I am celebrating Jerusalem Day as a new media artist by launching Rembrandt-inspired cyberangels from Jerusalem in Israel to states in USA with places named JerUSAlem. There are JerUSAlems in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont. A list of the locations of all 20 JerUSAlems can be found at Global Tribute to Rembrandt.
What are cyberangels?
I discovered cyberangels when I was in a Hasidic synagogue in Brooklyn listening to the chanting of the biblical portion about artists Bezalel and Oholiav building the Tabernacle. I was translating the Hebrew words into English in my mind when it struck me that the Bible’s term for “art” is malekhet makhshevet, literally “thoughtful craft.” It is a feminine term. Since I’m a male artist, I transformed it into its masculine form malakh makhshev, literally “computer angel.”
When the services ended, I ran to tell my wife Miriam that I discovered that my role as a male Jewish artist is to create computer angels. “To do what?” was her response. I reminded her of an article that our son Rabbi Ron Alexenberg had sent us a week earlier when he was archivist at HaRav Kook House in Jerusalem. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, a down-to-earth mystic who served as the chief rabbi of pre-state Israel, described the light in Rembrandt paintings as the light of the first day of Creation. I created the word “cyberangel” for my computer-generated angels inspired by Rembrandt’s drawings of angels as winged people.
I felt well equipped to create computer angels. I was head of the art department at Pratt Institute, America’s leading art college, where I taught “Fine Art with Computers,” and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies where I was creating the exhibition LightsOROT: Spiritual Dimensions of the Electronic Age for Yeshiva University Museum.
Cyberangel Flights Celebrate Jerusalem Day
“Halleluyah, Hallelu…. Blessed be the Lord from Zion who dwells in Jerusalem, Halleluyah.” (Psalm 135)
On Jerusalem Day, 28 Iyar 5780 in the Hebrew calendar (22 May 2020), cyberangels begin their virtual flights from Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book, home of ancient Bible scrolls. They gain momentum by going up from the tallest building in Israel, home of Facebook’s R&D Center, until construction is completed for the 91 story Azrieli Spiral Tower in Tel Aviv shaped as a Bible scroll.
They fly to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and Everson Museum of Art in New York State, High Museum of Art in Georgia, Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama, Hunter Museum of Art in Tennessee, Cincinnati Art Museum and Butler Institute of American Art in Ohio, Greenville Museum of Art in North Carolina, and University of Michigan Museum of Art. These ten museums have my cyberangel artworks in their collections. All these virtual flights are documented in my Global Tribute to Rembrandt blog.
Although these museums are still closed by the coronavirus pandemic, cyberangels have the power to enter their virtual spaces. High Museum of Art in Atlanta represents an exemplary digital age response to the closure. On opening the museum’s website, you read: “COVID-19: Our building may be closed, but you can still experience art 24/7. Explore High.org for social connection, virtual events, inspiring images, art activities, and informative videos.”
I am sending a cyberangel team led by the angel Raphael to the ten museums to herald the finale of the corona plague. In both Jewish and Christian traditions, the angel Raphael works to heal bodies, minds and spirits. “Raphael” is related to the word rophe, the divine healer in biblical Hebrew (Exodus 15: 26), and medical doctor in contemporary Hebrew.
If the museums’ physical space was opened, the cyberangels would enter the museums through their cafes. Why cafes? The biblical words for angel malakh and food ma’akhal are spelled with the same four Hebrew letters to teach that angels are spiritual messages arising from everyday life.
The spiritual power of digital culture in shaping the future was recognized early on by the Lubavicher Rebbe who was educated as a scientist. He wrote: “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.”
On the Wings of Eagles
“Who are these who fly like a cloud, and like doves to their roosts… to bring your sons from afar?” (Isaiah 60: 8, 9)
Cyberangel flight is a mirror metaphor for the miracle of the Jewish people returning home “on wings of eagles” (Exodus 19: 4) after 2000 years of exile. Like angels in Jacob’s dream going up and down a ladder, cyberangels on this Jerusalem Day ascend from the Holy Land bringing messages of health and peace across the globe while El Al Dreamliners are flying “from the four corners of the Earth to ingather the dispersed ones of Judah.” (Isaiah 11: 12) My son-in-law Dr. Yehiel Lasry, mayor of Ashdod, Israel’s major port city, told me that the citizens of his city were born in 99 different countries.
Through a Bible Lens
My latest book Through a Bible Lens that offers Torah insights for the new media age was published shortly before the coronavirus pandemic erupted. It anticipated the need for spiritual insights for coping with the radical changes in our lives in physical isolation while demonstrating how new media can connect us in virtual space. The book demonstrates to people of all faiths how biblical insights can transform life, in good times and bad, into imaginative ways of seeing spirituality in all that we do.
The book’s cover is based upon an artwork I created in Jerusalem that is in the collection of the Israel Museum. It shows cyberangels ascending from a NASA satellite image of the Land of Israel as they emerge from a smartphone screen. It illustrates the biblical commentary that the angels in Jacob’s dream go up from the Land of Israel and come down to earth throughout the world. “A ladder was standing on the ground, its top reaching up towards heaven as divine angels were going up and down on it.” (Genesis 28: 12) A smartphone has the power to make this vision a reality.