Benny Ferdman – Art

Blog # 3

This is an old place, filled with layers of time – remnants, some cherished and others just there or even forgotten. And with time the built environment crumbles, loses meaning and transforms into its own “natural” environment, a kind of surrogate forest and like a forest it becomes full of secrets and endlessly surprising.

But here in addition to the term built environment I should add the terms sculpted, eccentric and trickster, environments. A short walk around the stone, concrete and plaster “forest” near our hotel reveals a menagerie filled with snakes, spiders, and lizards, creeping vines, leaves, and seeds, sudden faces with mouths agape, deer, and centaurs, atlas style figures galore, flying babies, violin playing babies and more, seemingly without end. All this accumulation of human industry is meant to make life less predicable, more “wonder–full” and mysterious.

The impulse to enliven the everyday is present everywhere and in every time, in one form or another. Jewish culture is no exception. Indeed Jewish art abounds with real and imaginary creatures. Deer, bears, wolves and geese dwell alongside the legendary Leviatan, griffins, unicorns and elephants with castles on their backs. All adorn ancient Jewish manuscripts, as well as synagogue ceilings. It’s this visual language that I and my teaching partner Ildi, with her students, have been using as our raw material this week.

After an overview of these old and almost lost symbols we began with an examination of one particularly rich piece of folklore. According to Jewish legend, as G-d began to create the world there were three giant living things already in existence.

One was the master of the sky, a big bird called Ziz Chol. Then there was the Shor Ha’Bar – the giant bull, ruler of the dry land. And finally the lord of all the waters and the largest of them all was the Leviatan – a big fish!

It is said that when the messiah will come we will have a feast and (spiritually) “consume” the Leviatan. As a creature that was around at the beginning of time and will be around at the end of time it is traditionally depicted in a circle with its head and tail touching.

Now, here at the Lauder school, the Leviatan has circled ‘round again, connecting the past with the present, the old world with the new and heaven with earth.

Blog # 2

Time dissolves, with the warmth of genuine connection. Today was such a moment sitting with my friend Agi -my very old friend, but still not so old. When met twenty-five years ago, she was still in her early twenties. Together we were part of the same cohort of fellows at the Melton center’s Senior Educators program at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Now, years later, here we are, together in the cafeteria of the Lauder school, a place that she referred to as an “island” – an island filled with the truly joyful atmosphere of children not only happy to be having lunch and sharing friendship but overall happy to be in school – a place of joy- a place of connection – a place of openness -a place of genuinely caring and engaged faculty. What could better, here in the heart of the “old world.”

Now let me recall the group discussion we began in a café and continued on the bus as we toured the city yesterday. I brought up the question of Jewish “renewal” in these lands that saw the destruction of most, almost all, of the Jewish inhabitants of these lands. Needless to remind, that this was done, not only by the Germans but with the help of or silence of the local populations – Hungarians, Poles, Ukrainians, etc.

Agi was the first person I ever met that was living in those lands and actively increasing her Jewish knowledge with the aim of contributing to the renewal of Jewish life there. While the collective memory of distrust, doubt and anger are real, Alan’s response stating the goal as been “renewal –not resurrection” is to the point.  I do not believe in tribal mentality. I do believe that the “sins of the fathers are not the sins of the sons.”

And yes – time dissolves, with the warmth of genuine connection. Like meeting a friend after twenty-five years and picking up the friendship as if it were yesterday.

Or – times-past dissolve, with the warmth of genuine connection, like the “island” that is the Lauder school, which is producing citizens of change.

Our coming here from the new world city of Los Angeles to the old world city of Budapest inspired me to bring the form of a circle as a start to this week of teaching.

I brought that circle into the art room of my wonderful art teacher partner Ildiko Szarvas and today we began to fill that circle with the legendary image of the Leviathan – an ancient Jewish motif symbolizing the beginning and ending and beginning and ending …of all things….

To be continued in the next post.

Blog #1

Budapest – Early Sunday Morning jog on old and kind of hard to run on, stone streets. Beautiful with memories of other similar places I’ve been. Cities that are not too far from here -like Vilna and Lvov.  Like those places Budapest whispers and screams memories that are not mine but everyday if I listen I can catch just a bit of the past and bring it into the present. A gem of a city but perhaps tired of the weight of it’s tumultuous past and now fearful of it’s presently aggressive government.

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