Contact firstname.lastname@example.org From North America: (510) 550 1173 In Israel: (077) 662 1230
Sharon Rosenzweig, USA
Sharon's Artists Statement is forthcoming.
After a decade of teaching painting and printmaking at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sharon abandoned the title, "fine artist" for "comics creator." Sharon's new book, made in collaboration with her husband, Aaron Freeman, is The Comic Torah, published by Ben Yehuda Press, available at Amazon.com. Sharon and Aaron present their workshop, Eat This Comic Torah, Re-imagining the Torah and Modern Midrash, across the USA.
Reflections on Being a Jewish Woman Artist
For most of my life, I identified as an artist way more than a Jew. Raised in a standard issue Reform congregation which I found vapid and materialistic, I was a liminal Jew, on the thresholds, wanting meaning and being disappointed at every turn.
I studied painting in college but also took Hebrew and Jewish Studies classes. I felt drawn again to a Jewish lifestyle, but without a community I could not establish a practice. I married a non-Jew, and shelved my attractions as quaint longing for a lost culture.
Late in my 20 year marriage I began including Jewish iconography in my paintings. I looked at early manuscript paintings, photographs of the painted interiors of Polish wooden synagogues, Eastern European tombstones, and ancient floor mosaic. These images were combined with a promiscuous mix of everything I found visually appealing, including Persian miniatures, Hindu sculpture, early Christian painting and my own family photos.
When I got divorced, my daughter told me the worst thing I had done was not giving her a Jewish education. The other kids complained about Hebrew school, but they didn’t know what it was like not to be in class. I found a program for her that included parent participation, and my dormant interest was re-kindled.
I started synagogue hopping on my own, and in the back row of Midrash class, found other women artists doodling in their notebooks and making remarks under their breath. There was the seeds of my community!
Things changed when I met my current husband, Aaron Freeman, an African-American who had converted to Judaism 15 years earlier and cobbled together a joyful practice based on blessings and Shabbat dinners. He attended synagogue too, but accepted it when I developed a full-blown allergy to services. We built on what worked for us.
Our Jewish practice changed radically when we started work on what became The Comic Torah.
Aaron started it. Using new software, he made a comic every week based on the Torah portion. His early work was clever and funny, but I found it frequently illegible and way too reverent, sucking up to the rabbis. Despite my disdain, he didn’t stop doing it, and I was forced to help him out. I began by contributing a few panels of drawings, but eventually we worked out a full partnership that changed our lives.
Our weeks had a rhythm based on Torah. Over coffee and breakfast Shabbat mornings we read the Torah portion for the next week, one ahead of all the other Jews. We each had our own favorite translations, and a parallel bible and a Hebrew-English dictionary. We intended to stick to the surface meaning of the text, but were inevitably lured to the footnotes and commentaries. The books invaded our bed during our Shabbas shluff, and we’d get another round in, reading the most interesting bits. We looked for story lines, jokes, and menu ideas for the next week’s Shabbat dinner, which we themed to the Torah portion. By Monday morning, I needed a script. Then we had our weekly fight and redrafts. By Tuesday I had pencil sketches, Wednesday “inked” art, and on Thursday we sent 2-page full color comics to our mailing list in time for Shabbat on the other side of the world.
The project connected us to New Jews everywhere on the planet, and I had my community.
It turns out we are everywhere, Jews looking to find a post-denominational meaningful practice. We find joy in study, in reading ourselves into the stories, revitalizing rituals. Our comic is irreverent, but we take the Torah very seriously, and bring our best selves to our study.