Friday round up: Feb. 11

"That’s Not Land, That’s Sky"
“That’s Not Land, That’s Sky” (Courtesy of Anna Fine Foer)

Hazon’s Shmita Prizes recognize art by Baltimore-area residents

Two Baltimore-area artists, Rabbi Benjamin Shalva and Anna Fine Foer, are among the winners of this year’s Shimta Prizes, run by Hazon, a national Jewish environmental organization that began merging last year with the Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown.

The Shmita Prizes, and the larger Shmita Project they are a part of, grew out of an interest in exploring the traditional Jewish practice of shmita, which calls for land in Israel to be left unattended for one year out of every seven, said  Sarah Zell Young, Hazon’s director of strategic partnerships.

“We wanted to use the power of the art to explore the intersection of shmita teachings and contemporary Jewish life,” said Young, a resident of Highland Park, N.J. “The Shmita Prizes [are] a call for creatives to engage with shmita to bring focus and relevancy for shmita values in our contemporary world.”

Shalva won first prize in the written word category for his short story “Thistle,” while Foer received an honorable mention for her fine art piece “That’s Not Land, That’s Sky.”


Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom hosts joint Shabbat service with other Reform synagogues

Clergy from three synagogues came together on the bima of Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation on Jan. 28 for a joint Shabbat service in partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism.

Joining HSOSC’s Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi and Cantor Alexandra Fox were Rabbi Andy Gordon of Bolton Street Synagogue and Rabbi Andrew Busch and Cantor Ben Ellerin of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. They were also joined by the URJ’s Cantor Rosalie Will.

The three Reform congregations normally hold  joint services once or twice a year, said Fox. The responsibility of hosting the joint service typically rotates between the participating synagogues. As HSOSC is still a relatively new synagogue, following the 2019 merger of Har Sinai Congregation and Temple Oheb Shalom, this was the first time HSOSC had hosted the joint service. 

“Because our visiting guest was a cantor, we really played up the music a lot,” Fox said. “One of the biggest differences is that there were so many voices on the bima … it allowed the three cantors to really harmonize and sing a lot of beautiful things that are not possible to execute in the same way with just one singer, one cantor.”


Art Spiegelman, speaking to Tennesseeans, says ‘Maus’ controversy is ‘about controlling’

Art Spiegelman, author of “Maus,” stated that the decision of the Tennessee school board of McMinn County to remove his book was done more out of ignorance than out of malevolence, JTA reported.

Speaking virtually in an event organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga, Spiegelman at first acknowledged that he originally had ambiguous feelings about his Holocaust memoir being taught in middle schools. 

“At first I agreed with the school board,” Spiegelman told the virtual audience, explaining that in some cases it might be best to wait until students reached college.

That said, Spiegelman took issue with the specific objections the school board had with his book, saying they were “deeply troubling.” The board’s objections dealt with such things as the book’s language, illustrating dead Jews as mice and depicting Spiegelman’s nude mother committing suicide after the war.

“They want a fuzzier, warmer, more gentler Holocaust that shows how great the Americans were when coming in to liberate,” Spiegelman said.

Spiegelman saw the school board’s decision as related to “strong political headwinds,” reflected in similar actions being taken in other parts of the country. This included new state laws focused on race education and a book burning near Nashville led by a pastor. 

“What’s going on now is about controlling: controlling what kids can look at, what kids can read, what kids can see,” Spiegelman said. “And it makes them less able to think, not more. And it takes the form of criticisms from this board.”


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