Contact email@example.com From North America: (510) 550 1173 In Israel: (077) 662 1230
Lisa Rauchwerger, USA
The story of Joseph is filled with extremes: famine and plenty, dreams and reality, honesty and deception, blessing and curse, ruler and slave, favoritism and hatred, to name but a few. In the first part of the story alone, this parasha counts three times when Joseph is at the pinnacle of favor, and three times when he is in the depths, both literally and figuratively. This visual midrash attempts to symbolically illustrate these extremes. The shepherd's staff on the far right and the Pharaoh's crook and whip in the center and left side form three triangles, the center one inverted, creating a graph of the heights and depths in this parasha. The center triangle depicts the story of Judah and Tamar which, in the parasha, is inserted in the middle of the Joseph story. The story reads right to left.
At the top right, inside the shepherd's crook, shine the sun, moon and 11 stars of Joseph's dream, representing Jacob, Rachel and Joseph's 11 brothers bowing before him. In the field, 11 sheaves of wheat bow before the one tall sheaf that is Joseph. The wheat stalk/Joseph is at the same time standing in front of his brothers, facing the pointing figure, and deep in the pit, all the while attached to the Hebrew staff that is his shepherd's beginning. The mysterious figure who appears just at the right time and asks Joseph what he seeks, points the way towards Joseph's brothers, setting in motion the entire premise of the Exodus story. The figure stands in a field, the rows of which are the actual folds of Joseph's coat, one sleeve falling into the pit in which Joseph was thrown, and one sleeve pointing towards Egypt.
The center triangle forms a tent, opening to reveal its secrets. This tent represents a number of crucial moments of secrecy and seduction, including the story of Judah and Tamar, here represented by two pomegranates. The pomegranate with seeds represents Tamar and the twins she bears her father-in-law Judah. The right side of the tent is formed by Judah's staff, and the opening reveals his signet (ring) and cord which he gives Tamar as a gesture of trust (not recognizing who she is). Later she brings them to him to prove that he is the father. The tent also recalls the deception of Leah and Rachel with Jacob, the deception of the brothers bringing Joseph's bloody coat back to their aging father, and the secret attempts of Potiphar's wife to seduce Joseph in Egypt. In all these instances, more is hidden than revealed.
Once in Egypt, Joseph's life and destiny are tied to Pharaoh, and so he stands, (the sheaf of wheat), attached to the staff of Pharaoh, shackled in prison, yet rising above the rest of the prisoners to interpret the dreams of the butler and baker, here represented by Pharaoh's cup and a sack of flour. Joseph's sheaf curves toward Pharaoh's staff and separates the lucky butler (who lives) from the not-so-lucky baker (who is hanged). The sun at the top left represents Pharaoh, eventually shining his favor down upon Joseph, yet this parasha ends with Joseph still forgotten. Joseph has gone, in a few short pages, from being the favored son to the despised brother in the pit, to becoming head of Potiphar's house, only to be thrown into prison, and then again rising to the head of all the prisoners, yet ultimately to be forgotten until the next parasha begins. At the top of the piece on the right is the first line of Vayeshev, (Genesis 37:1) "And Jacob dwelt in the land in which his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan", and on the left, two lines which sum up the second half of the story, (Gen. 39:1, 2) "And Joseph was brought down to Egypt... And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man...."
Lisa Rauchwerger is an artist, writer and chef, specializing in Judaic papercuts, paper sculpture illustration, ketubot, graphics and calligraphy. She is the author and illustrator of the best-selling interactive family cookbook, Chocolate Chip Challah and other Twists on the Jewish Holiday Table, and its companion, The Chocolate Chip Challah Activity Book, vols. 1 and 2. Lisa's company, Cutting Edge Creations, which she owns and operates, is entering its 16th year of business. Lisa has taught workshops in calligraphy and papercutting, has exhibited her artwork and been a guest speaker across the country. After leaving her hometown of Sunnyvale, CA way back in the 80's and living in Los Angeles, Jerusalem, New York City, and Cleveland, she is happily back in the Bay Area and currently makes her home in San Jose, CA. Lisa just recently completed a culinary degree, and is now pursuing cutting edge creations in the edible medium of fondant (sugar paste) and cake decorating.
Reflections on Being a Jewish Woman Artist
Judaism has always been central to my personal and spiritual identity. I was raised in a loving Jewish home, but my Jewish camp experience (in the redwood forests of Northern California) was the catalyst for my love affair with Judaism. It was there that I experienced Shabbat in an all-encompassing way, there where I studied and explored Jewish texts in a creative and inspiring setting, and there that I learned to write my first Hebrew letter in calligraphy.
Ever since I could remember, I wanted my art to mean something. I needed it to have a purpose other than the purely aesthetic. As Felix Mendelssohn once said: "Art can rise above mere handicraft only by being devoted to the expression of a lofty thought." These words encapsulate what I try to accomplish in my art—to express a spiritual concept, illuminate a holy text, or explore a traditional biblical passage in a new and different way. But I did not yet have a term to define it.
While studying art and Jewish studies in college, I was introduced to the art of papercutting at a Jewish summer program, and felt as if I had found my medium. Around the same time, I started doing Hebrew calligraphy professionally, and after I learned papercutting, began to use the two together. The book, Seasons of Our Joy by Arthur Waskow became my inspiration. Its words inspired me spiritually, and I began to create interpretive papercuts depicting the concepts and symbols of the text. Its pages were illustrated in beautiful, symbolic papercuts, which the artists termed "visual midrash"— a term that was then new to me. After studying the illustrations repeatedly to hone my skills, I came to realize that visual midrash was indeed what I had been doing already, and was actually a perfect way to describe my own artistic expressions. I had finally found a framework for my art.
Being a Jewish woman did not really factor into my art significantly until I became involved in the LA Jewish Feminist Center. My exposure to an incredible array of extraordinary Jewish women artists and teachers opened my eyes to women's issues in Judaism that I had not yet explored, and led to many personal and spiritual revelations. In turn, as I became more aware of myself as a Jewish woman, my personal journey was reflected in the art I created. I still used Jewish text as a framework, but now it was interpreted through a Jewish feminist lens.
As a young woman I had fallen in love with Hebrew letters and started to do custom ketubot and calligraphy. But my dream was to become the first traditionally trained woman scribe and to write a Torah scroll. I had the opportunity to study sofrut with an Orthodox scribe in Jerusalem for a time, but he decided he couldn't justify the continuation of my studies, knowing that I might one day actually write a sacred text. (All his other female students had promised that they would stick to writing megillot and ketubot). With only half my training complete, I left Israel and continued looking for a teacher in the States, but was unsuccessful. No one wanted the responsibility (or burden?) of teaching a woman. As the years passed and my calligraphy improved, I felt less drawn towards the need to write a Torah, and more drawn towards creating meaningful midrashic art.
I came to find meaning in creating symbolic ketubot and papercuts for anniversaries and bar/bat mitzvahs, drawing inspiration from Biblical passages and Talmudic quotations. I led a Rosh Hodesh group for a few years, and brought those symbols and midrashic interpretations into our monthly rituals. In papercutting and Hebrew calligraphy workshops, I tried to infuse my classes with the power of the Hebrew letter and the infinite meaning behind the symbols we depicted.
When I heard about The Women's Torah Project, I was excited and gratified that my dream of a woman writing a Torah scroll would finally become a reality. And even if I cannot be a part of the actual scribing of the Torah scroll, I am thrilled to have the chance to participate in the creation of the interpretive scroll. I would be honored and proud be a part of this holy endeavor, to join other women around the globe in creating a midrashic Torah scroll. I believe it will be one more step in the direction of repairing this fractured world of ours. Thank you for considering my work.