fbpx

“Holy Sparks” Exhibition Celebrates 50 Years of Women in the Rabbinate

Twenty-four leading contemporary Jewish women artists immersed themselves in their respective rabbi’s worlds to create works informed by the rabbi's life story, vision and mission.
[additional-authors]
March 31, 2022
“Orange” (2021), Penny Wollin’s multi-image photograph on canvas of Rabbi Sharon Brous. Images courtesy Holy Sparks.

How do you illustrate the commitment and vision – along with the contributions and challenges – of 50 years of women in the rabbinate? You produce an art exhibition highlighting female rabbis who were “firsts “in their time. 

“I feel passionate about the work rabbis do and the radical transformation women rabbis have made in Judaism,” Ronda Spinak, founder and artistic director of The Braid and co-director of The Braid’s Story Archive of Women Rabbis, said. “What better way to celebrate this moment in history than to see their stories shared in a work of art?”

Artist Dorit Jordan Dotan honors LA-based Rabbi Denise Eger with her painting Angel’s Embrace, 2021.

Twenty-four leading contemporary Jewish women artists immersed themselves in their respective rabbi’s worlds to create works informed by the rabbi’s life story, vision and mission. These “chosen” rabbis represent the achievements of the nearly 1,500 women rabbis of all movements who have transformed Jewish tradition, worship, spirituality, scholarship, education and pastoral care.

“Each of the artists’ works is exceptional in capturing the vision and vitality of their subject and offering a visual surprise to the viewer,” Jean Bloch Rosensaft, director of the Dr. Bernard Heller Museum Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), said.

The works in the exhibition range from representational to conceptual portraits of the rabbis created in a variety of mediums, including photography, textiles, painting, mixed media, collage, illustration and recycled materials.

California-based photographer Penny Wolin did a compilation of photographs of Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR entitled “Orange.”

“I think all this work speaks of women in Judaism and women rabbis,” said Wolin. “It shows that we change, we grow, we learn, we embrace new ideas. That’s the beauty of how Jews operate. So I’m very proud about that. That’s why I think it’s so great. It says, ‘We’re here.’”

While The Braid is based in Santa Monica, the seed of this idea may have started in New York several years ago. Spinak said they were presenting a portion of their play “Stories from the Fringe” in a home in New York City as a fundraiser for the Jewish Women’s Archive.  

“This play was the first to put the true personal stories of women rabbis on stage,” Spinak said. “An artist was there, Carol Hamoy. And she mentioned to me that she’d be interested in looking more closely at some of the stories she heard that evening and perhaps making an art piece.”

Spinak started developing the idea with Lynne Himelstein, co-chair of The Braid and co-director of The Braid’s Story Archive of Women Rabbis, who had been partnering with Spinak on interviewing women rabbis for more than 10 years.  

“The first major obstacle was finding a venue that believed in the vision of this project,” Spinak said. “This took several years, but finally HUC-JIR, particularly Jeanie Rosensaft saw the potential.”

This was way before COVID.

“Our shared goal was to honor the transformational contributions of women in the rabbinate whose struggles and successes set in motion the first steps toward inclusion, diversity, equity and empowerment of new leaders for the Jewish people over the past 50 years.”- Jean Bloch Rosensaft

“Our shared goal was to honor the transformational contributions of women in the rabbinate whose struggles and successes set in motion the first steps toward inclusion, diversity, equity and empowerment of new leaders for the Jewish people over the past 50 years,” Rosensaft said.

The Braid has more than a decade of expertise, interviewing nearly 200 women rabbis across denominations around the world. The Heller Museum has 30 years of deep curatorial experience, collaborating with leading contemporary Jewish women artists in thematic exhibitions illuminating Jewish identity, values and history.

LA-based Artist Marisa Takal honors Rabbi Claudia Kreiman with her painting Crisis of Faith, 2021.

For the physical exhibit, each work is augmented by the accompanying wall labels with the rabbis’ biographies and QR-code links to their video interviews. The portraits are presented chronologically by year of ordination to reveal each decade’s pioneers as inspiration for the next.

Holy Sparks is also available online and accessible to anyone, anywhere at the-braid.org/hscatalogue. The online catalogue includes images, artists’ statements and rabbis’ biographies.

“It has been the ideal partnership in raising public awareness of 50 years of women in the rabbinate,” said Rosensaft.

For Himelstein, the project has had a profound effect on her life, and by extension, her family. She began Torah study with her own rabbi and, having grown up with only male rabbis, she finds a female rabbi to be much more relatable.  

“The influence of women in the rabbinate has profoundly changed the way men are practicing as well,” Himelstein said. “ [How exciting it is to] have the honor and privilege to hear these remarkable stories.”

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

Beauty Without Borders

I was amused by this scene of an elderly, ultra-Orthodox couple enjoying a coffee while a sensual French song came on. Do they have any idea what this song is about? I wondered.

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.