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Shoshana Brombacher, USA
The shaliach tzibbur, the Reader who prays on behalf of the community, stands at a lectern facing the Aron Kodesh (the Ark with the Torah), right before he bows down. The parokhet (curtain) of the Ark is adorned with a tree and the text etz chayim hee (Proverbs 3:18), A Tree of Life is She (viz. the Torah). This text also hovers above the altar, which is described together with its mandatory sacrifices in the Torah. At the left side of the lectern the text min ha-metzar, From the Depths (Or: narrow place, visualized in deep purplish-brown) I call to HaShem... (Teh.118:5), indicates how a shaliach tzibbur should approach HaShem: with a humble broken heart and from a ‘low’ place, not arrogantly and pleased with himself.
The shaliach tzibbur sees the kohanim (priests) with the korbanot (sacrifices) in front of him. Men are bringing in cattle, goats, fowl and sheep to be slaughtered at the left of the mizbeach (altar). Animals without blemish which are fit to be sacrificed are waiting patiently, while one of the kohanim lifts a goat to examine it. Near them stands the basket of figs mentioned in the midrash, a gift for the king. The kohen at the altar spreading his arms is surrounded by the korbanot God really wishes: broken hearts, visualized as shards of broken vessels floating in the air. The women at the right side offer their broken hearts/shards. The floating figure in the middle is the prototype of Rachel Imenu (Our Mother Rachel) suffering many heartbreaks. The women stand with their children in their arms and on their side near Mount Sinai with the Luchot (the Tablets of the Law, at the top of the painting), watching the altar and the perpetually straight column of white smoke rising from the flames.
Jewish women have suffered a lot during the ages of the Galut (the exile of the Jewish people after the Temple was destroyed), and even before that, as the stories in the TaNaCH (Bible) show us. Under the group of women flocking to the mizbeach (altar) a Jewish woman of the Eastern European shtetl with her children flees and cries in horror. The wooden houses and the old wooden shul (synagogue) in the heart of the shtetl are behind her, death and gravestones of her loved ones are never far away. When she is forced to leave the place with her family, as often happened, she carries their memory with her into exile, like the house of books on the right of her head. Her life is based on Torah principles and she admonishes her husband to study diligently. In that house she keeps the mitzvoth (commandments) like Shabbat, with the candles and challot (bread loaves for Shabbat and holidays ) she clings to her chest. An antique Shabbat lamp with seven wicks is suspended in front of the altar. Keeping Shabbat is a symbol of keeping all the commandments. Under her an old woman who always puts her trust in God murmurs the verse from Psalms.37:25: “na’ar hayiti...I was young and I became old, but I never saw that a righteous person was abandoned and his offspring had to beg for bread.”
In the top left corner King David plays his harp over the Temple and the altar, which was built by his son, Shlomo, as mentioned in the midrash below.
The work is dominated by the warm red color of fire, the cool blue color of water and of the sky, and the bright yellow of light and flames. In the Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 12a, water and fire are the components of the raki’a (firmament).
Shoshannah Brombacher Ph.D. is an writer, artist and maggidah from Amsterdam (Holland, 1959). She taught and studied medieval Hebrew literature in Berlin and Israel and currently lives in Brooklyn with her family. Her art is inspired by the teachings of the Chassidic Masters, which fascinated her since she found them long ago in her father’s study. Her paintings are a tribute to the Chassidic way of life and service of HaShem (the Creator) . These Chasidic tales spread light in a dark world and enrich our hearts and minds, connecting us with HaShem. Brombacher views her art as a medium to do mitzvoth (commandments).
Reflections on Being a Jewish Woman Artist
My mother used to say: “Since the time you were able to hold a pencil or a brush you were painting, scribbling, drawing, and you always asked for more paper; or you wanted to hear a story”. I loved to look at art books already at a very young age, especially those of Chagall, medieval miniatures, Renaissance art and Rembrandt. As a child I traveled a lot with my parents through Europe, and was exposed to many different cultures, to art, and music. In High School I searched for my identity, ultimately to become a baalat teshuvah (newly religious). I studied Judaic books (this was before Internet), and was especially attracted to the Chassidic stories I found in my father’s study, and to calligraphy. My father had taught me Hebrew letters before I could write in Dutch at the age of three, and we practiced Hebrew calligraphy together with special pens. Although art was my primary love, I decided to first pursue Ph.D. in medieval Hebrew literature, followed by research in Jerusalem and a position at the Free University in Berlin. I met my American husband during study in New York, and soon moved to New York, a city with a diverse and vibrant Jewish life, very different form what I had seen in Europe. Because I had small children, one of whom was deaf, I discontinued my academic pursuits and started painting more often; first in the basement of a shul (synagogue) and later in the attic of another shul (we moved a lot those years), growing in Yiddishkeit as a wife and mother, intellectual and artist. These roles are all connected and made me who what I am today.
Painting Jewish subjects encompasses continuous study, curiosity, and offers a never-ending supply of subject matter. I feel a flow in my life that connects making Shabbat in my home, raising my kids in a traditional way, and painting and writing articles about Jewish subjects. I feel at home and healthy in them like a fish in the water. Although I sometimes lament the time given to preparing for Pesach, I would not give it up! If one element in my life were missing, the others would no longer work either. Pesach and painting belong to my lifestyle, as do museums, (classical) music, friends and poetry.
My identity is as a “cholent” — a mix of Judaism, art, music, family life, literature — not necessarily in this order. According to the Breslover Rebbe, the task you are occupied with at a certain moment is for you the most important thing to be occupied with. I take that seriously, whether it is peeling potatoes or setting up a sketch. In the end it is all connected.