To conclude my five part Times of Israel series on art, Zionism and identity in the networked world, I draw on Rabbi Yohanan’s words in Tractate Taanit in the Babylonian Talmud, “God declared: ‘I will not come to the heavenly Jerusalem before coming to the earthly Jerusalem.’” As Zionist artists, my wife and I have the great privilege to explore the dynamic interface between aesthetic and spiritual energies revealed in our earthly encounters with everyday life in the Land of Israel.
The entire series can be accessed at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/author/mel-alexenberg/ and at http://artiststory.com.
Blogart as an ideal Jewish art form
The networked world offers the blog as an ideal Jewish art form. A blog is a web log, an active diary of a living process, rather than still life entombed in a golden frame. Narrative blogart is a spiritual postdigital art form that my wife, artist Miriam Benjamin, and I employed to celebrate our 52nd year of marriage. We celebrated our love by collaborating on our “Torah Tweets” blogart project that documents the sacred in our everyday life in http://torahtweets.blogspot.com and http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com.
During each of the 52 weeks of our 52nd year, we posted six photographs reflecting our life together in Israel with a Torah tweet text that related the weekly Torah reading to our lives, past and present. The seventh photograph does not exist since Shabbat is a Non-Art Day on which we tune out, turn off, unplug, and honor the Creator rather than our creations.
The blog creates a dialogue between images and text through kabbalah as a model creative process in the age of social media. The images are observations of spirituality in our everyday life. The text is composed as “tweets,” sentences of not more than 140 characters required by the Twitter social networking website. 140 is the numerical value (gematria) of the Hebrew word hakel, which means to gather people together to share a Torah learning experience as in Leviticus 8:3 and Deuteronomy 4:10.
I teach people of all faiths how to create their own blogart project in my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com.
The introductory quotations that we posted at the top of our blog emphasize the centrality of down-to-earth spirituality in Judaism from the viewpoints of Talmud scholar Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik, The Lubavitcher Rebbe M. M. Schneerson, and American novelist E. L. Doctorow. Like instruments in an orchestra, A. Y. Kook, Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel at the beginning of the 20th century, sees individual actions combine into a symphony of Jews acting together as a nation in their own land to empower the mundane to touch the Divine. This is the essence of the Zionist challenge.
“Judaism does not direct its glaze upward but downward … does not aspire to a heavenly transcendence, nor does it seek to soar upon the wings of some abstract, mysterious spirituality. It fixes its gaze upon concrete, empirical reality permeating every nook and cranny of life. The marketplace, the street, the house, the mall, the banquet hall, all constitute the backdrop of religious life.” (Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik)
“It is not enough for the Jew to rest content with his own spiritual ascent, the elevation of his soul in closeness to G-d, he must strive to draw spirituality down into the world and into every part of it – the world of his work and his social life – until not only do they not distract him from his pursuit of G-d, but they become a full part of it.” (Rabbi M. M. Schneerson)
“If there is a religious agency in our lives, it has to appear in the manner of our times. Not from on high, but a revelation that hides itself in our culture, it will be ground-level, on the street, it’ll be coming down the avenue in the traffic, hard to tell apart from anything else.” (E. L. Doctorow)
“The first message that Moses chose to teach the Jewish people as they were about to enter the Land of Israel was to fuse heaven to earth, to enable the mundane to rise up and touch the Divine, the spiritual to vitalize the physical, not only as individuals but as an entire nation.” (Rabbi A. Y. Kook)
Art combining pride in roots with an overview of the world as seen by others
The ingathering of the Jewish people into their ancestral homeland in the Land of Israel at the time that many other peoples are being dispersed into new host countries would seem to be a countertrend to the powerful forces of globalization. However, the rebirth of the Jewish State and the ingathering of the exiles plant roots that provide the sure footing required to play the fast-moving globalization game. Nearly seven decades after its rebirth, Israel has emerged as a major player in the world as the start-up nation in hi-tech, medicine, agriculture, and water management.
Vibrant Zionist art draws on the creative tension and energetic interplay between subjugation and freedom, between narrow unidirectional thought and open-ended systems thought, between spiritual and material realms, between traditional values and scientific and technological development, between war and peace, between hatred and brotherhood, between local action and global outreach, and between being rooted in one’s own culture and exploring others. This tension and interplay is the stimulus and raw material for creating art to revitalize Jewish culture while offering fresh directions for the growth of art globally.
Art confronting hatred, bigotry, racism, terrorism, and cults of death with moral outrage
In the tradition of Picasso’s Guernica, I have created a work of webart http://www.futureholocaustmemorials.blogspot.com to warn the world of Iran’s quest for a nuclear bomb to “wipe Israel off the map.” Just as the world’s acquiesce to Hitler’s raining bombs on the Basque village Guernica gave him the license to proceed with preparing for WW II and exterminating the Jews of Europe on his way to global conquest, the world’s indifference to the thousands of rockets launched against Israel by Iran’s proxy armies, Hamas and Hezbollah, are empowering Iran to incinerate the Jews of Israel as a prelude to the Islamist’s global jihad.
My webart cries out “Never Again!” to the apathetic world of nations that did little to prevent the murder of six million Jews in Europe or collaborated with the Nazis in their extermination. It issues a powerful warning to these same nations now pressuring the Jews, the indigenous people of the Land of Israel, to surrender its historic heartland for establishing a Palestinian terrorist state. It exposes the fact that the majority of the Arabs living in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza freely elected the Iranian proxy Hamas thugs whose genocidal charter reads: “Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims…. Muslims will fight the Jews…for the sake of Allah! I will assault and kill, assault and kill, assault and kill.”
Art promoting an aesthetic peace between the Jewish State and its neighbors
Pursuing peace is a central value of Judaism. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, is mentioned 237 times in the Hebrew Bible and scores of times in the Jewish liturgy. Peace is offered in Israel’s Declaration of Independence: “We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land.”
Despite virulent Islamist anti-Semitism and genocidal aims, Israel continues to seek peace. However, all political processes and road maps from Oslo to Obama were doomed to failure because the Arab conflict is not political but rather an aesthetic problem that calls for an artistic solution. In my exhibition Aesthetic Peace Plan for the Middle East at the Jewish Museum of Prague and on the Internet at http://aestheticpeace.blogspot.com, I propose an aesthetic solution that creates a new metaphor for peace derived from Islamic art and thought.
Islamic art teaches Arabs to see their world as a continuous geometric pattern that extends across North Africa and the Middle East. They see Israel as a blemish that disrupts the pattern. It is viewed as an alien presence that they have continually tried to eliminate through war, terrorism, and political action. A perceptual shift that can lead to a genuine peace can be derived from Islamic art and thought. In Islamic art, a uniform geometric pattern is purposely disrupted by the introduction of a counter-pattern that demonstrates that human creation is less than perfect. Since Islam believes that only Allah creates perfection, rug weavers from Islamic lands intentionally weave a patch of dissimilar pattern to break the symmetry of their rugs.
Peace will come from a fresh metaphor in which the Islamic world sees Israel’s existence as Allah’s will. A shift in viewpoint where Israel is perceived as the necessary counter-pattern in the overall pattern of the Islamic world will usher in an era of peace. The Koran (Sura 17:104) teaches that the ingathering of the Jewish people into its historic homeland in the midst of the Islamic world is the fulfillment of Mohammed’s prophecy: “And we said to the Children of Israel, ‘scatter and live all over the world…and when the end of the world is near we will gather you again into the Promised Land.’”
Art creating dialog between Israel and the Diaspora
Although living in Israel by a Jewish calendar, speaking Hebrew, walking on the soil of our ancestors is the Zionist ideal, the networked world provides unprecedented opportunities for Jewish artists in their ancestral homeland and those in the Diaspora to creatively interact with each other. Social media generate multiple frameworks for global communities to form and flourish. Zionist artists forming virtual communities worldwide with Israel as the central node is the realization of the dream of the cultural Zionists led by Ahad Ha’am at the First Zionist Congress in 1897.
Artists can share their creative works through social media — blogs, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Rhizome, etc. Particularly vital to the Zionist future is creative dialog and collaboration between the two largest Jewish communities. Through inspired partnerships between artists in Israel, the world center of Jewish culture, and artists in the USA, the world center of artistic innovation, a new Zionist energy will emerge and flourish.
In addition to energizing the creative dialog between Jews in Israel and United States, it is important to the Zionist enterprise in a networked world to establish a creative dialog between Israelis and Americans of diverse backgrounds. To realize this extended dialog, I created a work of participatory blogart JerUSAlem-USA linking the twenty places in the United States called ‘Jerusalem’ with the original in Israel: http://jerusalem-usa.blogspot.com. In this collaborative artwork, Americans send photographs of the twenty places in USA named “Jerusalem” to which Israelis respond with images of original Jerusalem in Israel. This digital dialog creates an interactive network of people with shared values that deepens friendships between them.
The Lubavicher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, teaches:
“The divine purpose of the present information revolution, which gives an individual unprecedented power and opportunity, is to allow us to share knowledge – spiritual knowledge – with each other, empowering and unifying individuals everywhere. We need to use today’s interactive technology not just for business or leisure but to interlink as people – to create a welcome environment for the interaction of our souls, our hearts, our visions.”