Monday, February 14, 2011

Preparing for Poland and a Question of Identity

With my return from London, I've quickly plunged into my next two projects.  The first is my upcoming show in Radom, Poland, the town of my grandfather's birth.  The show will be of artwork based on the former Jewish community and derived from a 1937 film created by a visiting former resident.  My artwork will represent one part of the exhibition.  The other with which I am also deeply involved is telling the story of my friend Dora, a former Radom resident.  vora, a survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen settled in my community after the war.  She has shared her stories with me through many hours of interviews as well as her scrapbooks of photos that capture a time before the war and during the ghetto. My task has been to complete, edit and link our hours of interviews to the photos that best tell her story.  I share this in turn with the arts & culture center in Radom to translate the interviews to Polish for their audience for this portion of the exhibit.  In between I try to complete the paintings I plan to bring with me to Radom.  I’ve been working on a few images of the elder religious Jews.  While Dora has spent much of her life working with Holocaust education and done many visits to Radom, this will be the first where she speaks to Poles about her memories and experiences.  She said to me that she is going with me because she hopes it will prove to be “meaningful”.  That is my hope as well although for me personally it has already proven to be that.  Sharing the story in Poland will add yet another layer of meaning.

The second project with which I am working is also oral history within my own community, yet closely linked to the cultural heritage that I have been exploring in Eastern Europe.  Together with a partner, I am interviewing residents at a Jewish elder care facility.  In recent weeks we have done two interviews, both with women in their 90s and I am energized and delighted with our results.  Firstly because they represent a positive model for me of how one can age. Secondly because of the richness of their stories and the way they evoke Jewish cultural history and give me a view into local history.  I feel like I’ve been entrusted with something of value and hope that I can do justice to it.  The project is called the Jewish Identity and Legacy project and focuses on both how a Jewish identity is formed and how that in turn feeds legacy.  I plan to develop a series of artwork around the stories at a later date and am pleased at the rich visual imagery that is emerging.

I think we often focus on topics that address our own questions and the topic of Jewish identity is one I often contemplate.  I am convinced that while it may relate to religion, it doesn’t have to.  There is more to it than that and I am interested in understanding that question. The women we interviewed grew up in strong Jewish communities with deep ties to both religion and culture, environments that don’t exist in the same form today.  We live in a world of greater assimilation that presumably will affect the sense of Jewish identity in the future.  And yet…As a non-religious Jew married to a non-Jew, I have a strong Jewish identity that has only deepened through my research into cultural history.  So what is that all about?  I look forward to examining that question as I delve into this project.

1 comment:

  1. Susan,
    I'm glad you're back -- at least temporarily. I missed reading your posts. I'm so excited for you and the work that you are doing.