For those who prefer their summer reading to be provocative, we chose to wrestle with some challenging questions. We look at how those Jews who may not be like everyone else, who are considered “other” for any number of reasons, are viewed by the community, and we also explore their self-perceptions.
This month, we present articles that might not usually appear side by side. Samuel G. Freedman and Eric Goldstein offer perspectives on Jews of color; Alexis Kashar and Eddy Portnoy highlight the deaf community; Jeff Yablonka turns to issues of empowerment for Jews with special needs. Meylekh Viswanath suggests that much can be gleaned from the lives of converts, Rabbi Andrea Myers examines the concept of Acher, “other,” in Jewish tradition, and Daniella Cheslow reports on the integration of Ethiopian immigrants in Israel. Michael Chernick deconstructs ideas about women and the process of “othering,” and Jerome Chanes connects the dots between Hegelian notions, a 17th-century convert, and Arabs and Jews in contemporary Israel.
Soon after our last issue, on synagogues, was published, I heard from painter Bette Alexander about her series, “Reimagined Synagogues of Eastern Europe.” She has also done series on women of a certain age, the Holocaust and the Orchard, the latter based on a study of Jewish texts. She says that she draws all the time, and that many of her paintings, including the woman on our cover, are based on women she encounters in the streets of New York City. “I find the best way to express my visions and ideas of the world is with the human figure,” she says. Her humanity comes through. (www.bettealexander.com)
In her paintings, Harriet Finck often works with traditional texts, and some of her abstracted calligraphic marks have come to look like people, in multitudes, as though at Sinai. Trained as an architect, she is particularly interested in two related ideas: putting the pieces of broken things together and finding form within chaos. Her work also include elements of landscape, as in “One Thing I Have Asked” (page 11), inspired by Psalm 27, about dwelling in God’s presence. (www.harriettfinck.com)
I thank my friend Rabbi Michael Levy (who directs a training program for MTA New York City teaching people with disabilities how to use subways and buses independently) for inspiring some thoughts on these issues and for his gentle reminder that we are all standing on holy ground.
Enjoy these long summer days, and please keep writing to us. Editor.firstname.lastname@example.org.