There is no other Jewish holiday about which I’ve created and wrote more than about these most dark eight days in any given year during which we are smiling and relaxed every evening being reassured by the growing number of candle flames in our various Hanukkiahs, being warmed up by latkes of all kinds, being laughing at a dreidel games of children. Being happy and re-charged, in the midst of a climatic annual darkness.
Not so this year. As much as I strive to be in a Hanukkah-enlightened mood, my thoughts are gleaned to the tunnels or the other dumped and dark places where 138 of our people are kept hostages for over two months after the tragic morning of the Simchat Torah. This is the second major Jewish holiday, I am thinking non-stop, that those people, their families and friends are spending in a sheer nightmare, 24/7, for the third month and counting.
The same as the families and friends of all those over 1 200 people who were murdered, many of them in the most barbarian way, on that terrible morning.
The same as the families of about 7 000 wounded people, some of them wounded really badly with amputated limbs, massive burns, and other serious traumas that has changed their lives and the lives of their families forever.
The same as the families and friends of the people who are still listed missing, after over two months of search.
The same as the families of the people who could not be identified. There are many of them. Although one is more than enough.
The same as tens of brave and diligent people who were and in some cases still are identifying the bodies. Or what has been left of them. The same as everyone from all those hundreds of our devoted people who were and still are working non-stop being members and volunteers of Mogen David, Zaka and United Hatzalah.
The same as doctors and nurses who were and are working round o’clock to heal physical wounds of our attacked people in all main hospitals in Israel, including many volunteers who came from abroad as well.
The same as psychiatrists and psychologists whose giant work has just started and which will go for years in the case of such a massive trauma of many people, in Israel but not limited to it.
This is not to speak about the IDF who has lost about 100 bravest and best during the two months of fighting the evil, with over 2550 wounded ones, some of them quite seriously.
All their faces are in front of me daily. It is the kind of pain which gets only deeper.
For all these reasons, and especially thinking of the 138 hostages who are still kept by human-shaped beasts, and their continuously tormented families, this year Hanukkah is seriously different for me.
But the essence of these eight days in December is still light, and the power of light is the most winning concept of life. In addressing this drama of Hanukkah for the special art collection that I have created this year for charitable purposes, Caring for Israel and Its People campaign, I focused on overcoming.
The overcoming that many of us are going through daily, all the days after October 7th, 2023.
Some of the works from this collection, Hanukkah: Caring Lights 2023 , are presented in this essay, with brief insights.
The Thought of Light work is about anticipation of Hanukkah, and in a wider context, anticipation of much needed light amidst darkness, both literal and metaphorical ones. Even a thought of light warms up, and the more one thinks about an ultimate re-assurance of light, the more sustainable and durable one’s strength gets. There is not without reason that Judaism distincts graphically between thoughts pronounced and those which are conceived but kept inside a person without being declared. In many cases, the silent thought is regarded as more powerful than pronounced one. Why is it so? Because in Judaism, an intention has a double-weight in human’s behaviour. Probably, because it prompts everything else. This work illustrates this approach: the thought of light intensifies its strength and colours its aura yet more powerfully.
There are two works in this collection dedicated not exactly to Hanukkah candles, but to the other candle, a rather specific one, the Havdalah candle, with which we are concluding the ceremony of Shabbat weekly. In my reading, every Havdalah, we are lighting the candle which symbolises not only the beginning of a new week, but namely distinguishing between darkness and light as it goes in a direct quote of the beautiful and wise prayer over the lighting of a Havdalah candle. This distinguishing is principally important, and it is one of the core principle of Jewish life. It is especially poignant for Jewish people world-wide after October 7th, 2023 which has become a bordering line between life and its opposite.
After the October 7th massacre, we are witnessing unprecedented solidarity and mutual attentiveness in between people in Israel and in Diaspora. Two lasting and near-each other lights in the Hanukkiah in my Brotherhood work tells just about that: nobody is left alone, everyone is continuously thought about, as at home in Israel, as abroad in Diaspora, among the world Jewry. The light of one candle warms up the space around the other one as well. And these lights are having dialogues in between themselves as well. This is an essential part of Jewish tradition: our mutual care illuminated the utmost darkness around us throughout the centuries. And it is still the case.
There are several symbols for a soul in Jewish tradition. Most often a soul is associated with doves. At the same time, a rose is probably the most important flower in the Jewish flower-related symbolism. I was lucky to create a flying rose, a bird-rose, and of a white colour, importantly, indicating purity and innocence. In the Soul Flight work, the flying white rose departing from that dramatic background is telling, or even singing a goodbye by the departing souls of our innocent people murdered with such cruelty during the October 7th massacre and thereafter. It is their good-bye to us. And our remembrance of them.
The initial version of Memory Lights work was created almost a decade ago, commemorating three innocent souls of the Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered by the Palestinian terrorists back in 2014. The work was ‘the product’ for our The Rogatchi Foundation international campaign in support of the families of the murdered boys. Decade later, I’ve made a new version of the work which features Hanukkah lights in the mirror of both the given moment and time in general. There are few constants in a life process. A human’s need of warmth, care and consolation is one of them. Jewish people not only know it extremely well, in every generation during our over 3300 recorded history, but importantly, providing it always, and it is one of our strongest features ever.
Sometimes, the creative process provides rewarding surprises. And sometimes, very rarely, these rewarding surprises are not just add some nice aesthetic connotation, but also provide a meaningful message – as it happened in The Art of Light work when an additional light has appeared in the work as if from nowhere. When an extra-light and and extra-flame of it appears amidst powerful darkness, the message is meaningful and supportive.
Another not solely Hanukkah-theme, but of a large theme of existential light work is from my Creation Stories series. The new version of it has been created for this new series recently, in which the light of the First Day, the principal source of not only life, but also wisdom and kindness in Judaism, was emphasised. The Light created on the First Day meant to begin life as conscious process, which depends, to large extent, on the strength of the light. I wanted to re-translate that basic metaphor into a visual expression of it, with hope for more light for all good people, every day, and at any given moment. There is no more assuring life-rope than light, and this is the meaning of The Light of the First Day work.
Our life gets repeatedly turbulent, as we all know. The turbulence prompted by the October 7th massacre is unprecedented in the lives of many of us, who were not living through the Shoah. This turbulence, disturbance, shaking the preceding life as well as shaking the innermost of many of us, portrayed in the Mahler Songs I work created for the new series specifically. Why Mahler? – quoting the title of great book by Norman Lebrecht. Because Gustav Mahler, whose third great-granddaughter I have an unbelievable luck of being, was given a sobering vision of the world well after his own short life-time. In Mahler’s space, we are hearing with incredible tangibility, almost seeing, the tragedies of the XX centuries. And now it is the same for the XXI century as well. We have our post October 7th perception of many things from now on.
The works like Midnight I are celebrating the very essence of Hanukkah that spreads far beyond the eight days in December. And Hanukkah, in its turn, manifests our Jewish attitude towards darkness and the forces of it in general. To the degree that it is possible to say that darkness is becoming noticeable when a contrast is created to it, and this contrast is light, as it illustrated in the Midnight I work.
In art, there is always a question about the border between realistic and metaphorical, plain and complex, direct and multi-layered. It is not the question about form and content. It is a question about attitude , and sometimes, about luck. The luck comes when a plain can be seen and portrayed as metaphorical, and when multi-layered and complexed can be expressed in the simple and laconic way.
Mahler, after Mozart, insisted that ‘the main part in music is not what could be heard in the notes, but that can be perceived in between them’. It only on the first glance is surprising that composers such far from each other as Mozart and Mahler felt absolutely identically about the secret of music which millions could not crack at any time. There is no surprise in this astonishing historical fact at all, to me. Because the genius and intellect given to both great M-s of music, with a distance of a century, they were born 104 years apart, was of the same quality and made of the same material.
This is relevant with regard to the Light Song IV work as here a plain and direct picture gets into a metaphor as if almost by itself.
There are so many dreidels in the life of Jewish families, years on. But the one seen in the Beauty of the Game work is truly special. It is a collectible hand-work masterpiece of a dreidel which symbolises not just the joy of Hanukkah, but a beauty as one of the pillars of Jewish tradition in general. This beauty-dimension starts from the Torah and gets ever stronger in all Jewish holidays, as well as in our literature and music. The special magnetism of this dimension is one of the most powerful and most merciful aspects of Jewish life, under any circumstances. It is as strong vitality-vitamin for us, as famous and never failing chicken soup of our grandmas.
In The Warmth of the Night work, I wanted to invoke a fairy-tale-like atmosphere of a Hanukkah evening closer to the end of the holiday when the growing number of candles transforms our homes into our children-time dream. For this special collection , with its special purpose to help those who need it the most, this sentiment of warmth and gentle but still warming up colours has a special connotation. We all know what orange and ginger-red colours means these days for everyone who is not indifferent towards the hostages who still are kept by the terrorists, thinking very so often about the 10-month old baby Kfir, his 4-year brother and their mom, the Bibas family, with their wounded father who is also in captivity and hold separately. This work is for them, and for everyone who is thinking and praying for their release.
The Miracle of Light is one of my favourite works in a whole 24-piece series. I did it for this collection specifically, and to me, it speaks about our Hanukkah this year, 5784. It speaks about our anguish, our pain, caused by the open enemy, but also aggravated by so many different fragments, all over the world, in so many aspects of life, often quite unexpectedly. And still, and still, – as great Elie Wiesel used to say – we are standing tall, with our heads upward, our eyes focused and our hands strong.
We are determined and able, and both determination and abilities are guaranteed by the light which is the main component of our Jewish philosophy of life. The strength of this light miraculously produces reflection of even non-existent flames, thus multiplying the message of vitality and prevailing . Does not matter what.
The faces of our murdered people are coming out of the dark and semi-dark background of the work. The more light we keep, the more faces and their features we see. We are not abandoning our people and our memory to any darkness. Never did, and never will.
Presence work is a war-time Hanukkah celebration, and its version was created for this year, with all-over military circumstances of our usually laid-back holiday of light. To celebrate in the midst of war and its losses is difficult, but it is not only possible, but necessary. One of the most telling Hanukkah-time images worldwide is the one of the soldier in Israel who is returning to the army after a short break at home. The young man who is photographed from his back, has a huge rucksack, and a lot of bags of all sorts and kinds all around him, with a Hanukkiah on the top of this small mountain. This is about us. The same as we have always had a drop of humour in the most daring and dramatic situations, as Leonard Cohen did show to the world so brilliantly, we also have a heartfelt and not manifested, low-key personal connection to our traditions which are making our life meaningful.
Caring Light , the work created specifically for the collection, is also about an unusual , dramatic time, and it is not about Hanukkah precisely, but it is the second work in the new collection about Havdalah, when we are lighting a special candle entering the new week of our life. These days, weeks, and months already , we are doing it when Israel is at war, and this war is for all the Jews whenever each of us lives. This is happening for the first time during the last 75 years, the time of three generations. And probably, it is happening for the first time in history. We do have our challenges. But we also have our strength. And its nucleus is light as a concept, value, and way of life. Those who know physics, heard about Einstein, and also understand metaphysics, know the scientific axiom telling that light is heavier than a mass. This is all one needs to know about who and why will prevail in this battle that Israel was forced to wage for every single Jew in the world.
When all eight plus one Hanukkiah candles are lit, the sensation is breath-taking, every year. In my perception, this is the unique moment when Hanukkiah starts to speak with us, lucky ones who are privileged to witness this fantastic reassuring aria of light. Because of this inner re-assurance, I am waiting for the ensemble of eight plus one Hanukkah candles this year with an enforced intensity.
The other work in its new version for the current collection, portrays continuity of Jewish tradition, Jewish home, and living legacy of it all. On the early-XIX century Burano lace piece stands the mid- XIX Venetian filigree silver Hanukkiah, whose ornament is just literally the same as the ornament of a Jewish lace-piece made at least 50 years before. The Hanukkiah reflects in the Liberty period Venetian mirror ( end of XIX – beginning of the XX century), thus producing a non-interrupted century-long time line. With live light of candles lit yet a century later, in the 2020s, the line goes on continuously. Just to think about: two centuries of Jewish devotion to our spiritual ideas in one picture. This work is dedicated to my family in which, through the generations, the stern will was perfectly married to a limitless lovingkindness. And this Hanukkiah portrait in the mirror is just about it.
The concluding work in the essay, and one of the key-works in my several Hanukkah-inspired collections, refers to the essence of this unique Jewish holiday. To our strength, our determination, our belief in light and harmony which is one of the essential principles of human existence that makes life worth it.
Hanukkah: Caring Lights 2023 collection is here to see it in full.
Caring for Israel and Its People campaign in support of hostages and their families is running during and after Hanukkah. We do believe that this difficult year, our Hanukkah lights can and should be caring ones.