Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
2005-2006
Annual Report
| Page 15
A class project required the students to prepare broad interpretations of the fifth-
century sermon for the artist and to work with him in his conceptualization of
art works. “The entire experience – for the students, the artist, Dr. Weisberg,
Nancy Berman, and me, turned out to be extraordinarily illuminating and led to
the amazing physical and spiritual reconceptualization of one of our classrooms,”
noted Barth. “The opportunity to study ancient
Midrash
with an artist opened
up new understandings and appreciation for our text and tradition.”
Fourth-year rabbinical student Ruth Adar, who sees herself as “one of the lucky stu-
dents to have been in the class,” described how their study of the ancient homily
transcended a typical lesson plan and became a learning and teaching process lead-
ing to tangible results. “Our interpretations of the text would be transmitted to the
artist, and filtered into his artistic imagination. Generations of students would be
living with the fruits of the intellectual deliberations of eleven students.”
The group’s goal was to transform one of the classrooms into a space for sacred
study that reflected the meaning of the sermon they had studied and would pro-
vide an environment of comfort and inspiration to all who entered. After hearing
students’ concerns about studying in rooms without windows, Victor Raphael
aspired “to give students a window into which they could gaze, a space that
would inspire them and allow their thoughts to percolate and gel.”
Students visited Raphael’s studio to experience his working process first-hand.
Sparks flew back and forth as we engaged in a process of investigation, interaction,
and reflection,” Raphael recalled. “The students’ enthusiasm and commitment to
the project was a true inspiration that challenged me to create what I hope will be
an enduring legacy for our efforts and a model for future projects of this kind.”
Seeing art as a form of
Midrash
enabled us to study our tradition in a new way,
and also provided us with a tool for teaching others,” stated Beth Nichols, a
fifth-year rabbinical/Rhea Hirsch School of Education student. “The experience
of working with an artist challenged me to translate textual knowledge into
visual knowledge.”
The outcome of this unique program was
Nachamu, Nachamu: The Heavens
Spread Out Like A Prayer Shawl,”
a permanent, site-specific installation in
Classroom 105. Victor Raphael’s artistic vision of “a sanctuary for learning that
is both comforting to the soul and stimulating to the imagination” becomes more
of a reality every day.
I can see the difference in energy level and attention” explains Ruth Adar. “It
is a space that speaks of care, work, and study, where the space itself is a work of
art and what goes on inside of that space is an essential part of the art installation.
The room is most complete when people are learning within it. Victor Raphael’s
transformation of an ordinary windowless classroom into a mind-expanding space
will enhance study, meditation, and learning for many years to come. But new art
and a special place is not the only transformation that has been wrought. Everyone
who participated in this project now has a far greater understanding of how art
can be nurtured through Jewish study and then brought into this world.”
1.
Dr. Ruth Weisberg, Dean, Roski School of Fine
Arts, University of Southern California, with HUC-
JIR/Los Angeles rabbinical and education student
Beth Nichols in Classroom 105.
2.
HUC-JIR/Los Angeles rabbinical, education and
communal service students in the recently trans-
formed Classroom 105, amid the installation by
artist Victor Raphael, entitled “Nachamu, Nachamu:
The Heavens Spread Out Like a Prayer Shawl.”
3.
(
From left) Dr. Lewis M. Barth, Professor of
Midrash and Related Literature; Ruth Adar, rabbinical
student; Victor Raphael, artist; Nancy Berman, Director
Emeritus of the Skirball Museum; and Alan Bloch.
4.
Jean Abarbanel, Co-Chair of the HUC-JIR/Los
Angeles Enhancement Committee, speaking at the
dedication of Classroom 105.
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the Midrash Classroom