On a gorgeous August afternoon, I had a seven-minute sabbatical on Governor’s Island. It was spiritual, uplifting and unforgettable.
Art Kibbutz, an international Jewish artist residency on Governor's Island, presented “Seven Minutes Between Heaven and Earth,” a creative, ecologically-mindful interpretation of shmita this past Sunday, as part of Shmita ArtFest.
Shmita is the sabbatical year for the land in Israel mandated in the Torah, the seventh year in a seven-year cycle in which the land must lay fallow to regenerate. These days, it is being re-envisioned by Jewish thinkers and environmental activists as a worldwide obligation to help preserve and protect our planet. Art Kibbutz, founded by writer Patricia Eszter Margit in 2010, is embracing the concept of shmita as a source for artistic inspiration as well. The artists participating in the summer-long residency on Governor’s Island have been painting, printing, sculpting, writing, performing and collaging their interpretations of shmita in a house that dates from 1810.
At Shmita ArtFest –- presented in partnership with LabShul, Romemu, Hazon, Jews Against Hydrofracking, Jewish Art Salon and Schusterman Foundation’s ROI Network — visitors had the opportunity to meet and talk with Jewish artists informally. Sunday's conversations focused on the personal meanings of shmita. Painter, sculptor and teacher Tobi Kahn moderated a panel discussion featuring Yona Verwer, mixed-media artist and founder of the Jewish Art Salon; Amichai Lau-Lavie, writer, performer and founder of LabShul; and Margit. The panelists and other artists in the audience agreed that freeing oneself from the strictures of one's normal life — for a sabbatical year or for Shabbat — is a liberating and creative experience.
For me, just “Seven Minutes between Heaven and Earth” proved the point. Imagined and produced by Shira Dicker, with David Chack chanting the shmita rules from Deuteronomy, this "flash mob” involved participants by asking them to consciously place themselves between heaven and earth — to lay down on the lawn, backs against the cool grass.
What otherwise would have been a brief respite in the summer sun was transformed into a seven minute shmita as I listened to an experimental jazz composition performed by Kobi Arad. Rabbi Arthur Waskow's inspiring words reminded us of the connection between "adam" (person) and "adamah" (earth), urging us to take action to heal the earth.
Art Kibbutz is located in Building 6B, Nolan Park, Governor's Island. Artist studios are open to the public on Sundays through September 10th from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Caroline Harris is an amateur photographer and a partner at the law firm GoldmanHarris, LLC.