GOD ONLINE: Exploring media spirituality

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Pentecost: When the Spirit came down

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Dove graphic by Nevit Dilmen, via sxc.hu.

Dove graphic by Nevit Dilmen, via sxc.hu.

Pentecost, the day that Christians say the Holy Spirit of God descended on the first believers, is celebrated in churches worldwide today (May 24). According to the New Testament, the apostles of Jesus saw the Spirit in the shape of “tongues of fire,” giving them power to preach and evangelize.

Taking its name from its timing, 50 days after Easter Sunday, Pentecost is often called the “birthday of the church.” It is the Christian equivalent of Shavuot, the Jewish festival that follows Passover by seven weeks.

Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans celebrate the day with bright red vestments and church trappings, symbolizing the flame of the Spirit.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

May 24, 2015 at 8:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Shavuot: A festival for the law

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 Mullah Jacub's Synagogue, Isfahan, Iran, 2006. This synagogue was built about 600 years ago. Photo by Hamed Saber via xxx https://www.flickr.com/photos/hamed/182421476 yyy Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)


Mullah Jacub’s Synagogue, Isfahan, Iran, 2006. This synagogue was built about 600 years ago. Photo by Hamed Saber via Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved  (CC-BY-20).

Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, began at sundown yesterday (May 23) for the world’s estimated 14 million Jews. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai.

The holiday is one of the three Jewish “pilgrim festivals,” along with Passover and Sukkot, meant to recall the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt and subsequent wanderings in the Sinai desert. Shavuot takes its name from Passover, which it follows by seven weeks — a “week of weeks.”

Synagogues observe Shavuot with the reading of the Ten Commandments. Some also read the biblical story of Ruth, who converted to Judaism and became the grandmother of King David. The story is seen as a historical parable of commitment to God and the holy law.

In recent years, many synagogues have increasingly held confirmation on Shavuot, as their young men and women take on the promise to obey the holy law.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

May 24, 2015 at 4:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Visions of Jewry: Free art show depicts Jewish Heritage Month

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Artist Peter Olsen, left, and curator Benoit Menasche pause between two of Olsen's paintings from the biblical Book of Genesis.

Artist Peter Olsen, left, and curator Benoit Menasche pause between two of Olsen’s paintings from the biblical Book of Genesis.

By Jim Davis

Paint and marble, bronze and silver unite to tell the story of Jewry in “A Way of Life,” a new art exhibit for Jewish Heritage Month in Pembroke Pines.

The show’s 120 artworks show Jews praying, prophesying, warring and worshiping. They show God creating, judging, rescuing and revealing truth. And, the artists hope, they’ll instill a sense of history in people who see them.

“I want people to see the way of life for Jews, how and why they’ve survived,” curator Benoit Menasche says in an interview at Studio 18 in the Pines, the exhibition hall for the show. “It was the sense of family, of respect for life and for other people. They argued over the Torah and learned to work things out without killing. And they developed the idea of the mitzvah, doing a good deed every day.”

Benoit Menasche talks about his marble sculpture Tragedy.

Benoit Menasche talks about his marble sculpture Tragedy.

The exhibition, which ends May 28, boasts the works of 11 artists — Yaakov Heller, Shoni Labowitz, Norman Morgenstern, Irv Rudley, Joni Esser-Stuart, Ed Seeman, Peter Olsen, Carol Thaw, Edurne Uribe, Paul Vitello and Menasche himself — many of their pieces created just for this show.

Menasche, who contributed five marble and alabaster sculptures to the exhibit, has curated other shows for the City of Pembroke Pines over the last 18 years. So last year, when the city decided to declare May as Jewish Heritage Month, he offered to organize the exhibition.

As you enter the exhibition hall, you see stone and silver sculptures on pedestals, aligned like the bottom point in the Star of David. Among them are Menasche’s marble sculpture Tragedy, a tight knot of huddling humans, with two others protectively stretching their arms over them. Menasche made the sculpture after hearing of a suicide bombing on a bus in Jerusalem.

He calls attention to the two larger figures stretching their arms protectively over the others. “Their arms take the shape of crosses, as a symbol of Jesus,” he explains. “I thought, suppose you have two Jesuses? Their arms make an arc over the others, to keep the pain out.”

Also evocative is Menasche’s Ascension, a sculpture of Portuguese marble, which shows 12 people climbing a mountain.

“Some are climbing, one made it, one is falling off, one has given up, one is helping somebody, one is climbing over someone else,” he says. “They could be 12 characters, or they could be you at different times of your life.”

Sharing space in the anteroom are works of Yaacov Heller of Boca Raton, a favorite of Israeli presidents. One has an exuberant Elijah Rising to the Heaven in silver. In another, the young David brings down a silver-and-pewter Goliath.

On the rear wall are a painting and two sculpted columns by Rabbi Shoni Labowitz, cofounder of Temple Adath Or with her husband, Rabbi Phillip Labowitz. The columns, representing Torah scrolls, are lined with silhouetted hands that merge at the tops to form flamelike Torah crowns. Between the columns is her abstract painting Welcoming the Angels, the title drawn from the traditional Sabbath prayer.

Peter Olsen with his portrait of Israeli founder David Ben-Gurion.

Peter Olsen with his portrait of Israeli founder David Ben-Gurion.

About half of the artworks are by Peter Olsen of Fort Lauderdale, a Christian who has produced 2,000 paintings, drawings, woodworks and other artworks on biblical themes over the last four decades. His 56 pieces for Menasche’s exhibition are from his Old Testament collection; half have never been exhibited before.

“I’m not inspired by Shakespeare or Dante, or by J.K. Rowling — I’m inspired by holy writ,” Olsen says. “And I want people to appreciate Jewish history and its celebrations. They’re so rich.”

Menasche says he’s known Olsen for 20 years and always loved his work. “What Peter knows, a hundred rabbis couldn’t fit in their brains.”

Lining the left and right walls of the main area are the largest of Olsen’s canvases in the exhibit. On the left are scenes from Genesis 1 and 2; on the right, the Major Prophets such as Moses. They bear hallmarks of his style: big scenes, large and tiny human figures, descriptive words, sometimes lumpy texture to convey the illusion of solid objects.

More of his pictures lie in a hall to the right, showing minor prophets such as Hosea and Malachi and Jonah. On the opposing wall are 10 women of the Bible, including little-known characters like Abigail and Tamar. They’re all part of a collection of 200 women by Olsen.

Why women? “It was Sam’s idea,” Olsen says with a smile. That’s Sam as in Samantha, his wife, who works as his research assistant.

Stark art by Edurne Uribe tries to show the reaction of allied troops as they entered concentration camps.

Stark art by Edurne Uribe tries to show the reaction of allied troops as they entered concentration camps.

“When researching the men of the Bible, there always seems to be a woman,” says Samantha, who digs into old books like Jasher and Jubilees as well as the Bible. “So many women were instrumental in biblical history.”

The patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — are shown in pyrography, in which images are burned into slabs of wood, with pigments and etchings added. So are Jacob’s sons who sired the 12 tribes of Israel.

Digital art is here, too, illustrating eight Jewish holidays including Passover, Hanukkah, Sukkot, the Sabbath and others. The pictures, by Ed Seeman of Ocala, have explanations written by Menasche’s wife, Norma.

Perhaps the most disturbing section of the show is a Holocaust collection by Edurne Uribe of Weston, Fla. Three large, stark paintings express the shock of American soldiers as they entered the concentration camps, according to a text block by Uribe.

Also in the section, a nearly human size angel carries a dying woman clad in striped pajamas typical of concentration camp inmates — and herself carrying her dying child.

Perhaps as a palate cleanser, viewers can then see some oils by Norman Morgenstern on New York street life from a couple of generations ago. The pictures are done with a blend of photorealism and a slight yellowish tinge of nostalgia.

Contemporary individuals aren’t forgotten in the exhibit. One is Heller’s bust of Einstein, cast in bronze but blackened like iron. Another is Olsen’s heroic portrait of David Ben-Gurion, painted blue on blue.

Olsen offers one more hope for the exhibition: just for people to see actual physical images.

“I would like people to see artists, period,” he says. “Everything today is social media. People forget to see original artwork. That’s why I try to put some texture in the art.”

You can see more artworks from the exhibition on my Faith and Values page on Facebook.

All photos by Jim Davis.

If you go

Event: “Way of Life,” art exhibit for Jewish Heritage Month

Featuring: Paintings, sculptures, busts, statues on various facets of Jewish life, history and beliefs

Where: Studio 18 in the Pines, 1101 Poinciana Drive, Pembroke Pines, Fla.

When: 9-5 Monday through Saturday, ending May 28.

Cost: Free.

Info: Call 954-260-0167

aDSC_0135

Vivid picture of Genesis, chapter 2, by Peter Olsen.

Written by Jim Davis

May 21, 2015 at 5:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Holiday Almanac: Easter dawns with resurrection hope

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"Empty Tomb," wall sculpture by Billy Frank Alexander Design via sxc.hu

“Empty Tomb,” wall sculpture by Billy Frank Alexander Design via sxc.hu

Christians celebrate today as Easter, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter, the greatest holiday of the Christian year, ratifies for believers the claim of Jesus to be the Son of God.

As told in the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the body of Jesus was wrapped and buried in a rocky tomb near Jerusalem. Women came three days later to embalm the corpse, but found it missing. Jesus then began appearing to various groups of his followers, with the commission to ‘‘make disciples of all nations.”

Christians also celebrate Jesus’ resurrection for the hope it holds out for eternal life. As Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live.”

Sunrise services — in parks, on beaches, even in cemeteries — are common Easter Sunday celebrations. The events are often sponsored by two or more churches, or even by whole ministerial associations.

Because of dating differences, the world’s 225 million Eastern Orthodox Christians will celebrate Easter next Sunday, April 12. For most Eastern Orthodox, the holy day begins the previous night with the Resurrection Service. At midnight, the pastor carries a lighted candle, a flame that is passed on to his congregants’ candles. Then the pastor and choir sing hymns outside the church and return for the Pascha, the Easter liturgy.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

April 5, 2015 at 8:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Holiday Almanac: Easter dawns with resurrection hope

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"Empty Tomb," wall sculpture by Billy Frank Alexander Design via sxc.hu

“Empty Tomb,” wall sculpture by Billy Frank Alexander Design via sxc.hu

Christians celebrate today as Easter, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter, the greatest holiday of the Christian year, ratifies for believers the claim of Jesus to be the Son of God.

As told in the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the body of Jesus was wrapped and buried in a rocky tomb near Jerusalem. Women came three days later to embalm the corpse, but found it missing. Jesus then began appearing to various groups of his followers, with the commission to ‘‘make disciples of all nations.”

Christians also celebrate Jesus’ resurrection for the hope it holds out for eternal life. As Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live.”

Sunrise services — in parks, on beaches, even in cemeteries — are common Easter Sunday celebrations. The events are often sponsored by two or more churches, or even by whole ministerial associations.

Because of dating differences, the world’s 225 million Eastern Orthodox Christians will celebrate Easter next Sunday, April 12. For most Eastern Orthodox, the holy day begins the previous night with the Resurrection Service. At midnight, the pastor carries a lighted candle, a flame that is passed on to his congregants’ candles. Then the pastor and choir sing hymns outside the church and return for the Pascha, the Easter liturgy.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

April 5, 2015 at 7:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Freedom story on a plate: Passover starts at sundown today

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Passover, called the oldest festival of freedom, starts at sundown today for the world’s Jews. The eight-day holiday dates back some 34 centuries, recounting the deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

512px-Stack_of_Matzoth_from_kosherstock

Stack of Matzoh, from kosherstock.com.

As told in the biblical book of Exodus, the pharaoh rejected the prophet Moses’ demand to release the people, bringing a wave of supernatural plagues on the land. The last plague was the Angel of Death, who struck down the firstborn of every Egyptian household in one night. The Israelites escaped death by dashing lambs’ blood on their doorposts — a sign of faith that made the angel “pass over” those homes.

In modern Jewish homes, Passover starts with a ceremonial meal called a Seder on the first two nights, with foods symbolizing the Exodus story. They include a lamb shank, for the sacrificial animal; a piece of bitter herbs such as horseradish, for the bitterness of slavery; a bowl of saltwater, for the tears of oppression; and a mix of apples, cinnamon and wine, for the mortar used in the Egyptian bricks.

Also on the Seder plate are a roasted egg and leafy vegetables, for the springtime occasion of Passover; and the hard, unleavened bread called matzoh, for the Israelites’ haste in evacuating Egypt.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

April 3, 2015 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

When God died: Good Friday mourns the death of Jesus

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Cross on red, by cbcs via sxc.hu

Christians today mourn the death of Jesus Christ as Good Friday. Despite his agonizing death on a cross, the holiday is called “Good” because Christians believe Jesus’ death was a sacrifice for all humanity’s sins. ‘‘The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” the New Testament calls him.

In Catholic churches, the traditional Good Friday service includes the Stations of the Cross, a series of meditations based on the 14 recorded events between Jesus’ condemnation in a Roman court and his burial. The Stations are represented with plaques or bas-reliefs around the church auditorium.

Catholics also hold a ‘‘veneration of the cross” ceremony, during which churchgoers approach the altar to kiss the feet of a statue of the crucified Jesus.

Sometimes observed by ecumenical Protestants is Tre Ore, a three-hour service examining each of the ‘‘Seven Last Words” Jesus uttered from the cross. The service is useful for having seven or more ministers take part.

Another type of service is Tenebrae, in which a church is slowly darkened to illustrate Jesus’ death, then relighted to show his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

April 3, 2015 at 8:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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