“You should teach about KUZU,” I explained at my first senate meeting at the college that is now Ariel University. It was the year 2000 when it was in the process of gaining its independence from Bar-Ilan University. The discussion centered on whether Ariel should continue teaching the course “Judaism and Zionism: Values and Roots” that Bar-Ilan had required.
Most of the professors conceptually agreed that the course should continue to be taught. It fit Ariel’s educational objectives. However, it was the Jewish studies teachers who had taught the course who thought it should be dropped. They said that it was impossible to teach to students with wide range of Jewish backgrounds. In the required freshman course there were new immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia who knew little about Judaism together with secular students who had little interest in learning about Jewish values and roots and with yeshiva high school graduates.
I suggested that instead of teaching a text-centered course that is too demanding to those with little prior Jewish learning and repetitive and boring to those who had spent years focusing on the same Hebrew texts, it should be taught creatively from alternative viewpoints that are strange to all the students. I explained that moving beyond verbal learning to learning through multiple-sense experiences would put all the students on an equal playing field. Teach about KUZU, God in motion. Compare spiral and branching systems in Jewish consciousness to those in nature. Teach them how to photograph God in every aspect of their lives. “What’s KUZU?” the professors asked.
“You teach the course,” the professors around the table said in unison. As a biologist turned artist, I planned to teach the course “Morphodynamics: Design of Natural Systems” to Ariel’s architecture students. I had created the word “morphodynamics” instead of “morphology” to emphasize the processes by which nature designs itself. I first taught “Morphodynamics” at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in 1970 and developed it into a graduate course that I taught as art professor at Columbia University from 1973-1977 and at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies in the 1980’s. I suddenly found myself teaching “Judaism and Zionism: Values and Roots” to hundreds of students for the next seven years.
The ideas and projects that I developed with my Ariel students evolved in into my book, Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life, which explores Jewish thought and experience in our networked world. The book expands the year-long “Torah Tweets” blogart project that my wife Miriam I created to link our story to the biblical narrative. Below is our blog post for the Torah portion Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25) read in synagogues worldwide on August 27, 2016.
KUZU = GOD IN MOTION
“Bind them [Torah words] as a sign upon your arm and let them be an ornament between your eyes. Teach your children to discuss them, when you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, and when you retire and arise. And write them on the doorposts of your houses and gates.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-20)
KUZU sets God YHVH in motion.
KUZU is written up-side-down on the outside of a parchment scroll placed in a mezuzah housing that is attached to a doorpost.
On the inside of this mini-Torah scroll is “Hear O Israel, God YHVH is our Lord ELOHAYNU, God YHVH is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
K-U-Z-U is spelled with each of letters in the Hebrew alphabet that follow Y-H-V-H. K follows Y; U follows H; Z follows V; and U follows H.
It is as if we were to write GOD as HPE, H being the letter following G, P the letter following O, and E the letter following D.
KUZU is written to teach that God, YHVH (Is-Was-Will be), cannot be experienced as a static object, but rather as dynamic process.
KUZU is written up-side-down to invite us to learn Torah with our children from multiple vantage points as part of the flow of life.
Miriam created home size and synagogue size mezuzah housings in her ceramics studio in our former home in Teaneck, NJ.
She made a silver mezuzah housing as a medusa with tentacles that move when touched. The word mezuzah is derived from zaz (move).
In Guatemala, Mel carved a mezuzah housing from mahogany wood spiraling around a test tube capped with a 13 petal rose.
A Jew spirals a leather strap around his arm flowing out from the tefillin box. He then forms the branching Hebrew letter shin on his hand.
Spirals and branches symbolize living systems, from spiraling palms to branching cedars and from DNA to our circulatory and nervous systems.
“It [Torah] is a tree of life to those who grasp it. A righteous person will flourish like a date palm, like a Lebanon cedar he will grow tall.” (Proverbs 4:2, Psalm 92:13)