Friday, October 7, 2011

Making Knishes

It has been a while since I wrote about the artwork I’ve been doing for the Jewish Identity and Legacy Project, but I have been hard at work.  Several paintings are in various stages of completion.  As you will recall I had been working on a series of paintings based on the oral histories from Sholom Home, a Jewish elder facility. Interviewees represent Russian immigrants, Holocaust survivors who came here after the war and those who grew up in early Jewish immigrant communities.

One of our interviews was with a woman who lived on the Iron Range, an area in Northern Minnesota where small Jewish communities have largely disappeared.  She had fond memories of Virginia, Minnesota which today has a population of around 9,000. 

I really liked living (there). We had a Hadassah, we had every organization the Jewish people have in the cities on a smaller scale and we made different affairs to raise money.  It was wonderful living there.

The synagogue has been turned into a community center as only two Jews remain.  Because the Jewish population was small there was much more interaction with their neighbors and she fondly remembers sharing traditions with her non-Jewish neighbors.

I never once met a person that I thought was anti-Semitic.  My friends in Virginia were some Gentiles and they had us for Christmas and I had them for Yom Kippur, I did.  They learned how to make knishes.  I taught them how to make knishes. I used to make bagels.  We were the best of friends.

 Minneapolis was known as a hotbed of anti-Semitism at that time, but she does not remember encountering it in her small town where the religious communities were well integrated.

I had little in the way of direct imagery from which to work so in this case I had to decide how to portray the intersection of cultures.  I decided to build on the idea of making knishes. 

To that end I viewed videos of women making knishes and decided to build an image of women’s hands in action, one of those gatherings of women engaged in a common activity that bridges differences.  Behind them is a Christmas tree to represent the sharing of cultures.  The painting is titled Making Knishes.

This project has been made possible in part through the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008. Administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.

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