August 22, 2019

A Feminist Approach to the High Holy Days

by Amy Sessler Powell

Fresh Ideas, Editor, Amy Sessler Powell, interviewed Marcia Falk about her book, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season and her journey into writing new liturgies.

Marcia Falk

Marcia Falk

Poet and scholar, Marcia Falk, acclaimed author of the groundbreaking Book of Blessings, last summer, published The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season. Why did she choose to focus on the High Holidays? For the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks. That’s where the Jews are.

The High Holidays are the days when religious, as well as nonaffiliated Jews, attend synagogue services in unparalleled numbers. Yet much of what they find there can be unwelcoming in its patriarchal imagery, leaving many worshipers unsatisfied. For those seeking to connect more deeply with their Judaism, and for all readers in search of a contemplative approach to the themes of the season, Falk has re-created key prayers and rituals from an inclusive perspective.

But the story of Falk’s engagement with writing prayer began several decades earlier.

“The words of prayer have always mattered to me, “ said Falk. “As a Jewish feminist in the 1970s and ‘80s, I thought it was important not just where and how we participate in synagogue life, but what we actually pray there. I had been a regular davener for years; I belonged to synagogues and attended services every Shabbat. I participated, gave drashot (talks about the Torah portion). But in the early 1980s, the liturgy was becoming more and more disturbing to me as a Jew and a feminist trying to live with integrity.

“I was in crisis. The liturgy wasn’t speaking for me, and in many ways I found it hurtful. But I didn’t want to give up my relationship to my community; I was attached to being a Jew in the Jewish world. “

Falk started to silently change the language, sometimes while on her feet during the Amidah (the prayer recited silently, while standing). She was often the last one to sit back down, because she lost track of time as she struggled to adapt the Hebrew words, changing the patriarchal image of God as the Lord and King to other, gender-neutral metaphors. She was not yet writing her new prayers down or sharing them publicly.

thedaysbetween_MarciaFalk

The Days Between

A turning point came in 1983, while she was a teacher at the Havurah Institute in Princeton. Rabbi Arthur Waskow was in charge of the Havdalah service to take place on Saturday night, and on Friday afternoon he asked Falk to provide akavanah, meditation, for each of the blessings.

“I told Art I just couldn’t do that, and when he asked why, I blurted out that I didn’t say those blessings any more. That was the first time I said aloud that I no longer prayed with the traditional words. Without missing a beat, Art said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, ‘So write your own blessings.’ I told him I thought they’d stone me. ‘Marcia,’ he said in a booming voice, ‘they won’t stone you.’

So I sat down that afternoon and wrote my first four blessings, and the next night, full of trepidation, I recited them before a community of 300 Jews, ranging in affiliation from atheist to Orthodox. I recited the new words without introduction, as though they had been written a couple of millennia ago by the rabbis, rather than the day before, by me. I offered no apology or explanation (I didn’t dare to), and, to my puzzlement and disbelief, the community said, Amen.”

In March of 1985, Falk published an essay in Moment Magazine, in which she presented some of her new blessings, which would eventually become part of her path-breaking Book of Blessings, published in 1996. The article engendered strong and voluminous reactions across the spectrum; Falk received fan mail as well as attack mail. While there were many Jews, especially Jewish women, who had been waiting for an alternative to the patriarchal imagery of the prayer book and who were thrilled that Falk had met the challenge, there were also people who insisted that she did not have the right to make changes, especially to the Hebrew. But, Falk says, Jewish liturgy has always changed over time. “If it doesn’t evolve, it ossifies.” And Falk believes it is not enough to change the English. Her work is unique in that it offers new prayer in Hebrew poetic language.

“Many Jews want a liturgy that expresses their values and concerns. Keeping it alive in a fresh way has always been part of Jewish tradition,” she says.

It has been eighteen years since the publication of The Book of Blessings, and Falk’s readers have waited long for its sequel. In The Days Between, Falk offers Hebrew and English blessings for festive meals, prayers for synagogue services, and poems and meditations for quiet reflection. The Rosh Hashanah section of the book includes a blessing for apples and honey, a re-creation of the Un’taneh Tokef prayer, and a new tashlikh (waterside ritual). Among the Yom Kippur prayers are a Viduy (confession) and a new Kol Nidrey. “Window, Bird, Sky,” a series of ten poems and meditations (one for each of the Ten Days of T’shuvah) bridges the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur sections.

Emphasizing introspection as well as relationship to others, Falk evokes her vision of the High Holidays as “ten days of striving to keep the heart open to change.” Her new book promises to open her readers’ hearts and minds.


Marcia Falk is the author of The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season. Amy Sessler Powell is HBI’s Communications Director. 

The Vienna of Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer and Hitler

By Laura Morowitz

The new film, Woman in Gold is playing in many theaters around the country this week. The movie tells the victorious story of how Maria Altmann won back the Gustav Klimt painting stolen from her family by the Nazis.

On a cold January day in 1939, Nazi administrators and museum officials raided the palais of the Bloch-Bauers — one of the wealthiest and most cultured Jewish families in Vienna — “Aryanizing” its contents and shipping them off to storage facilities and museums. Vienna, under the Anschluss, was the darkest and most tragic period in the city’s history. But Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I (1907), around which the current film focuses, was created in another Vienna, one sparkling with life and light, enlivened by the vivid Jewish culture of the city. In 1907, the very year the portrait was created, a young Adolf Hitler came to settle in Vienna and later vowed to crush the brilliant, daring society that flourished there.

In turn-of-the-century Vienna, Modernism had caught fire and exploded. In nearly every domain of culture, from painting, architecture and design, to theater, philosophy and psychology, brilliant artists and thinkers carried out experiments in the buttoned-up capital of the Habsburg Empire, and altered our understanding of human nature.

Vienna: A Radical Modernist City

Vienna  in 1900 was not only the most radical Modernist city, but the most Jewish. It had the largest population of Jews in Western Europe (8 percent) and its wealthy Jewish families firmly ruled the city’s cultural life. Its artistic and intellectual superstars were often of Jewish origin: Gustav Mahler, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Sigmund Freud, Arnold Schnitzler, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, Arnold Schoenberg, etc. And in the fields where Jews didn’t dominate, their financial support made many of the most important commissions and support possible. (Klimt’s patrons were so often Jewish that critics begin to complain of his “gôut juif”–his Jewish taste.)

It’s a true irony of history, then, that the individual most bent on the destruction of Jewish culture and Jewish life walked the very same streets, at the very same time as the Jewish luminaries above. Who among the artistic and intellectual groundbreakers of this city — Stefan Zweig, Karl Krauss — passed the scraggly teen-aged Adolf Hitler without giving him a second look? As he paid his small fee to watch Gustav Mahler conduct Wagner at the Hofopera, did Hitler stand beside Theodor Herzl, who was also smitten by the conductor’s Romantic dream worlds? (Herzl would later claim them as inspiration for his Zionist vision.) Did he pass un-noticed in the Kunsthistorische Museum as Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer took in the collections? For Hitler had arrived in Vienna to make his own mark artistically. He failed, and that failure was the first great disappointment of his life. He would never let the city forget it.

Hitler Arrived at Age 17

He’d come first at the age of seventeen, with a small fee saved by his mother. Arriving from Linz, Hitler was enchanted by the Ringstrasse, the Imperial collections, the statues and glittering monuments. Convinced of his artistic greatness, he vowed to return and attend the Vienna Academy of Art. He came back in September of 1907, sitting for the drawing exam the next month.

He failed.

A few days later he received word from Linz that his mother was dying of cancer. He went home and stayed beside her as she suffered and died.

When Hitler returned to Vienna in 1908, he was miserable and deeply receptive to the wide-spread anti-Semitism of the city. It’s yet another historical irony that a city so rich in Jewish talent was also the first to come under the sway of a politician who succeeded on an anti-Semitic platform. Mayor Karl Lueger—“handsome Karl”—was a Christian Socialist who made it clear that the Jews would no longer run his city. Hitler admired him, and became a regular reader of the pan-Germanist Georg Schoenerer, whose vicious racial anti-Semitism Hitler would take over as his own.

This time Hitler, still struggling to make it as an artist, was sent with a letter of introduction from his neighbor, to ease the way. The letter recommended him to Alfred Roller, co-founder of the Secession (his sets for Wagner’s operas would impress Hitler all his life; In 1933 he brought the designer to Bayreuth to design a new production of Parsifal). But the eighteen year old Hitler was too intimidated to use the introduction, hesitating three times in front of Roller’s office.

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, 1907 (exhibited as “The Lady in Gold” in 1943)

Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907, oil, silver and gold on canvas, Neue Galerie New York. This acquisition made available in part through the generosity of the heirs of the Estates of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer

Instead, Hitler ignored the modern art igniting all around him. In the spring of 1908, Gustav Klimt organized the Kunstschau, exhibiting 176 artists, and revealing Adele Bloch Bauer I to the Viennese public. If Hitler went to the most important artistic event of the season, he was silent on it.

While artists like Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka caused scandals, Hitler did nothing worthy of attention. Mostly he walked the streets, arguing with the other men in the homeless shelters where he stayed, painting postcards to earn a small living. Later in Mein Kampf, Hitler would claim Vienna as the place where he first became aware of “the Jewish question.”

Creators and Destroyer Share Time in Vienna

Seldom in history do the creators and the destroyer of a culture come so closely in to contact. As a young man, Hitler had stood close enough to feel the heat emanating from Mahler’s symphonies, Klimt’s portraits and Zweig’s stories. But he was too consumed by the fires of his own rage to feel it. As the clouds of the war rolled over Europe in 1913, Hitler left Vienna, refusing to fight for what he saw as a mongrel and dilapidated Austro-Hungarian Empire. He headed for Munich, joining the first World War, and cultivating the hatred that would lead to the second.

When he rose to power, Hitler was determined to keep both this past, and Vienna itself, in the shadows.

On Tuesday, March 15, 1938 Adolf Hitler rode his Mercedes triumphantly into Vienna. The crowds that lined the streets threw roses, rang bells and hoisted their children in the air. The next morning hundreds of thousands of Viennese jammed the Heldenplatz to hear Hitler’s speech from the balcony. Vienna adored their new Führer. The life enjoyed by Maria Altmann, and the rest of Vienna’s Jews, came to an end forever.

Despite the roaring crowds that greeted his arrival, Hitler still carried his hatred for the “Jewish” city. In a diary entry Josef Goebbels, Reichminister for Propaganda, summed up Hitler’s plans for the city: “Under no circumstances must anything be given to Vienna; rather whatever can be taken away, should be taken away.” While other important cities—Berlin, Munich and above all his hometown, Linz–would receive grand redesigns, Vienna would indeed get nothing “It was my mistake to have sent you to Vienna,” Hitler screamed at the mayor of the city in 1943, “It was a mistake that I ever brought these Viennese into the Greater German Reich. I know these people. In my youth I lived among them. They are the enemies of Germany.”

Turn-of –the-century Vienna, an intoxicating and profoundly Jewish city, nearly consigned Hitler to the dustbin of history. While art like Adele Bloch Bauer I still exists to testify to its glory, the light and genius of that city can never be brought back to life.

lauracloseupLaura Morowitz is Professor of Art History at Wagner College, New York. She is the author of many articles and reviews appearing in The Art Bulletin, The Oxford Art Journal, Art Criticism, The Journal of Popular Film and Television and The Journal of the History of Collecting among others. In the Fall of 2014 she was an invited speaker at Duke University’s Art History Speaker Series, Art, Conflict and the Politics Memory where she spoke on “Erasing Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: The 1943 Gustav Klimt Retrospective and the Making of an Artistic Hero.” Her work on the art of the fin de siècle and Vienna under the Anschluss has been supported by the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.

A Feminist Journey into Prayer

by Amy Sessler Powell

Marcia Falk will discuss and read from her new book The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season, on Thursday, Sept. 11, at 7 p.m. in the Rapaporte Treasure Hall of the Goldfarb Library, Brandeis. Professor Jonathan Sarna will deliver introductory remarks. Fresh Ideas Editor, Amy Sessler Powell, interviewed Falk about her new book and her journey into writing new liturgies.

Marcia Falk

Marcia Falk

Poet and scholar Marcia Falk, acclaimed author of the groundbreaking Book of Blessings, has just published a new book, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season. Why did she choose to focus on the High Holidays? For the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks. That’s where the Jews are.

The High Holidays are the days when religious as well as nonaffiliated Jews attend synagogue services in unparalleled numbers. Yet much of what they find there can be unwelcoming in its patriarchal imagery, leaving many worshipers unsatisfied. For those seeking to connect more deeply with their Judaism, and for all readers in search of a contemplative approach to the themes of the season, Falk has re-created key prayers and rituals from an inclusive perspective.

But the story of Falk’s engagement with writing prayer began several decades earlier.

“The words of prayer have always mattered to me, “ said Falk. “As a Jewish feminist in the 1970s and ‘80s, I thought it was important not just where and how we participate in synagogue life, but what we actually pray there. I had been a regular davener for years; I belonged to synagogues and attended services every Shabbat. I participated, gave drashot (talks about the Torah portion). But in the early 1980s, the liturgy was becoming more and more disturbing to me as a Jew and a feminist trying to live with integrity.

“I was in crisis. The liturgy wasn’t speaking for me, and in many ways I found it hurtful. But I didn’t want to give up my relationship to my community; I was attached to being a Jew in the Jewish world. “

Falk started to silently change the language, sometimes while on her feet during the Amidah (the prayer recited silently, while standing). She was often the last one to sit back down, because she lost track of time as she struggled to adapt the Hebrew words, changing the patriarchal image of God as the Lord and King to other, gender-neutral metaphors. She was not yet writing her new prayers down or sharing them publicly.

thedaysbetween_MarciaFalk

The Days Between

A turning point came in 1983, while she was a teacher at the Havurah Institute in Princeton. Rabbi Arthur Waskow was in charge of the Havdalah service to take place on Saturday night, and on Friday afternoon he asked Falk to provide a kavanah, meditation, for each of the blessings.

“I told Art I just couldn’t do that, and when he asked why, I blurted out that I didn’t say those blessings any more. That was the first time I said aloud that I no longer prayed with the traditional words. Without missing a beat, Art said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, ‘So write your own blessings.’ I told him I thought they’d stone me. ‘Marcia,’ he said in a booming voice, ‘they won’t stone you.’

So I sat down that afternoon and wrote my first four blessings, and the next night, full of trepidation, I recited them before a community of 300 Jews ranging in affiliation from atheist to Orthodox. I recited the new words without introduction, as though they had been written a couple of millennia ago by the rabbis, rather than the day before, by me. I offered no apology or explanation (I didn’t dare to), and, to my puzzlement and disbelief, the community said, Amen.”

In March of 1985, Falk published an essay in Moment Magazine, in which she presented some of her new blessings, which would eventually become part of her path-breaking Book of Blessings, published in 1996. The article engendered strong and voluminous reactions across the spectrum; Falk received fan mail as well as attack mail. While there were many Jews, especially Jewish women, who had been waiting for an alternative to the patriarchal imagery of the prayer book and who were thrilled that Falk had met the challenge, there were also people who insisted that she did not have the right to make changes, especially to the Hebrew. But, Falk says, Jewish liturgy has always changed over time. “If it doesn’t evolve, it ossifies.” And Falk believes it is not enough to change the English. Her work is unique in that it offers new prayer in Hebrew poetic language.

“Many Jews want a liturgy that expresses their values and concerns. Keeping it alive in a fresh way has always been part of Jewish tradition,” she says.

It has been eighteen years since the publication of The Book of Blessings, and Falk’s readers have waited long for its sequel. In The Days Between, Falk offers Hebrew and English blessings for festive meals, prayers for synagogue services, and poems and meditations for quiet reflection. The Rosh Hashanah section of the book includes a blessing for apples and honey, a re-creation of the Un’taneh Tokef prayer, and a new tashlikh (waterside ritual). Among the Yom Kippur prayers are a Viduy (confession) and a new Kol Nidrey. “Window, Bird, Sky,” a series of ten poems and meditations (one for each of the Ten Days of T’shuvah) bridges the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur sections.

Emphasizing introspection as well as relationship to others, Falk evokes her vision of the High Holidays as “ten days of striving to keep the heart open to change.” Her new book promises to open her readers’ hearts and minds.

Marcia Falk is the author of The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season. Amy Sessler Powell is HBI Communications Director.

Blood Memory

By Amy Powell

lisa_rosowsky_headshot_sm“Blood memory is a term I use to describe my experience as a member of the ‘second generation.’ I did not directly suffer or even witness the horrors of the Holocaust, but they live on in me nonetheless,” says artist Lisa Rosowsky, whose selected work is on display in an exhibit titled, “Blood Memory: A View from the Second Generation,” now in the Kniznick Gallery of the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University.

Rosowsky described childhood with her father, a French Jew, who was hidden by a gentile family during the Holocaust. Her father, Andre, had little notice before he was placed with his father’s boss and never saw his parents again. “Just before the invasion of France, they had a warning and they were able to put him into hiding,” Rosowsky said.

Ultimately, Andre was raised in the U.S. by his Aunt Raya, his mother’s sister. He did not share his memories with his own children. As Rosowsky grew up with only the barest outline of what happened to her father, she filled in the blanks with her own imagination. But, when she was in graduate school at Yale and visited her aunt, she received a precious gift.

“I was almost out the door and she handed me a 40-page typed manuscript with all the memories,” Rosowsky said. Her father wrote it when he was in the sixth grade. “It was the most incredible gift for me, filling that hole I had all my life,” she said.

Rosowsky published the manuscript in hand-bound books for the family, but she was not finished. Later, she rented studio space and “thought I might have something to say.”

With little experience in fine art, she started to create. Her work felt “divinely inspired,” and every time she thought she had bottomed out, another piece of art formed in her head.

Creating art has had a healing and calming effect. “It has made me happier and more confident,” she said. The use of black, white and gray is “powerful for me and the soft tones allow the meaning to come out.”

lisa_angel_smThe Angel of Auschwitz looms over the gallery from the ceiling. With a wingspan of 12 feet, the Angel bears witness. The wings, made of barbed wire, bear the inscription, “Tod Macht Frie,” meaning “Death Will Set You Free.” It references the inscription above the entrance to Auschwitz, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” meaning “Work Will Set You Free.”

lisa_quilt_smThe Raitzyns, a quilt made of cotton voile, rayon, leather and suede, uses the family photos and incorporates the collection of gloves left to Rosowsky by her Aunt Raya, who raised her father. On the quilt are pictures of the 11 Raitzyn sibings along with assorted spouses and children. The white gloves indicate survivors and the black gloves are for those who perished. The lower right quilt block contains a listing of those in the family who were deported, their ages, convoy numbers and the dates they arrived in Auschwitz.

chair3_smToile de Camps is wooden chair with a fine cotton-linen upholstery containing sketches of different concentrations camps. The piece was inspired by Rosowsky’s trip to Auschwitz and Poland where she witnessed instances of Holocaust tourism, including “Hebrew signs and Jew dolls dressed like Chasids that were definitely not cool.” At the same time, this Holocaust commodification made her wonder if her own work differed.

“I made a piece that dealt with my emotions,” she said. “I made a toile with some black humor to it.”

Traditional toiles were fabrics, which celebrated and idealized scenes of everyday life, recognizable places or famous historical events and people. At first, this chair is another charming toile, but closer inspection reveals it’s dark side.

Blood Memories is on display until March 7. The exhibit is free and open to the public. For hours, appointments and more information, go to www.brandeis.edu/wsrc.

Amy Powell is the HBI communications director.

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