest idol had broken all the other idols.  He could have smashed all the idols without saving one on which to place the blame.  An idol smashing idols gives us clues for creating art to debunk art, art that aims to undermine undue reverence for art, art that challenges the established canon of Western art. 

I am interested in creating art to knock art off its pedestal by displaying a creative skepticism not just towards art’s subjects but also towards its purposes.  In his book Fixing the World: Jewish American Painters in the Twentieth Century, Ori Z. Soltes, professor of art and theology at Georgetown University, comments on my series of Digitized Homage to Rembrandt paintings, photomontages, computer-generated etchings, serigraphs, lithographs, and telecommunications events: “Alexenberg appropriates an iconic image from the Christian art tradition: Rembrandt’s angel, who wrestles with Jacob.  But he transforms and distorts it, digitalizing and dismembering it, transforming the normative Western tradition within which he works as he rebels against it.”  My painting is the cover image of Soltes’ book.      

Art emerging from Hebraic rather than Hellenistic consciousness

As a Zionist artist, I am joining artists worldwide in liberating art from Hellenistic dominance since its revival in the Renaissance.  The 20th century was a century of modernism that aimed to undermine the Hellenistic definition of art.  The 21st century invites a redefinition of art derived from the Hebraic roots of Western culture rather than its Hellenistic roots.  Winston Churchill writes in his History of the Second World War:
“The Greeks and the Jews are the two peoples whose worldviews have most influenced the way we think and act.  Each of them from angles so different has left us with the inheritance of its genius and wisdom.  No two cities have counted more with Mankind than Athens and Jerusalem.  Their messages in religion, philosophy, and art have been the main guiding light in modern faith and culture.”  

More than three thousand years ago, King David moved the capital of ancient Israel from Hebron to Jerusalem.  Five centuries later during the Golden Age of Athens, the major temples of the Acropolis were built under the leadership of Pericles.  In my MERIWIP: MEditerranean RIm WIkiart Project, a text inviting the participation of people from the 21 Mediterranean rim countries was posted on my art blog http://www.wikiartists.us in the many languages of these countries.  Only Hebrew and Greek, the millennia old languages of the indigenous peoples of the Land of Israel and Greece are still in use and continue to be written with the same two ancient alphabets.      
            
The Hellenistic definition of art as mimesis is reflected in the words for art in contemporary European languages: art in English and French, arte in Spanish, Kunst in German and Dutch, and iskustvo in Russian.  The roots of all these words are related to artificial, artifact, imitation, and phony.  In contrast, the Hebrew word for artist (oman) is spelled AMN with the same letters as the word amen which means truth.  Its feminine form is emunah, faith, and as a verb l’amen means to nurture and educate. 

This ancient Greek view of art as mimesis, imitating nature, arresting the flow of life, has become obsolete as new definitions of art are arising from Jewish thought and action that explore issues of truth, faith, and education as they enrich everyday life.  In Thorleif Boman’s  classic book Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek, Hebraic thought  is characterized as being “dynamic, vigorous, passionate, and sometimes quite explosive in kind; correspondingly Greek thinking is static, peaceful, moderate, and harmonious in kind.”  That it is the Hebraic rather than the Hellenistic roots of Western culture that is redefining art in a rapidly expanding networked world is argued in my book The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press) and its Hebrew version Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Four Essays on Judaism and Contemporary Art. (See reviews at http://future-of-art.com.)

18 April 2017

Greatest Miracle

(From The Jerusalem Post, April 18, 2017)

Yaakov Katz is right on the mark in “The tikkun olam myth” (Editor’s Notes, April 14).  Jews worldwide can reconnect by recognizing an even greater miracle than the Exodus from Egypt. 

Liberating one nation of thousands from enslavement in one country after hundreds of years of exile and its return to the Land of Israel pales in comparison with the Zionist miracle in our time.  The return of millions of Jews, the indigenous people of the Land of Israel, from a hundred countries after thousands of years of exile to live in freedom in the reborn State of Israel is miraculous.

Three times a day, Jews have cried out the words of the prophet Isaiah during their 2,000 years of bitter exile, “Sound the great shofar for our freedom, create the miracle of gathering our exiles and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land.” What an amazing privilege for Jews to see their people’s prayers answered in their lifetime. 

American youth can experience tikkun olam (repairing the world) in action by getting on a plane and flying to Israel to see its Arab citizens living, working and studying alongside the country’s Jewish citizens in an island of peace surrounded by barbarian turmoil.  Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Arabs can live in freedom.

As American Jews living with our sabra children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in Israel, my wife and I feel the greatest miracle in Jewish history in every aspect of our daily life. 

MEL ALEXENBERG, Ra’anana              

07 April 2017

The Shape of Judaism


Jews need to add the story of an even greater miracle than the Exodus from Egypt retold at the Passover Seder.  Liberating one nation of thousands from enslavement in one country after hundreds of years of exile and its return to the Land of Israel pales in comparison with the Zionist miracle in our time.  The return of millions of Jews, the indigenous people of the Land of Israel, from a hundred countries after thousands of years of exile to live in freedom in the reborn State of Israel is miraculous.

Three times a day, in the morning, afternoon and evening prayers, Jews have cried out the Hebrew words of the prophet Isaiah during their 2,000 years of bitter exile, “Sound the great shofar for our freedom, create the miracle of gathering our exiles and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land.  Blessed are You, God, Who gathers in the dispersed of Israel.”  The Hebrew language of prayer has come alive as the spoken language of the ingathered exiles in daily life.

What an amazing privilege for me to see my people’s prayers answered in my lifetime and to live the miracle daily in Israel with my wife and our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


Keep the Holiday of Matzot.  Eat matzot for seven days. (Exodus 23:15)  

Passover is called the Holiday of Matzot, the Holiday of Springtime, and the Season of Our Freedom. The shape of round and rectangular matzot can teach us about freedom and creative rebirth in springtime. These matzah shapes give us clues to understanding the structure of Jewish consciousness.  I explored these ideas in depth as professor at Ariel University in my courses “Art in Jewish Thought” and “Judaism and Zionism: Roots and Values,” and in my book The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press) http://future-of-art.com.

The following is from the Torah Tweets blogart project that my wife Miriam and I created.  It appears in my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com.

Circular hand-made matzot and rectangular machine-made matzot are eaten at the Passover Seder

Circular matzot symbolize idolatry.  Since words in the Torah are written without vowels, calf (EGeL) can also be read as circle (EGuL).

The idolatrous transgression of the Israelites was their worship of Ra, the sun God represented in Egyptian art as a golden circle.

Rectangular matzot symbolize slavery.  The Egyptians enslaved the Israelites in the malben, meaning both brickyard and rectangle.

Mitzrayim, the biblical name of Egypt, means narrowness.  The exodus into the wide expanses of the Sinai desert expanded consciousness. 

From narrow straits I called out to God. God answered me with expansiveness. (Psalm 118)

As we break matzot to eat them, we break out of the box and circle, both closed forms, breaking away from narrowness of thought.


Jewish consciousness is shaped by spiral forms, from Torah scroll to DNA to tzitzit fringes to ram's horn shofar to spiral hallah bread.

Jews are called Am HaSePheR (People of the Torah Scroll).  The SPR root found its way into the words SPiRal, SPiRitual and inSPiRation.


(From The Times of Israel, April 6, 2017, http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-shape-of-judaism/ .)

02 April 2017

Islamic Art Can Bring Peace Where Politics Has Failed


The Trump administration’s quest for peace between the Jewish State and the Islamic world will be thrown in the dustbin of history like all prior attempts unless it realizes that the problem and solution for bringing peace is not political or territorial but the religious and aesthetic values of Islam.  I developed my aesthetic peace plan as research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies in the 1980’s and presented it in my solo exhibition at the Robert Guttmann Gallery of the Jewish Museum of Prague in 2004.  Below is the copy from the exhibition catalog that is especially relevant today.
               
The photo above shows me explaining my aesthetic peace plan to the ambassadors of Israel and United States at the opening of the exhibition in front of my painting of Israel in blue and white stripes as a counter pattern to the Islamic countries as a pattern from a Damascus mosque.  A digitized Rembrandt angel of peace emerges from the painting. 

Aesthetic Peace Plan for the Middle East

The lack of peace in the Middle East can be seen as an aesthetic problem that requires an artistic solution.  It calls for a shift in perception that can be derived from Islamic art and thought.

In my Cyberangels: Aesthetic Peace Plan for the Middle East exhibition, human creativity at its best in both Islamic and European cultures encounter each other.  The beautiful patterns of Islamic art meet Rembrandt’s angels in an aesthetic peace plan.  The exhibition juxtaposed my digital and systems artworks with authentic carpets from Islamic lands.   

The exhibition invites a perceptual shift through which Muslims see the State of Israel as a blessing expressing Allah’s will and Christians see it as the Divine fulfillment of the biblical promise of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. Digitized Rembrandt angels* emerging from Islamic geometries are electronic age messengers drawing out the beauty in European and Islamic cultures rather than the ugly anti-Semitism that plagues them.
               
Historian of Islamic art, Elisabeth Siddiqui, writes in the Arabic journal Al-Madrashah Al-Ula that art is the mirror of a culture and its worldview.  She emphasizes that there is no case to which this statement more directly applies than to the art of the Islamic world.  “Not only does its art reflect its cultural values, but even more importantly, the way in which its adherents, the Muslims, view the spiritual realm, the universe, life, and the relationships of the parts to the whole.”

The repetitive geometric patterns in Islamic art teach Arabs to see their world as a continuous uninterrupted pattern that extends across North Africa and the Middle East.  Unfortunately, they see Israel as a blemish that disrupts the pattern.  From this perspective, Israel is viewed as an alien presence that they have continually tried to annihilate through war, terrorism, and political action. Palestinian Authority television labels Israel as a “cancer in the body of the Arab nation.” Its emblems, publications, schoolbooks, and web sites show the map of Israel labeled PalestineIsrael does not exist. Iranian leaders express longing for a day when an Islamic nuclear weapon could remove the “extraneous matter” called Israel from the midst of the Islamic world. 

The major obstacle to peace between Jews and Arabs is the Islamic world’s rejection of Israel as a Jewish state in its midst.  The State of Israel does not exist on maps produced in Islamic countries.  All road maps to peace in the Middle East will come to a dead end until the sovereign State of Israel is included in Arab maps. 

Fortunately, the perceptual shift needed to lead to genuine peace can be found in Islamic art and thought.  In Islamic art, a uniform geometric pattern is purposely disrupted by the introduction of a counter-pattern that demonstrates human creation as less than perfect.  Based upon the belief that only Allah creates perfection, rug weavers from Islamic lands intentionally weave a small patch of dissimilar pattern to break the symmetry of their rugs.  Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, Imam of the Italian Muslim community who holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Sciences by decree of the Saudi Grand Mufti, proposes that the idea of underlying the Divine infinitude and the human fallacy by including some voluntary counter-pattern in works of art is common in Islamic art, and extends to tapestry, painting, music, architecture, etc.  The Islamic artisan does not want to be perceived as competing with the perfection of Allah.


In “Islamic Textile Art: Anomalies in Kilims,” Muhammad Thompson and Nasima Begum write that the weavers of Moroccan kilim rugs, “devout Muslim women, would not be so arrogant as to even attempt a ‘perfect kilim’ since such perfection belonged only to Allah.  Consequently, they would deliberately break the kilim’s patterning as a mark of their humility.” 


Peace can be achieved when the Islamic world recognizes that they need Israel to realize their own religious values.  Israel provides the break in the contiguous Islamic world extending from Morocco to Pakistan.  Accepting the Jewish State as the necessary counter-pattern demonstrates humility and abrogates arrogance before Allah and honors the diversity evident in all of God’s creations.  The ingathering of the Jewish people into its historic homeland in the midst of the Islamic world is the fulfillment of Mohammed’s prophecy in the Koran (Sura 17:104): “And we said to the Children of Israel, ‘scatter and live all over the world…and when the end of the world is near we will gather you again into the Promised Land.”     

The State of Israel needs to be drawn on Islamic maps as a small break in the continuous pattern running from the Atlantic Ocean to the borders of India.  If the contiguous Islamic world were the size of a football field, Israel would be smaller than a football placed in the middle of the field.  

Sheikh Palazzi quotes from the Koran, Sura 5:20-21, to support the Arab world’s need to switch their viewpoint to recognize the sovereign right of the Jews over the Land of Israel as the will of Allah: “Remember when Moses said to his people: ‘O my people, call in remembrance the favor of God unto you, when he produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave to you what He had not given to any other among the people.  O my people, enter the Holy Land which God has assigned unto you, and then turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin.’”

According to the Imam, Islam’s holiest book confirms what every Jew and Christian who honors the Bible knows:  The Land of Israel was divinely deeded to the Children of Israel.  The Jews are the indigenous people of the Land of Israel who have continuously lived there for more three millennia despite the conquests of numerous imperialist empires. Jews are from Judea.  Arabs are from Arabia.  The Arabs are blessed with 22 other countries.

A paradigm shift can transform the perception of Israel as a blemish to seeing it as a tiny golden seed from which a lush green Islamic tree has germinated and spread its roots and branches across North Africa and the Middle East. 

Professor Khaleed Mohammed, expert in Islamic law, explains: “As a Muslim, when I read 5:21 and 17:104 in the Quran, I can only say that I support that there must be an Israel.  The Quran adumbrates the fight against tyranny and oppression, using the Children of Israel as an example, indeed as the prime example.” Tashibih Sayyed, Editor-in-Chief of Muslim World Today writes: “I consider the creation of the Jewish State as a blessing for the Muslims.  Israel has provided us an opportunity to show the world the Jewish state of mind in action, a mind that yearns to be free….  The Jewish traditions and culture of pluralism, debate, acceptance of dissension and difference of opinion have manifest themselves in the shape of the State of Israel to present the oppressed Muslim world with a paradigm to emulate.” 

Peace will come from a fresh metaphor in which the Arabs see Israel’s existence as Allah’s will.  A shift in viewpoint where Israel is perceived as a blessing, as the necessary counter-pattern in the overall pattern of the Islamic world, will usher in an era of peace. Peace will come when the Islamic world recognizes Israel as the realization of its own values and draws new maps that include Israel.

*The Hebrew language links art and angels in our digital age.  The biblical term for “art” M’LAeKheT MaKhSheVeT is a feminine term literally meaning “thoughtful craft.”  Transformed into its masculine form, it becomes “computer angel” MALAKh MaKhSheV. The spiritual concept “angel” and reshaping the material world “craft” are united in the biblical image in Jacob’s dream of angels ascending and descending on a ladder linking heaven and earth. 

We can learn from the Hebrew words for “angel” MALaKh and “food” MA’aKhaL being written with the same four letters that angels are spiritual messages arising from the everyday life.   Before partaking of the Sabbath eve meal in their homes, Jewish families sing, “May your coming be for peace, ANGELS OF PEACE, angels of the Exalted One.”  The song begins with the words shalom aleikhem (may peace be with you).   Shalom aleikhem is the traditional Hebrew greeting when people meet.  It is akin to the Arabic greeting salam aleikum.  Indeed, the word Islam itself is derived from the same root as salam (peace)May the Hebrew Malakh Shalom and the Arabic Malak Salam be recognized as one and the same Angel of Peace.

Mel Alexenberg is Professor Emeritus at Ariel University where he taught both Jewish and Arab students.  He is former Research Fellow at the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Professor and Chairman of Fine Arts, Pratt Institute, Dean of Visual Arts, New World School of the Arts, University of Florida’s arts college in Miami, and Professor of Art and Education at Columbia University and Bar-Ilan University. His artwork is in the collections of more than forty museums worldwide.


Learn more about the ideas in this article in Professor Alexenberg’s books The Future of Art in A Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press) and Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life (CreateSpace).  See reviews of these books at http://future-of-art.com and http://photographgod.com.  Both books can be purchased from the publishers or amazon.com. 

12 March 2017

Team Israel aided by Power-Ranger, Spiderman and Batman Defeats Evil Haman and Wicked Khamenei


Good News for PURIM 2017/5777.  Team Israel, the lowest ranking team in the World Baseball Classic, remains undefeated having crushed the top ranking teams of South Korea, China Taipei, Netherlands and Cuba.

After batting their way to the top, winning Word Baseball Classic, Team Israel recruits Batman, Spiderman, and my Power-Ranger great-grandson to repeat the defeat of evil Persian Haman 2,500 years ago by thwarting wicked Persian Khamenei’s current plans to annihilate the Jewish State.
New Israel Defense Forces uniforms are being issued in blue and white and cumtaot berets are being replaced by baseball caps. 

“He shall remove his garments and don other garments.” (Leviticus 6: 4)

With Team Israel uniforms, the IDF is invincible.

“Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt. How, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the way, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.  Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the Land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.  Do not forget! “(Deuteronomy 25:17-19)

On the Shabbat before the holiday of Purim, we are charged not to forget Amalek’s merciless murder of Jews solely because they are Jews.

In the Scroll of Esther read on Purim, the incarnation of Amalek is Haman who plots to murder all Jews in the Persian kingdom.

The Purim story ends in Iran with Haman hanging from the gallows he constructed to hang the Jew Mordecai.

The present day incarnation of Grand Ayatollah Haman is Iranian Grand Ayatollah Khamenei aspiring to recreate a new Persian Empire with the same genocidal intentions.

The story remains the same.  Only the players and their costumes have changed. 

My wife Miriam and I visited our great-grandson Eliad’s kindergarden for our “Torah Tweets” blogart project http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com.

We photographed Eliad’s classmates Batman and Spiderman celebrating the defeat of the genocidal intentions of ancient and present day enemies of the Jews.     


“For the Jews there was light, gladness, joy, and honor.” (Esther 8:16)

09 February 2017

Revealing Beauty Hidden Within Leaves for the New Year of the Trees


Celebrating the Jewish New Year of the Trees this week brings me back to the first painting I made when Miriam and I were married 58 years ago.  I was a science teacher at Louis Pasteur Junior High School on Long Island studying painting at the Art Students League of New York.   Looking at a cross-section of an oak leaf through a microscope, I painted the awesome beauty hidden in the cellular pattern within the leaf.  (The photo above is a cross-section of a pine leaf that I painted with molten waxes on a shaped panel.)

I have returned to exploring scientific, artistic and spiritual interrelationship in this hidden beauty throughout my career as artist and educator in the United States and Israel.  I wrote about this dynamic interface in my book on photographing Divine light in everyday life http://photographgod.com and my books The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness and Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology and Culture (both published by Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press) http://future-of-art.com.      

In the 1970’s, I created an interdisciplinary course “Morphodynamics: Design of Natural Systems” that I taught at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and at Columbia University in New York.  As art professor at Columbia, my teaching explored the cellular growth patterns of plants that I studied in the laboratory of the New York Botanical Gardens and developed into artworks in my New Jersey studio. I found hidden within leaves a vital inner beauty that rivals the beauty of the outer forms of plants and their flowers. I sought to reveal this hidden beauty through encaustic paintings on photomicrographs of leaf cross-sections.  

I prepared microscope slides of leaf cross-sections, photographed their cellular patterns through a microscope, enlarged them 600 times, mounted them on shaped panels, and painted on the photographs with vibrant pigments suspended in molten waxes.  The shapes of the panels are the outer shapes of the leaves, shapes emerging from the dynamic interplay between the cells within.   Nothing is more important to us than what happens inside leaves.  Without the vital process of photosynthesis occurring within leaves, we would not exist and there would be no life on our planet.  Leaf cells, using sunlight and chlorophyll, take water flowing up into leaves from roots in the earth and carbon dioxide blowing into leaves from the surrounding air and transform them into food and oxygen.  

My focus on the inner beauty of the photosynthetic process and the cellular organization within leaves rather than the outer beauty of the plant is not only inspired by my background in biology and art, but by my Jewish consciousness.  Unlike the Hellenistic art revived in the Renaissance that sees beauty in the imitation of external form, Judaism honors the inner dynamics of living systems.  The growth process by which the outer form of a leaf is created by the organization of the cells within reveals an inner beauty known as tiferet in Judaism.  Tiferet is the innermost node interconnected with nine others in the “Tree of Life” metaphor for the spiraling of divine light into our everyday world of space and time.  This metaphorical way of seeing beauty as the dynamic harmony between multiple forces is called hokhmat hanistar (hidden wisdom), another name for kabbalah, Judaism’s down-to-earth spiritual tradition.

My aesthetic enthusiasm for revealing the elegant cellular growth patterns hidden within leaves became the central focus of my artwork during my years as professor at Columbia when I equipped a studio for encaustic painting.  I installed ventilation hoods to remove the fumes generated when I made paints by suspending powdered pigments in a combination of molten beeswax, microcrystalline wax, and dammar resin.  I designed and built special equipment combining soldering irons and funnels with touch values for painting on photomicrographs that I mounted on shaped panels.  Light waves reflected from within the depths of the translucent encaustic paints rendered the cells vibrancy unattainable with oil or acrylic paints. 

At the laboratory of the New York Botanical Gardens, I replaced the water in plant cells with alcohol and then xylol and liquid paraffin so that they would be firm enough when refrigerated to be cleanly cut with a microtome into cross-sections one-cell thick.  I prepared microscope slides through which I photographed the cellular patterns creating the outer form of the leaf.  In the darkroom at Columbia, I printed these photographs in black and white to mount on the shaped panels that I prepared in my Teaneck studio. 
        

Three decades later, I mounted an exhibition at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens of these shaped encaustic paintings of cellular patterns within leaves alongside the actual living plants that invite visitors to the exhibition to embark on an aesthetic journey from the whole plant into the beautiful world hidden within it.  Although the exhibition was scheduled for two months in the summer of 2007, it met with such an enthusiastic response that it remained for two years until the end of the summer of 2009.  See photos of the exhibition at my website http://www.melalexenberg.com/artwork.php?id=51.

From The Times of Israel, February 9, 2017, at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/revealing-beauty-hidden-in-leaves-for-new-year-of-the-trees/   

02 February 2017

Silent Dogs and the Symphony of Biodiversity


“There shall be a great cry of anguish throughout all Egypt.... But among the Israelites, no dog shall howl for man or beast.” (Exodus 11:6, 7)  This passage is read from the Torah scroll on Shabbat, February 4, 2017. 

SILENT DOGS

In Egyptian mythology, the Dog God Anubis gains its powers from the howling of dogs at death to raise the soul to eternal afterlife.  When the dogs did not howl, the plague of the death of the first-born caused double anguish since eternal afterlife was denied.  The awesome quiet of the dogs at the freeing the Israelites from slavery gives dogs an honored place in Judaism.

See how my wife Miriam and I link this Torah portion (Bo/Come) to our life in Israel through photographs and Torah Tweet texts at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/exodus-3-song-of-dog.html and in my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com.

THE SONG OF THE DOG

Dogs are not known for their silence.  The song of the dog is presented as the climax of the small book Perek Shira (Chapter of Song) that gives voice to each animal’s role in praising God in a global symphony of biodiversity.  In Perek Shira, the song of the dog is: “Come! Let us bow in humility and adoration, let us kneel before God our Maker.” (Psalm 95:6). The loyalty of a dog to his master provides a model for human gratitude to God for everything in life.

Our son Ron’s studies of the kabalistic underpinnings of Perek Shira encouraged him to seriously study music with prominent Israeli composers.  After a few years of music studies that paralleled his emersion in Jewish studies at Merkaz Harav, the flagship Zionist rabbinic college in Jerusalem, he realized that God doesn’t write the Symphony of Creation on a five-line staff.  God writes the distinctive song of each species on the rungs of DNA spiral ladders, the chromosomes in every cell of every plant and animal.  Ron then switched from his music studies to studying biology.  He earned his M.Sc. in genetics at Ben Gurion University where he is now completing his Ph.D.  As both rabbi and biologist, Ron teaches interrelationships between Torah and science. 

GLOBAL SYMPHONY OF BIODIVERSITY

Perek Shira presents biblical and rabbinic verses representing the songs of 64 other species of animals and plants in addition to the song of the dog.  Every species of living organism on our planet sings its distinctive praise of their Creator.   According to estimates made by biologists, over eight million species of animals live on planet Earth.  Each species sings its special song in harmony with all the others to create a grand symphony of biodiversity.

The information for all forms of life from the amoeba to the giant redwoods, from roses to elephants, from bacteria to whales, and from onions to human beings, is written with an alphabet of only four letters like the biblical Tetragrammaton YHVH. They are A for adenine, T for thymine, C for cytosine, and G for guanine. These letters spell four words: A-T, T-A, C-G, G-C. Each rung of the DNA spiral ladder is written with one of these words.  

Human beings have 46 chromosomes. The sequence and number of these words determines whether you have blue eyes or brown, whether you will be short or tall, and whether you will be a genius or mentally retarded.  During my first career as a science teacher, I asked my students what would happen if they had 16 chromosomes instead of 46.  When I told them that they’d be onions, they understood that all life forms are written with the same four letters.

PEREK SHIRA  

Here are some plants and animals with their verses from Perek Shira in the order they appear in the book with their chromosome numbers:

The trees of the forest like the oak tree with 24 chromosomes, says: “Then all the trees of the forest will sing with joy, before god – for He will have come to judge the earth.” (1 Chronicles 16:32)

The date palm with 26 chromosomes says: “A righteous man will flourish like a date palm, like a cedar in the Lebanon he will grow.”  (Psalms 92:13)

The sheaf of wheat with 42 chromosomes says: “A song of ascents.  From the depths I called you, God” (Psalms 130:1)

The grasses with 55 chromosomes say: “May the glory of God endure forever, let God rejoice in His works.” (Psalms 104:21)

The crane with 74 chromosomes says: “Give thanks to Hashem with a harp, with a ten-stringed lyre make music to Him.” (Psalms 33:2)

The swallow with 70 chromosomes says: “So that my soul might sing to You and not be stilled, my God, forever I will thank you.” (Psalms 30:13)

The domestic goose with 80 chromosomes says: “Give thanks to God, declare His Name make His acts known among the peoples.  Sing to Him, speak of all His wonders.” (Psalm 105:1-2)

The spider says: “Praise Him with clanging cymbals; praise Him with resonant trumpets.” (Psalms 150:5)  (There are tens of thousands of spider species that differ in chromosome number.)

The cow with 60 chromosomes says: “Sing joyously to the God of our strength, call out to the God of Judah.” (Psalms 81:2)

The donkey with 62 chromosomes says: “Yours, God, is the greatness, the strength, the splendor, the triumph, and the glory, even everything in heaven and earth.” (1 Chronicles 29:11).

The deer with 70 chromosomes says: “I will sing of Your might, and rejoice towards morning in Your kindness.” (Psalms 59:17)

The elephant with 56 chromosomes says: “How great are Your deeds, God, exceedingly profound Your thoughts.” (Psalms 92:6)

The bear with 74 chromosomes says: “The wilderness and its cities will lift their voices; …those who dwell on bedrock will sing out.” (Isaiah 42:11)

The snake with 72 chromosomes says: “God supports all the fallen ones and straightens all the bent.” (Psalms 145:14)   

The ant with 40 chromosomes says: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; see its ways and grow wise” (Proverbs 6:6)

The weasel with 44 chromosomes says: “Let all souls praise God, Halleluyah!” (Psalms 150:6)

The dog with 78 chromosomes says: “Come! Let us bow in humility and adoration, let us kneel before God our Maker.” (Psalm 95:6). 

THE SYMPHONY OF CREATION

The Talmud teaches: “Had the Torah not been given, we would have learned modesty from the cat, the prohibition of theft from the ant, the prohibition of forbidden relationships from the dove, and the proper method of conjugal relations from fowl.” (Tractate Eruvin 100b)

“He teaches us from the animals of the land, and from the birds of the heavens He makes us wise.” (Job 35:11)

Each species sings its unique song in harmony with eight million other members of the global orchestra to create a grand symphony of biodiversity.  The Symphony of Creation is elegantly described in the last lines of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species:

“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing in the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have been produced by laws acting around us.”

19 January 2017

Strolling Down Herzl Street with Herzl


The first portion of Exodus, Shemot/Names, is read from the Torah scroll on Shabbat, January 21, 2017. 

“And these are the names of the Children of Israel” (Exodus1:1).

Names of the leading figures in Jewish and Zionist history are the names of the streets in towns and cities throughout Israel.  The project of my students in the course “Judaism and Zionism: Roots and Values” that I taught at Ariel University invited them to learn about personalities named on the plaques on street corners in their hometown. 

Each student chose leaders who exemplified roots and values of Judaism like Maimonides, Ibn Ezra and Rashi and Zionist leaders like Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Ahad Ha’am and Henrietta Szold.  The student wrote, designed for easy reading, and printed a one page bio of each person chosen.  They walked on Ben Yehuda Street, for example, asking residents and passersby what they know about Ben Yehuda.  Israelis rarely admit that they don’t know.  They invent creative bios that have nothing to do with the life of Ben Yehuda.  The student then gives the bio that tells the real story. 

My student’s final project was to write a paper envisioning themselves walking down streets named for the personalities they chose. They had to read their writings and create narratives of an imagined dialogue.  They wrote, for instance, about their conversation with Herzl while strolling down Herzl Street, found in every city in Israel, discussing his ideas with him.  Are the buildings and activities on Herzl Street expressions of Herzl’s values or the opposite?

ALTNEULAND/OLDNEWLAND/TEL AVIV

During the seven years I was professor at Ariel University, I taught the course “Judaism and Zionism: Roots and Values” to hundreds of students each year.  Herzl’s Altneuland in its Hebrew translation was one of four of textbooks for my course.  The others were Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook’s Orot (Lights), Rabbi Joseph  B. Soloveitchik’s Ish Halakha  (Halakhic Man), and the popular Israeli siddur (prayer book) Rinat Yisrael.

Herzl’s 1902 novel creates a prophetic vision for a Jewish state in the Land of Israel that is close to its realization today as a successful start-up nation.   It begins with the anti-Semitic culture and Jewish poverty that permeated 19th century Vienna and ends with the realization of the Zionist dream in a socially and technologically advanced democracy. Today, thousands of Jews from France and Ukraine are leaving behind the renewed anti-Semitic culture of Europe to join in the Zionist enterprise of creating a more just and inclusive society.

Too few people have read this seminal Zionist book.  It’s disappointing that when I went into Tzomet Sfarim and Steimatzky book stores, neither store had Altneuland in Hebrew or any other language.  

In the final words of Altneuland, the main character asks, “We see before us a new and happier form of human society – by what was it created?  Old Litwak said: “Distress!” Steineck the architect: “The united nation.”  Kingscourt: “The new technology.” Dr. Marcus: “Knowledge.” Joe Levy: “Will power.”  Professor Steineck: “The forces of nature.”  Hopkins, the English parson: “Tolerence.”  Reshid Bey: “Self-assurance.”  David Litwak: “Love and suffering.”  But Rabbi Shemuel rose and solemnly said “God.”

Rabbi Kook writes: “The Land of Israel is not something external, not an external national asset, a means to an end of collective solidarity and the strengthening of the nation’s existence, physical or even spiritual.  The Land of Israel is an essential unit bound by the bond-of-life to the People, united by inner characteristics of existence.”

Rabbi Soloveitchik writes:  “The dream of creation is the central idea in the halakhic consciousness – the idea of the importance of man as a partner of the Almighty in the act of creation, man as a creator of worlds.”  He adds that Judaism’s most fervent desire is the perfection of the world under the dominion of righteousness and loving-kindness in the realm of concrete life, penetrating every nook of cranny of life. “The marketplace, the street, the factory, the house, the meeting place, the banquet hall, all constitute the background for religious life.”

From the siddur we pray daily, “Sound the great shofar for your freedom, raise the banner to gather our exiles and gather us together from the four corners of the earth.  Blessed are you, God who gathers in the dispersed of Israel.”

TORAH TWEETS FROM HERZLIYA

See how my wife Miriam and I linked this Torah portion to our life in our “Torah Tweets” blogart project http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/exodus-1-herzl-at-herzliya-car-wash.html and in my book PHOTOGRAPH GOD: CREATING A SPIRITUAL BLOG OF YOUR LIFE http://photographgod.com.

When we were creating “Torah Tweets,” we spent Shabbat Shemot at the Dan Acadia Hotel on the sea in Herzliya, named for Theodore Herzl, the towering figure of modern Zionism. Driving to the hotel, we photographed a laser-cut steel portrait of Herzl at the entrance to Herzliya peering down from a water tower.  Miriam and I enjoy participating in Shabbat tefilah in a hotel synagogue.  It unites Jews, hotel guests from different backgrounds and countries of origin, Israelis and tourists, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, young and old, new olim and old timers, and those wearing knitted kippot and black hats.  They were called up to the Torah reading of Shemot with a medley of names.     

Miriam's mother lived at Beit Juliana, the Dutch parents' home in Herzliya.  She drove from Herzliya to our home in Petah Tikva in her red Volvo several times a week until she was 98 and the Israeli government would not renew her driver’s license.  Her grandfather, Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Dunner, knew Herzl.  He was chief rabbi of Holland and founder of the Dutch Zionist Organization.  Mel's grandfather, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Kahn, participated in the 4th Zionist Congress in London in 1900 chaired by Herzl.  Instead of returning to Lithuania after the congress, he sailed for Boston where he married and where my mother was born.

Our sabra son Moshe Yehuda, named for Miriam’s father, earned both his B.A. and M.A. in Government at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya as valedictorian.  He taught Israeli society and politics at IDC for seven years and earned his MBA in a joint IDC/Warton program.

Herzl imagined how the Jewish State would be in his 1902 utopian novel Altneuland (OldNewLand), titled Tel Aviv in its Hebrew translation.  The main character in Herzl's book arrives at the newly created Jewish State in a yacht from his exile on an isolated Pacific island.  We photographed the yachts at the Herzliya Marina and the Imaginarium shop in the Herzliya Marina Mall.

“Then I came to the exiles, to Tel Aviv…. and I dwelt where they were dwelling.” (Ezekiel 3:15)

(From The Times of Israel, January 19, 2017, http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/strolling-down-herzl-street-with-herzl/ ).

04 January 2017

Indigenous Tribe Returns to Israel after 27 Centuries


“And God said to Jacob [whose name was changed to Israel] ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your native land, and I will be with you.’”  (Genesis 31:3)

The indigenous people of the Land of Israel are the twelve tribes of Israel with a 3,500 link to the Holy Land.  The Jewish People is the only sovereign nation that has ruled Israel.  All other rulers have been foreign nations and empires that occupied Israel.  Most attempted to ethnically cleanse it of its indigenous people. 

ETHNIC CLEANSING

The last invaders were the armies of the surrounding Arab countries that invaded Israel in 1948.  Jordan succeeded in murdering and ethnically cleansing Judea and Samaria of all its Jews until it was liberated in 1967 when the army of the Jewish state foiled the Arabs second attempt to exterminate Israel.  

The recent resolutions of UNESCO denying any connection between the indigenous Jewish nation and Jerusalem and of the UN Security Council deeming it illegal for Jews to build homes in its historic homeland are obscene, hostile and anti-Semitic.   Forbidding Jews from building in Judea makes as much sense as forbidding Arabs from building in Arabia.   

THE ZIONIST MIRACLE

The Zionist miracle in our time is the return of millions of Jews from a hundred countries after thousands of years of exile and bringing them home to Israel overshadows the great biblical miracle of liberating one nation of thousands from enslavement in the one country of Egypt after hundreds of years of exile. 

An amazing part of this contemporary miracle is the aliyah of the Bnei Menashe (Children of Manasseh) one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago.  They have lived in northeastern India, along the border with Burma.  Throughout their sojourn in exile, the Bnei Menashe continued to practice Judaism and continued to nourish the dream of one day returning to the land of their ancestors, the Land of Israel.

“And I will return the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel, and I shall assemble them as in the beginning.” (Jeremiah 33)

THE HOMECOMING OF A LOST TRIBE

Below are the Torah Tweets commentaries on the final two Torah portions in the book of Genesis read in synagogues on January 7 and 14, 2017.  They describe the visit of my wife Miriam and me with Bnei Menashe in Kiryat Arba as they appear in our blogart project Torah Tweets: A Posdigital Biblical Commentary as a Blogart Narrative http://torahtweets.blogspot.com and in my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com

NO LONGER A LOST TRIBE
Vayigash/Approached (Genesis 44:18-47:27)

“Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Please, come close to me.’ When they came close, he said, ‘I am Joseph your brother!’"  (Genesis 45:4)

The reuniting of Joseph with his brothers after two decades of separation is the most emotionally charged portion of the Bible.

Bnei Menashe [Children of Manasseh] came to mind as we thought about our lives in relation to Joseph’s reuniting with his brothers.

Amazing news: Bnei Menashe, the descendants of Joseph’s son Manasseh, one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, is no longer lost.

They have been found living in northeastern India near the border with Burma.

Today, the children of Manasseh are reuniting with their family in the Land of Israel after a 27 century separation.

Throughout their long exile, they continued to observe the Sabbath, eat kosher food, and celebrate the biblical festivals.

A Google search for "Bnei Menashe" brought us to Shavei Israel www.shavei.org active in making this Zionist miracle come true.

Mel contacted its chairman Michael Freund who put us in contact with Tzvi Khaute who had come on aliyah from India.

Tzvi shared photos of his son Yaacov's bar mitzvah celebration on Hanukah posted here.  On the bar mitzvah invitation, he wrote:   

"And God said to Jacob [Yaacov], "Return to the land of your fathers and to your native land, and I will be with you."  (Genesis 31:3)


In the next Torah portion Vayehi, Jacob blesses his grandson Manasseh.

HOME AFTER 27 CENTURIES
Vayehi/Lived (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

“Israel said to Joseph, ‘I never pilal-ti (thought/hoped/imagined/dreamed) that I would ever see your face again, and God has even let me see your children.’" (Genesis 48:11)

To this day, Jewish fathers bless their children with Jacob's blessing: "May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh." (Genesis: 48:20)

We focus this Vayehi blog post on our awesome reunion with the beautiful children of Bnei Menashe.  See the photos at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/genesis-11-home-after-27-centuries.html

Tzvi Kahuate, Bnei Menashe Coordinator for Shavei Israel, was our guide on our visit to his community in Kiryat Arba.

Shavei Israel reaches out and assists Lost Tribes seeking to return to the Jewish people.

We photographed Tzvi with his daughter in purple (segol) and his wife Nurit with their youngest daughter as their Superman son watched (the photo that begins this post).


Mel explained that the Jewish People are am segulah that can be translated as "purple people."

We are a People chosen to teach the world that by mixing sky blue with red (adom) of earth (adamah) we bring heaven down to earth.

We photographed Laviyah with her four-day old son and her son Menahem.  Her husband was away serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

We visited Beit Miriam, the Shavei Israel Community Center, where we saw Bnei Menashe children coming for help with their homework.

Others worked with computers and on crafts projects while two girls outside were climbing a tree.


At the entrance to Beit Miriam, the prophetic vision that we were seeing with our own eyes was posted on the wall:

“And I will return the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel, and I shall assemble them as in the beginning.”  (Jeremiah 33)