Peachy Levy: Threads of Judaism

Monday, October 1, 2007

HUC-JIR Museum
One West 4th Street
New York, New York

  • On View: September 4, 2007 - January 27, 2008
  • Artist's Reception: Wednesday, November 7, 2007, 6-8 PM 

Noted Los Angeles textile artist Peachy Levy is inspired by Judaism's tradition, practices, and the beauty of Hebrew texts: the connective tissue of the Jewish people and its history. Levy's alternative visual language, steeped in symbolism, conveys a unique interpretation of sacred texts. 

This exhibition features her most recent works that were inspired by Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), one of the 63 tractates found in the Mishnah, the code of Jewish law compiled in the early third century, C.E. Pirke Avot, an anthology of stories and maxims, expresses the authority of the rabbis, who succeeded the prophets and priests as educators and leaders of the Jewish community following the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. The rabbis stressed study as a religious act, Torah as the core text, the intergenerational links of Torah interpretation, and Torah and its commentary as the literature that mirrors and shapes all Jewish experience. 

The interweaving of text and interpretation comes to life in Levy's textile works, which feature the techniques of appliqué, chain-stitch embroidery, and trapunto work. She embeds her works with inscriptions of the sayings of the rabbis, surrounded by symbolic imagery that visually amplifies the meanings of their teachings. Her symbols include the Torah scroll; the seven-branched menorah, the earliest symbol of Judaism, alluding to the seven days of creation; the pomegranate, described in the Bible as adorning the priestly garment hem and said to contain 613 seeds, reflecting the number of obligations required of observant Jewish practice; flowering trees, expressing the affirmation of the Torah as a source of life; the crown, symbolizing the authority of the Torah; inscriptions of the names of the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, signifying the continuity from generation to generation; the Hebrew letter shin, representing the name of God; stalks of wheat, referring to sustenance of Torah; and the tablets of the Ten Commandments, emblematic of the values that derive from studying Torah and living justly. Levy's themes include some of the key sayings of Pirke Avot, including:

  • The world stand on three things: Torah, worship, and acts of loving kindness;
  • Do not separate yourself from the community;
  • The more Torah, the more life; the more schooling, the more wisdom; the more counsel, the more understanding; the more charity, the more peace;
  • You are not required to finish the work, neither are you free to desist from starting it;
  • Where there is no sustenance, there is not Torah; where there is no Torah, there is no sustenance;
  • Go and study; and
  • What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man.

Levy expresses a feminist understanding of Jewish text and practice in these works. Her belief in gender equality is seen in Ushpizot, a tapestry created shortly after her mother's death. She utilized textiles from her mother's collection of formal gowns to depict seven Biblical women: Eve, Sarah, Deborah, Miriam, Esther, Avigail, and Hulda, for a wall covering for the Sukkah - the outdoor structure used during the fall festival of Sukkot, evoking the temporary dwellings used by the Israelites during their Exodus journey in the desert. Breaking from the tradition of symbolic representations of the patriarchs as the special guests in the Sukkah, Levy's female guests evoke the heroism, strength, and wisdom of celebrated women, and express Levy's personal memories of her mother, as well. 

Levy's work reflects the inner dialogue between the artist's Jewish life and the rich heritage of Jewish tradition and culture. Her works create a new symbolic language through visual imagery that connects the human imagination and spirit.

  • Exhibition Catalog: Foreword by Rabbi David Ellenson, Essays by Rabbi Norman J. Cohen, and Laura Kruger, 20 pages; 11 illustrations.
  • Museum Hours:
    - Monday-Thursday, 9 PM - 5 PM; Friday, 9 AM - 3 PM
    - Selected Sundays, 10 PM - 2 PM on September 30; October 14, 28; November 11; December 2, 16; January 13, 27
  • Admission: Free. Photo ID Required.
  • Tours/Information: Contact Elizabeth Mueller at (212) 824-2205 oremueller@huc.edu

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu