When Elke Reva Sudin was a Massachusetts yeshiva student, there were no art programs, so she asserted her creativity and individuality by wearing punk, hippie or goth clothes.
Growing up Conservadox in Longmeadow, a suburb of Springfield, Sudin went to a Lubavitch school through eighth grade. “The conventions of that environment haven’t been conducive to artistic expression,” she recalls. “I didn’t have role models for what an artist can be.” So she colored her hair and dressed to shock, sticking to her parents’ one ground rule: No tattoos.
As a teen she attended Hebrew High School of New England in West Hartford, and a classmate encouraged her to take oil painting classes at the local JCC, which led to college-level courses at the Rhode Island School of Design. She left yeshiva for senior year to work on her portfolio at Long Meadow High School. She later pursued her BFA in illustration at Pratt in Brooklyn, and while studying the Tanya (the core philosophical book of the Lubavitch movement) there with Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, found that the more she infused her artistic worldview with Judaism, the more it fueled her creativity.
“When I came to Pratt I wasn’t looking for anything Jewish, but the events there were about orienting Jewish discovery in an inspired, artistic way that is relevant to pop culture and to art,” she said.
Also at Pratt she began dating the person who was often “the only Orthodox straight male” in the room, Saul Sudin. Married in 2007, they have become an artistic power couple in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill. He’s the filmmaker behind “Punk Jews,” an online series about unconventional artists, and she’s the visual artist behind “Hipsters and Hassids,” an exhibit about two dominant factions in Williamsburg. While painting, she discovered how much she had in common with both groups as a religious Jew who strives to be creative. She now dresses in modest but fashionable Orthodox garb, including stylish headwear.
The Sudins recently participated in a Punk Jews panel at TribeFest in Las Vegas and founded the Jewish Art Now website and SUDINmagazine, with the mission of “explaining art to Jews, and Judaism to the arts.” She is a board member of the Jewish Art Salon and has co-curated the “Generation D: Identities” exhibit at the Flomenhaft Gallery in Chelsea. “There’s so much Judaism has to offer, inspiration-wise,” she says. “It took a long for me to get to where I can be myself.”
In May, the Lubavitch Yeshiva Academy she attended will feature an exhibit of her work at its annual dinner. “Apparently both Jewish schools I went to made big efforts to include arts programming after I left,” she said. “Go figure.”
Another hat: Sudin is also artistic director of PresenTense magazine.
Labor of glove: With a passion for painting people in motion, Sudin created some 40 works of her friend, Orthodox prizefighter Yuri Foreman.