Sacred Opportunity and an Act of Faith by Rabbi David Adelson
Keep Off the Grass by Laura Kruger
Torah and the Celebration of Nature in a Time of Environmental Crisis by Adriane Leveen, Ph.D.
Rabbi David Adelson, D.Min., Dean, HUC-JIR/New York
Environmental action is spiritual work. The motivation to slow and stop climate change and protect life on our planet will need to come from awareness that the universe, or God, demands it. For Jews, this may require a new reading of our story of creation.
In a plain reading of Torah, humanity is made at the last moment of creation and is also ultimate in importance. “And God said ‘Let us make the human in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the seas, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” (Genesis 1:26) Our intellectual and technological dominance over all other species seems to justify this reading. But a different approach will be needed if we are to survive and thrive.
Kabbalistic theology offers such an approach. In non-mystical tradition, God is often described as a supernatural being, separate from the world of creation. According to Kabbalah, God is the deep structure of the universe and the energy that animates all life. Rabbi Arthur Green, in Radical Judaism (2010), offers this ecological/Kabbalistic theology:
The entire course of evolution [is] the infinitely varied
self-garbing of an endless energy flow. … But now we add
an important post-Darwinian caveat to that mystical view
of existence. The only means this One has in this process
of self-manifestation are those of natural selection and its
resulting patterns of change and growth. (p. 25)
For Rabbi Green, “nature” and “God” can therefore be synonymous. He writes additionally:
The emergence of each new life form, or even existence
form, is a new “garbing” of the eternal One or a new breath
blown forth from the inexhaustible Source. In that sense all
creatures are the “image” of God, for they all embody the
divine reality. (p.127)
We have here a total re-reading of the nature of creation. No longer is humanity ultimate. Rather, our specialness lies in our unique ability to perceive, and act on, the awareness of God in all of creation. We therefore hear a new commandment reverberating through all life. We must act to preserve the world. God is not yet done becoming. Jewish environmental action today to reverse climate change secures that continued divine unfolding in our world. Such work is our sacred opportunity and an act of faith.
Laura Kruger, Curator, Dr. Bernard Heller Museum
Catastrophic storms. Earthquakes. Rising tides. Floods. Inexplicable cracks in the earth. Weird animal behavior. Temperatures heating up. The planet cooling. Icebergs melting, breaking apart to crash into distant shores. Vast numbers of endangered species at risk of extinction – gone forever.
These events are not happening to other people – they are happening to each and every one of us, unifying us in a manner we never contemplated. Wealth and education cannot protect us. Fortress walls cannot shield us. The word apocalypse is rife in conversations – and yet we do nothing.
Former Vice President Al Gore, in his compelling book “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006), alerted us:
“You see that pale, blue dot? That’s us. Everything that has
happened on that pale blue pixel. All the triumphs and all
the tragedies, all the wars, all the famines, all the major
advances – it’s our only home. And that is what is at stake,
our ability to live on planet Earth, to have a future as a
civilization. I believe this is a moral issue, it is your time
to seize this issue; it is our future.”
Scientific phrases such as “greenhouse gas emissions” are not well understood by most of our population. The pros and cons of more action or less do not seem to move beyond the conversational, and every day that slips by us in our collective present is a slow approach to disaster. We can make change happen but time may be against us.
The 2017 internationally renowned fine art exposition, the Venice Biennale, featured an exhibition pavilion titled ‘Vanishing Lands’ that was sponsored by the State of Israel.
It movingly grappled with this dialogue. Through the eyes and hands of international artists, photographers, and sculptors, the viewer was confronted with, however beautiful or magnetic, the terrifying consequences of our climate status. No fresh water for crops or thirst, soil too dry to support agriculture.
Why is this Jewish seminary’s museum presenting a significant exhibition focused on the subject of climate change and global warming? It is because of our collective concern with the seemingly unstoppable calamities befalling our planet Earth. Are these drastic events new or have they been silently creeping up on us over the millennia? Are they inevitable or is this a pattern of human disregard and abuse of our collective inheritance?
The fundamental concept of Judaism is that God created the earth. Our ancient sages and rabbis have endowed us with a heritage of advice which, however well intended, cannot stem the tides of poor stewardship.
This art exhibition confronts a wide range of topics, including the decimation of the insect populations including bees whose absence cancels out pollination of all growing plants, grains, and trees. The result: no bees, no trees. The meltdown of ice caps, frozen lakes, the diversion of water supply, the rising sea levels and floods, are occurring in all sectors of our planet. On the human disaster scene, refugees from hunger are roaming in search of havens, refugees from flooding and spontaneous forest fires are suddenly homeless.
Scientists, inventors, and humanists are turning their skills and attentions to these fast-moving events. We are not naïve enough to believe that art can correct any of these pending disasters. However, the language of art has a powerful visual and educational impact and can play a role in the urgently needed movement to correct human habits.
Adriane Leveen, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Bible and Lead Judaica Specialist in the Jim Joseph Initiatives, HUC-JIR/New York
For now the winter is past; the rains are over and gone.
The blossoms appear in the land,
The time of singing has come
And the voice of the turtledove is heard in the land…
And the vines in blossom give forth their fragrance…1
Song of Songs 2:11-13
Having returned to the East Coast almost 11 years ago after many years in California, I was struck as if for the first time at the changing of the seasons. I grew up in the East, familiar throughout my childhood with the beauty of a summer day, the extraordinary, multi-colored change of leaves in the fall, the winters in their majestic white silences, and above all, the spring. I delighted in returning again to that cycle, largely absent in California, even in New York’s urban landscape. Each February, I am on the lookout for the snowdrop followed by the crocus, daffodil, tulip, and iris, each appearing at its set time. Except when they don’t.
This past winter, icy cold and strong winds seemed to disappear in a February marked with unseasonably warm, summery days only to return in dramatic March snowstorms four weeks in a row. Crocuses came and went and came again in that snow while buds on park trees arrived so late I feared they wouldn’t appear at all. Storms are now more severe, temperatures more unpredictable. The world and its patterns as we knew them even 20 years ago are gone. In its place is a climate globally out of sync. Melting glacier ice, rising oceans, drought, lethal flooding, and severe hurricanes are the new norm. Nature is giving us the clearest of warnings. We must act on its behalf, and ours, before it is too late.
To do so, we have to face the extent of the climate crisis. The artists in this exhibition invite us to do so by documenting not only the glories of nature, therefore what is at stake, but also by raising an urgent, creatively provocative environmental alarm. Uniquely, this exhibition contextualizes the climate crisis within a natural world first celebrated in Jewish texts such as the Torah. Both as a biblical scholar and as an environmental activist, I deeply value the Torah’s depiction of the natural world in relationship to human beings and as a witness to God’s magnificence while reminding us of our responsibilities to both.
In the gorgeous poetry of the Song of Songs, the lover imagines her beloved in a bed of spices, a garden of lilies while, he, in a mirror of his beloved, conjures up pomegranates, the fragrance of luscious fruits and flowing water to capture her beauty. The song’s poet provides nature as backdrop to argue for the naturalness of sensuous, physical love and to celebrate such love.
The composer of Psalm 104:10-17b expands the canvas of the lovers by depicting the interdependence, harmony, and abundance of each element of the natural world:
You let loose the springs in valleys, among the mountains they go.
Giving drink to all beasts of the field; the wild asses slake
Above them birds of the sky dwell, from among the
foliage they sing.
You water mountains from Your lofts, from the fruit of Your
work the earth is sated.
Making…grass for the labor of humankind to bring forth
bread from the earth,
wine that gladdens the heart of mortals…bread that sustains
the heart of mortals…
The trees of God drink their fill, the cedars of Lebanon, God’s
where the birds make their nest…
Both passages suggest a deep familiarity with, and respect for, the natural world, especially its ability to provide for all that lives. According to these biblical poets, everything has its place – birds and beasts, human lovers, trees and water –and everything is sustained by the loving cultivation of the source of all being – God. Pope Francis gently notes: “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.”2 How careless we are with such a gift!
Remember that the Torah begins with God as a creator and a gardener. While God uses the language of dominion and conquest to command our rule over the divinely created world in Genesis 1, in a striking and significant revision of that language in Genesis 2:15 God does nothing less than transform our relationship to the earth. Depending on how one translates the Hebrew, we are commanded not only to work the earth but also to guard it, not only to till it but to tend to it, to serve and to preserve it. Pope Francis highlights the repercussion of this one simple phrase: “This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.”3 I am grateful that interpreters of different faiths have found common ground in the call of Genesis 2:15 to be stewards of the earth that God has bequeathed us all.
The biblical prophets teach us that Jewish tradition demands action – mitzvoth – in order to “give concrete shape to our most valued principles.”4 Torah conveys the value of nature as a reflection of God’s care and the responsibility that we have to protect it, especially for future generations. As put beautifully by Daniel Swartz,
Our sages…always viewed the fate of future generations with
utmost concern, always sought to avoid endangering future
generations with the same zeal with which they sought to
protect their own. For our covenant is not just ‘with those
standing here with us this day,’ but also ‘with those who are
not here with us this day’ (Deuteronomy 29: 13-14), that is,
with all the future generations.5
May it be so.
1. My translations of Song of Songs and Psalm 104:10-17 are influenced by R. Alter and JPS.
2. Encyclical letter LAUDATO SI’ of the Holy Father Francis on care for our common home.
4. Rabbi Daniel Swartz, Israel Environment and Nature: A Brief History of Nature in Jewish
Texts. www.Jewishvirtuallibrary.org /a brief-history-of nature-in-Jewish-texts.
The Mitzvah of the Honeybee, 2018
Gouache and collage, 30" x 22"
Adler fills her painting with symbols marking her gratitude to the bee. She is concerned that the honeybees, which pollinate our crops, are threatened by pesticide spraying. Harmful pesticides not only reduce the yield of cross-pollinated crops, they kill bees and other helpful insects. Her symbols include a dead bee, apples and honey to eat on Rosh Hashanah, a K confirming that all honey is kosher, and the inscriptions of Chai and 18, denoting life.
Haywagon, 1995 (detail)
Acrylic on canvas, 56" x 90"
Annenberg’s work highlights a new kind of refugee – the climate refugee. A drought in Syria from 2006 to 2011, during which seventy-five percent of the farms had failed, brought more than a million people to the cities. In anticipation of the forced migration of their populations due to rising seas, the governments of many islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans have bought land in Australia, Fiji, and New Zealand. Reflecting this reality, Annenberg’s wagon is filled with seated faceless people advancing toward the viewer, followed by a stream of humanity receding into the distance, while the scorched earth and foliage rise to a spewing volcanic cone and the horizon reveals the shapes of a distant urban skyline.
Charcoal on rag paper, mylar, construction mesh, 96" x 48" x 24"
Caused by global warming, massive chunks of ice break away from sheets of glacial ice. These sculptural but dangerous towers of frozen water and sea debris float dangerously in our seas impeding shipping and fishing.
Print, 16" x 14"
Images from Band’s new aleph-bet book, All the World Praises You, joyfully illustrate the relationship between Jewish spirituality and environmentalism. Each painting depicts a biblical verse that highlights a single kind of life-form or natural phenomenon, most of which are endangered today.
Sea Stars, 2014
Encaustic on wood, 16" x 16"
Banner’s work explores the multi-layered beauty and complexity of nature and restores our sense of respect and reverence for nature. Her abstracted works, based on deep observation, express the conditions of impermanence and intrinsic mystery.
Submerged City: Manhattan, 2018
Photo collage print, 20" x 16"
Bassis’s art examines social and political issues, including the risk to coastal cities as experienced during Hurricane Sandy. She expresses concern that the rising seas and the possibility of widespread flooding have become real, endangering New York City. Bassis urges us to act now, lest the cities we inhabit be only memories, viewed under glass in
a science experiment.
Out of the Ashes, 2017
Photograph, 16" x 20"
After wildfires in Northern California destroyed the Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Newman, Berger, a press photographer, captured this view of the camp’s distinctive hillside Star of David, a symbol of strength, resilience, and hope for the future, which had miraculously survived the fire.
There Will Be a Tomorrow, 2018
Acrylic on canvas, 28" x 22"
Inspired by the January 2018 fires and mudslides in Montecito, California, and the call to action for climate control, Berger depicts the devastation of the fire, the survival of grasses, marshes, and wildlife, and the hearty cactus, the icon of survival and metaphor for Californians.
Turtle Pond, ReVision, 2008
Manipulated photographs, 8¾" x 20"
“Turtle pond, Green as pea soup. The egrets preen.” This work depicts the degradation of the ponds in Central Park during the summer, when they are covered with deadly algae due to polluted run-off and excessive heat. It is from a series in which an imaginary image is based on a slight difference in time, but not of space.
A Yard of Grass, 2018
Recycled tin cans, 6" x 36" x 6"
With thicker leaves and a rapid growth rate, grass cleans the air faster than native plants. Grasses absorb greenhouse gasses and transform them into oxygen. Turf grasses and soil microbes reduce environmental contamination by purifying water and breaking down pollutants as they move through the root zone.
Solar Mamas, 2017
Collage, 20" x 24"
Boles’s art focuses on diverse cultures and their relationships within social institutions, with a strong emphasis on women’s roles in society. “Solar Mamas” refers to villagers seeking to improve their condition with alternative, modern ways of obtaining energy for the home – the use of solar energy.
Pigmented ink jet print, 20" x 16"
Braunstein and Raphael collaborate to create works of art focusing on the crisis caused by rising global temperatures and to raise awareness of the challenges we face. A seemingly whimsical figure peers through telescopic lenses into a smoky future.
Wood, 52" x 32" x 5"
Crafted from a piece of eucalyptus wood charred in an Australian forest fire, Brosk illuminates the condition of the tree before and after the ﬁre.
Man Watching His House Burn, 2017
Watercolor, 11" x 14"
This work was inspired by the California drought and ensuing fires and mudslides that brought tragedy and devastation to so many homes and lives. Knowing the area and people who lived there, Caspe painted this work to commemorate their loss, grief, and suffering.
5th Avenue Recycling, 2014
Photograph, 20" x 24"
Recycling minimizes global warming: when a product is recycled, natural resource consumption and landfill congestion are reduced. Aluminum cans can be recycled and returned “new” to the grocery shelf in about two months. Discarded aluminum cans remain in can form for up to
Escarpment with Melting Snow, Greenland, 2015
Oil on canvas, 20" x 30"
Painting arctic regions of Alaska, Norway, and Greenland, Clark is particularly aware of climate change. A slight increase in temperature, bringing averages above the freezing point, completely alters the character of the region. The community in this painting soon may be flooded.
Photograph, 18" x 27"
The oceans of the world are awash with discarded trash that degrades and sinks or drifts ashore, as seen in this photograph in which the sea is spewing trash onto the beach at Haifa, Israel. There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea. This accumulating mass of ocean debris has deadly consequences for seabirds, fish, and marine animals.
Polar Overview, 2012
Painted paper collage, 19" x 31¾"
While most global maps have the equator at the midpoint, these maps are from the polar point of view. In her travels, Eller saw the melting glaciers of Alaska and her work reflects her fear that the north and south poles are in danger.
Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin,
Idol with Clay Feet, 2017
Mixed media sculpture, 86" x 26"
Whimsical at first glance, the earth at the pinnacle of this tower of technological rubble views us through sad eyes. Inscribed on its hat is Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin from the Book of Daniel, words of warning to a greedy king. The iconic “handwriting on the wall” predicts inevitable misfortune.
The Vanishing Landscape, 2018
Deconstructed photograph on acrylic, 24” x 36”
This work represents the illusion of perfection. A commonplace landscape, the photograph displays a beaver lodge in the center of a pond. Approaching the photograph, the pixelations emerge and seem to grow, causing the original image to disintegrate and vanish before the viewer’s eyes. Witnessing such change is disorienting. Frankel enables the viewer to actively envision and experience the degenerative effects of global warming.
Ice Fishing, Birobidzhan, 1988
Photograph, 13" x 19"
Ice fishing, the practice of catching fish with lines and fish hooks or spears through an opening in the ice on a frozen body of water, is a winter pastime for many people who live in northern climes. Anglers often drive their cars or trucks onto the ice to their preferred fishing spot. With climate change models predicting warmer temperatures, we can expect to see fewer ice-covered lakes as each year passes.
Cracked Earth in Central Negev, 2004
Photograph, 29½" x 39"
Getraide recognizes that, in selecting a segment of the environment to see, his photography may cause a separation between the chosen frame and its natural environment. His overarching concern is that man is destroying nature’s creation – obliterating landscapes, leveling forests, diverting rivers, and rending the skies with huge buildings and smoke stacks. The cracked earth depicted here is witness to the barrenness of the land that may be future generations’ inheritance.
Forest Floor, 2017
Oil on canvas, resin, gold, foil, twigs, 16½" x 28"
Giotsas uses concrete and natural tree resins from the Greek island of Chios. Painting with textured cement, earth, and other natural materials, he evokes a sense of a lost ancient culture and environment.
Rain Gauge - New Ritual Object, 2018
Silver plate, glass, metal fabrication, sand blasting, 11½" x 6"
As a kibbutz member and farmer for over three decades, the artist has experienced the consequences of global warming at first hand. He reinterprets the classic farmer’s rain gauge as a new ritual object by sandblasting the Torah text of Deuteronomy 11:13-14 on the glass surface: “If you heed my mitzvot, I will give youthe rain of your land in its due season.”
Wind Power, Hope: The Front Line, 2014
Photograph, 13" x 19½"
Gorevic sees windmills, physically beautiful structures, as essential to the future of mankind. Modern windmills take the form of wind turbines that generate electricity. Thin, sleek structures with three blades, they are made of steel or aluminum unlike the earlier bulky wooden forms. Wind-powered energy does not leave waste that endangers people and the environment. Gorevic hopes that her work will convince those who oppose windmills to understand their value and support increased production.
Pastel, cutout canvas, 76" x 52"
In Survival, Graupe-Pillard addresses the damage wrought by hydro-fracking. The central figure is a silhouette of a stooped woman carrying a heavy sack. Interior imagery shows the leakage of methane molecules into her body and surrounding waters. Her attempt to capture and trap the fracking liquid and toxic gasses in her bag – to prevent further destruction of the aquifers, marine life, vegetation, and the health of the populace – is futile. A cast shadow – a warning for the future – makes this Sisyphean effort ever-more poignant.
At the Dead Sea, 2017
Photograph, 16" x 20"
This photograph depicts performance artist/curator Doron Polak shoveling soil on the shore of the shrinking Dead Sea. Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel divert and draw water from the Jordan River and its tributaries, thus reducing the amount of fresh water that enters the Dead Sea. In addition, environmental changes caused by global warming and regional drought have resulted in its rapid and increased evaporation. In the past 27 years, the Dead Sea has lost 88.6 feet.
Bereshit: In the Beginning, 1978
Paper erosion, 22" x 11"
From his childhood in Bat-Yam, Israel, an area of endless sand dunes, Grünberg was intrigued with the process of change. The relationship between the surface and beneath the surface became an underlying motif of his work. His erosion series are not models of excavations nor are they a response to abstract natural beauty. We see an artistic rendering of the gradual abrasion of earth, sand, or rock by natural or human means.
Unknown Species, 2016
Oil, alkyd, ink on linen, 36" x 30" x 1½"
Gurton’s Unknown Species series consists of paintings that contain concentric circular lines and colors that mimic natural patterns found in pieces of agate, rings in trees, mold, and most importantly, microscopic cells. This landscape, incorporating concentric circles, reminds us of the passage of time. Gurton’s work, rejoicing in nature, challenges us to advocate for sustainable development of our precious, vulnerable resources.
Arctic Circle, 2018
King Features syndicated cartoon, 13" x 19"
The New York Times’ first female Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist, Hallatt is a former biochemist who is passionate about preserving and protecting the environment for future generations. In Arctic Circle, she addresses topics such as marine pollution, bird conservation, and disappearing bees. Not surprisingly, her characters – talking penguins and their fellow creatures living in the north – express her views on climate change.
Print, 22½" x 28¾"
Halter’s prints of Masada and the Dead Sea are designs for stained glass windows. Masada, the ancient fortress city, overlooks the receding Dead Sea, rapidly disappearing due to human exploitation of its minerals and the lack of replenishment of its waters.At the time of the Jewish-Roman revolt in 74 CE, the Dead Sea was a single, large body of water that remained so until the late 20th century, when phosphate mining and diversion of the Jordan River resulted in two shrinking basins. In the fascinating geological history of this region, what is now desert was
once submerged beneath the seas for thousands of years.
Daddy Plants a Carob Tree, 2018
Ink drawing, 8" x 11"
Harchol addresses psychological, sociological, and ethical themes through narrative drawings, paintings, animation, and film, usually featuring Harchol and his parents. This drawing was inspired by a story in the Talmud in which Honi the Circlemaker encounters an old man planting a carob tree. Honi asks the man how long it will take to grow fruit; the man replies, “Seventy years.” When Honi points out that the man will be dead by the time the tree grows fruit, the man explains that when he was young he ate fruit from carob trees and when he has passed, others will be able to eat the fruit from the carob trees he is planting. This story embodies our responsibility towards future generations.
Bloated Frog, 2003
Oil on canvas, 16¼" x 13¼"
In ancient Judaic tradition, the stigma surrounding frogs was so great that simply touching one made a person impure. "Indicator species," such as frogs, are organisms that are sensitive to changes in their environment and thus are vital tools for monitoring the health of an ecosystem. As amphibians, frogs are useful for monitoring both terrestrial and aquatic environments. Currently, frogs are showing signs of distress, mutating and dying out at unprecedented rates due to invading species of fungi, pesticides, and chemical waste in the water.
Global Waters, 2016
Mixed media, each 8" diameter
One globe reflects the beauty and purity of natural waters over the entire globe. Created from tiny Czech beads, lined with silver, the globe glows and sparkles. The currents undulate with the pattern of the beading itself, as one imagines the earth as seen from the heavens. The partner globe, in contrast, is composed of refuse embedded in netting: vegetable packages, salt, sand, mica, metal shavings, coke cans, wrappings from the grocery, and a variety of materials that clog our waters.
Banana Plant, 1998
Pastel, crayon, ink, 30" x 23"
The 93-year-old artist Hilu embraces nature with exuberant energy. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has fostered his curiosity and sense of stewardship of the environment. The Garden’s majestic banana plants have found their portraitist in Hilu.
Revolutions of Gaia: This Is Our Time, 2018
Mixed media on canvas, 6' x 6'
“The gift of all life and earth must be cherished. Time to wake up and live in harmony with Creation to respect, to repair, and to renew.”
Civilization 5, 2005
Found objects, clear resin, plexiglass, 8" x 8"x 6"
In Hirschl’s work, the deer is the first witness to human destruction of nature. Her use of resin in these sculptures is meant to evoke not only inland flooding, but petrification. This aquarium diorama predicts the flooding of the world and presents an allegory of the future of the environment.
Acrylic on canvas, 24" x 32" x 2"
Kahn’s painting evokes an ice floe or a glacier. His fascination with nature’s complex beauty has always been a major source of inspiration for his work.
Silk-screen on fused plastic bags, handsewn, 42" x 53" x 1"
Harbinger features imagery of endangered birds and text in endangered languages, including shorthand and Yiddish. The shape of the work is based on the map of Cambodia, because Cambodia is among the most vulnerable countries in the world threatened by climate change. There is a risk of losing more than 50% of the world’s bird species by 2100. Bird extinction is linked to a boom in insect population, spread of disease, and the resulting impact on agriculture and human life. The survival of bird species is directly connected to the survival of our species and our planet.
Valle de la Meuse: An Environmental Paradigm, 2015
Altered and recombined antique photo postcards, 8¾" x 15¼" x ½"
Valle de la Meuse – a booklet of images of the beauty spots of the Meuse Valley from the early 1900’s – inspired this folio of five altered and recombined antique photo postcards. The Meuse rises in France and flows through Belgium and the Netherlands before draining into the North Sea; it roughly marked the western border of the Holy Roman Empire. The river valley’s idyllic views were environmentally challenged in the 1920s and 1930s by its highly industrialized area in lower Belgium. The air became so polluted that in 1930, thousands became ill and sixty died from fluorine gas from the factories. An international agreement was signed in Belgium in 2002 to create a management system of the river by France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium.
Another Land, 2017
Mixed media on paper, 36" x 33½"
Kupferminc’s parents were Holocaust survivors who always felt like immigrants in Argentina. Kupferminc herself has never felt truly at home. She says: “I always feel that I am sitting at a table in a 'No'-place, and that is clearly seen in this image where I am comfortably sitting nowhere, bewildered about where to go. In this decade, our big homeland, the planet, is in danger. I raise a desperate question: Where will we go now?”
Scanning electron micrographs, 17" x 23"
Diatoms are a type of phytoplankton (suspended, microscopic plants) that are indicators of long-term climate variability in the open ocean. These single-celled algae, along with other phytoplankton, make up the foundation of the ocean’s food web. They are also responsible for over half of the world’s photosynthetic activity as they produce the majority of atmospheric oxygen and use up carbon dioxide. Their ability to photosynthesize is hindered by warmer, lower-nutrient waters. This means as the oceans warm, plankton can’t remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. More atmospheric carbon dioxide leads to warmer global temperatures, in turn leading to lower photosynthetic activity, etc., creating a feedback loop. Diatoms and other phytoplankton are consequently at great and immediate risk from climate change.
The Corners of the Field (tzedakah box), 1997
Plexiglass, phototransfers, copper, and clay, 5" x 7" x 2" x 8½"
Leviticus 19:9-10 instructs that one should not completely reap the corners of the field, or gather the fallen fruit, but leave them for the poor and the stranger. London alludes to the primal, eternal hopes of the Jews for Israel as our native land in this tzedakah box. It includes copper pipes to carry water, clay to represent the arid soil, and images of the desert imprinted on the plexiglass container as a reminder of the cooperation and support that is essential for growth and peace. The box is open at the top, indicating the equality and trust between giving and taking by which human beings are responsible for each other, the true obligation of tzedakah.
Good Intentions, Gone Wrong, 2017
Gouache, 18" x 24"
This work depicts a no longer verdant and quite chaotic forest. It is the artist’s expression of his own protest against policies or priorities that are antithetical to environmental and human protection and that often result in the destruction of forests.
Harbor Plight, 2010
Watercolor, 27" x 25"
“The muck, the mire,
rubber tires and endless discarded industrial items
strewn hither and yon with ruthless abandon.
Deterioration of waterfronts once pristine,
now proving to be a haven for vermin,
offering nothing more than stench
endangering both land and sea life.
Is it the end of the world
as we know it?”
Noah’s Ark, 2007
Giclée print, 15" x 11"
Moriah explains, “The biblical story of Noah is a cautionary tale of the first natural disaster visited upon the earth, provoked by mankind.” Although we are taught to think of the animals as safe on the ark, this work depicts the devastation beneath the seeming calm of the waves.
Subway Tunnel, 2015
Watercolor, gouache, ink, and acrylic on gessoed wooden panel, 18" x 24"
“My recent paintings are inspired by New York public structures (tunnels, bridges, subways, museums) that support life in the city. In each painting there is water – sometimes torrents of water, sometimes a multitude of drops, in an onrushing assault, an insidious erosion, or a burgeoning wave. Water is the lifeblood of the planet but also the means of a destructive element threatening to inundate the vital structures and obliterate the common good.”
Industrial Slime, 2012
Oil, acrylic on canvas, 53" x 35"
“I paint, not things themselves, but my perceptions of them transformed by my imagination. This painting expresses our ambivalence – attraction and repulsion – aroused by the immense and powerful industrial constructions as they emerge in the contemporary landscape. I was inspired to paint Industrial Slime as I was driving down California’s Highway 1. I was sickened by the smoke-spewing power plant at Moss Landing.”
The 240th Mitzvah, 2015
Acrylic on canvas, 20" x 16"
Hebrew letters at the bottom of this painting denote that it depicts the 240th mitzvah, relating to agriculture. It is concerned with greed and compassion, warning the farmer not to reap the corner of his fields, but to leave the produce for the poor.
Alchemic Woods, 2006
Print, 20" x 24"
Ravà, a Venetian artist, has created a magical world of optical effects referencing aspects of the Gematria, a Kabbalistic method of interpreting the Hebrew scriptures by computing the numerical value of words, based on their constituent letters. His fusion of Hebrew letters and numbers creates a coded language inferring spiritual meaning.
Brooklyn Grange L.I.C., 2016
Oil on canvas, 24" x 30"
A rooftop farm in Long Island City, Queens is the perfect example of building roof-top green spaces as an innovative strategy to preserve our planet. As climate-proof construction, a green roof cools the building and enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of solar panels in reducing total energy costs. A green roof has economic, ecological, and societal benefits – generating happier environments, promoting sustainable living, advancing local ecology, and providing a social enterprise that is a powerful driver of positive change.
Acronym for Change, 2018
Fabric, paper, watercolor, 70" x 36"
When seeking information about climate change, Rosefsky discovered the many acronyms, representing research projects, agencies, and organizations all working to save our planet. She created a glossary of these acronyms. Using a crochet table cloth for support, and a grid pattern, she interwove ribbon, trim, and textiles into squares to create a patchwork of texture and color.
Wonders of Creation, 2000
Lithograph, 12" x 18"
“Blessed are you who has made the wonders of creation.”
This blessing is traditionally spoken upon experiencing natural wonders: lightning, thunder, the ocean, the Grand Canyon, etc.
Banner, 2018 (detail)
Block prints, acrylic, and marker on nylon, 84" x 24"
Inscribed with the text “water for life, not profit,” Rubinstein employs her art as a form of activism to protect water in Ontario, Canada. She depicts a Nestle water tower and truck above layers of water, rock, soil, animals, sealife, et al. Nestle and their bottled water business remove millions of liters of water daily from the aquifers of Wellington County, Ontario – destabilizing the water supply and ecosystems, privatizing and commodifying the precious water, and trucking and bottling it in plastic that is toxic to the environment and to human health.
September Tapestry, 2016
Wool, 100" x 65"
The stories Ruttenberg weaves infiltrate hidden corners of the viewer’s mind, brightening it with color, shading it with psychic mysteries, and taking temporary hold of our thoughts. Her sculptures can be seen on the Upper West Side’s Broadway Mall through February 2019.
Chroma S4 Blue River, 2016
Toxic acid from abandoned coal mines and mixed media on aluminum panel, 36" x 36"
While touring the southeastern part of Ohio, Sabraw was struck by the colors of the local streams – orange, red, and brown. The polluted water contained iron oxide, which was flowing freely from abandoned coal mines. Sabraw reflects, “I thought it would be fantastic to use this toxic flow to make paintings rather than with imported iron oxide. I make paintings that express the sublimity of nature but also the fragility of our relationship with it. All of my paintings use these toxic pigments in combination with standard artist colors.”
L'Aqua di Venezia, 2017
Photograph on Lexan T, glass crystals, monofilament, 11"x15"
Beneath the beautiful, ephemeral patterns on the waters of Venice’s canals lurk debris and sludge. The damask designs on the surface of the waters are caused by oil slicks rising to the surface.
Come Stand by Me, 2018 (front cover), Woven paper, 16½" x 30"
This forceful, humanist work by Scherer visually depicts the relationship between humanity and our planet. Reaching out of the darkness, hands of diverse genders, ages, and ethnicities express the imperative that people must join together to effect positive, hands-on change.
River Demons, 2015
Assemblage, laser printing, acrylic, colored pencil, 61" x 39" x 8"
“I envisioned this work after seeing a photo of an oil leakage from the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, contaminating the Hudson River. This sci-fi work anticipates how the mismanagement of resources could result in a disaster of human life replaced by giant predatory wasps and their reptilian predators. According to the scale of the work, the wasps would be the size of a city block. Over 100 defunct mud-wasp nests were scraped from my studio beams, bronzed, then fused to a topographical map of the Croton Point peninsula. Surrounding the peninsula is a montage I generated from the oil spill photo. A Victorian crest of demonic mythical figures holding torch lamps is inset with an image of nuclear bombardment of atoms and anchored by a fruit garland that contains aerial views of the three Indian Point nuclear reactors. After decades of protest by regional advocacy groups, the plant is slated to be decommissioned by April 2021.”
Puerto Rico: We Don’t Know What to Hope For, 2017
Digital print on canvas, 18" x 24"
Climate change is altering our planet. There is an increase in rain storms, heat waves, mudslides, flooding, and catastrophic erosion. Seas are rising, and rainfall and wind patterns are changing and are contributing to a shifting landscape. The varieties of transformation are infinite. Mountain creeks become rivers, land masses vanish, trees are uprooted, roads crumble, and embankments disappear. Hurricane Maria all but wiped out this beautiful island. As early as a few years ago on the eastern coast, beach areas have both diminished and/or disappeared.
Drip Irrigation, 2018
Photograph, 12" x 10"
In the unending effort to make the desert bloom, Siluk focuses on a fragile seedling. A precious drop of water is being rationed out to its roots. The tree will make it, and water will not be wasted by the process of drip irrigation. Drip irrigation was the first watering innovation in thousands of years. Instead of flooding the fields with prodigious amounts of water and fertilizer, much of which are wasted, small amounts of both are dripped directly onto the plant’s roots.
Three Trees-Variation, 2016
Print and watercolor, 10" x 14"
Spinowitz is inspired by an ancient 2nd-century poem:
God is the Lord of all creation
He called forth the sun, and it shone;
He saw fit to regulate the form of the moon
All the hosts of heaven give Him praise;
Full of splendor they radiate brightness;
Beautiful is their brilliance throughout the world
They rejoice in their rising and exult in their setting
Performing with reverence the will of their Creator
Six Days of Creation, 2013
Gouache on paper, 8½" x 28½"
Ugoretz says she was motivated by piles of trash and recycling in the streets. “I chose to arrange my images (loosely) according to the creation story in Genesis, and paint them according to the rainbow spectrum. All is natural and organic until the sixth day, when people were created. The message, of course, is that humans were created and assigned the task of caring for this sacred place. And what do we do? We generate piles of plastic! Is this what the Holy One wanted?”
Cause and Effect, 2017
Knitted plastic bags and assorted grocery wrapping items, 38" x 28"
Cause and Effect addresses the issue of industrial processes, which cause vast amounts of fossil fuels when producing plastics. In addition, plastic bags never disintegrate and are polluting our waters and landscape. As an artist who is compelled to “make things,” Weinstein felt the need to not produce another object that fills up space, instead she used material that is already in existence to make something beautiful out of ugly pollutants.
Flooding and the Flood, 2017
Oil on canvas, 42" x 31"
Weisberg’s affecting work juxtaposes two cataclysmic floods, one current, one biblical. The rescue of a mother and infant made homeless through recent flooding in many locations in the western hemisphere, including Houston, Texas, is depicted. Their images are superimposed on the biblical flood of Noah’s time. Recent floods have been attributed to extreme weather conditions associated with climate cha
Free Shipping, 2018 (back cover)
Lithograph, 22½" x 27"
Weissman visualizes the routes of the packages that arrive at our doorsteps while reflecting on the fact that Amazon alone shipped 5 billion items to Amazon Prime customers last year. 27% of the U.S. carbon footprint (defined as the total set of greenhouse gas emissions) is caused by transportation.
Dr. Bernard Heller Museum, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York
September 6, 2018 – June 28, 2019
Dr. Bernard Heller Museum, New York
Jean Bloch Rosensaft, Director
Laura Kruger, Curator
Phyllis Freedman, Rose Starr, Curatorial Assistants
Nancy Mantell, Registrar/Director of Traveling Exhibitions
Susan Rosenstein, Archivist
Isaac Dwass, Kate Oxton, Museum Interns
Catalogue Design: TabakDesign.com
Exhibition Design/Installation: Klay-James Enos
© 2018 Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Presented by the Irma L. and Abram S. Croll Center for Jewish Learning and Culture at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, with the generous support of George, z”l, and Mildred Weissman.
DR. BERNARD HELLER MUSEUM ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Laura Kruger, Chair
Jean Bloch Rosensaft, Director
Cynthia Greener Edelman
Vicki Reikes Fox
Ruth O. Freedlander
Susan K. Freedman
Cantor Mimi Frishman
Joy G. Greenberg
Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D., Interim President
Rabbi Andrea Weiss, Ph.D., Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost
Lissie Diringer, A.B., Vice President for Institutional Advancement
Elizabeth Squadron, M.S., Vice President for Program and Business Development
Barbara Telek, M.B.A., Chief Financial Officer
Rabbi David Adelson, D.Min., Dean, HUC-JIR, New York
Jean Bloch Rosensaft, B.A., Assistant Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs; Director, Dr. Bernard Heller Museum, New York
Come Stand by Me, 2018
16½" x 30"