Tikvat Israel Congregation Rockville MD

A Friendly, Participatory and Egalitarian Conservative Synagogue in Rockville, Maryland

Promoting Our Cultural Diversity Through Artwork By Avy Ashery

“The New Year” (man blowing the shofar), a piece of graphic art originally crafted for B’nai Brith International to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.© Avy Ashery

In these days of cultural diversity, many Jews are eager to learn about other ethnic/religious groups and their cultural expressions—music, visual arts, dance, food origins, languages, etc. But what do we know about our own heritage and culture?(Outside of bagels, that is!) Do we really know the origins of the tallit stripes, or of hamantaschen? Do we know enough to teach others who might be interested?

A while ago, I surveyed the DC metro Jewish community, which is larger than many others. There are 104 congregations, three JCCs, five Jewish day schools, and a few national Jewish organizations’ headquarters. There are also three “Jewishart” galleries, but two of them have no priority for exhibiting art with Jewish themes; they offer mainly secular art by Jewish artists.

My national Judaic artist organization, based in Atlanta, has found that too many Judaic artists cannot find Jewish institutions willing to exhibit Judaic art. My ambition is to get rabbis, congregations, and Jewish educators to incorporate Jewish cultural themes into their educational programs for both young people and adults.

Do we really know very much about our own broad Jewish culture? Here at Tikvat Israel, perhaps there is more cultural awareness than in the general Jewish population of Washington. But what can we do to spread broader awareness and Jewish “cultural literacy”?

For about 10 years, our community had the Jewish Folk Arts Festival, independently organized and produced, which was a real service to our Jewish community. Are there things that Tikvat Israel can do to help fill the void and promote Jewish diversity?

I was recently commissioned to create an illustration about anti-Jewish events as a historical timeline from the time of the Romans burning the Temple and destroying Jerusalem through the Shoah to 1948,when the Jews emerged from the refugee camps to create the modern state of Israel. Such art should be seen as a Jewish educational tool, rather than simply as decoration.

“Timeline Illustration: History of Anti-Jewish Events”© Avy Ashery