Dec 02, 2019
I first met Jessica Kirzane (Editor-in-Chief of In geveb) at an Institute for Jewish Educators at the Jewish Women’s Archive in 2012. Because of that fortuitous experience, I continued to follow Jessica’s work in Yiddish and became familiar with In geveb. I am not a Yiddish scholar. I read In geveb because it gives me insight into the world of Yiddish literature, the rich history there, and the benefit of living Yiddish scholarship in our time. Yiddish has a deep capacity to hold complexities, and even contradictions that are essential aspects of human life. I cannot imagine being able to make sense of the world without it. I am grateful to Jessica and her colleagues at In geveb for doing this work.
I recently created a piece of artwork that will hang at a community art exhibit about Journeys at The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls, Mass. What follows is my artist statement about the work.
Copper wire, pencils, paper.
I have been working with copper wire, crocheting it for use in sculptural radio antennas.
This fall in northern California, when PG&E cut the electricity, the mobile phone signal went with it. The company advised people to make arrangements for alternative forms of communication.
The government recommended people use battery powered radios to hear news reports.
I enjoy conversations with close family members around the world, via text or phone, whenever I want, about important issues or such mundane-seeming topics as what makeup to wear.
This year, communication in Kashmir was cut. More recently, the Iranian government cut access to the Internet to discourage protests. In China, the government closely monitors and restricts communication. In the U.S., our own communication systems are monitored and controlled by corporate and government forces beyond our immediate influence.
My great grandmother knew that when she left Russia she would never speak to her sister again.
Decades later, my aunt moved to Europe, and my mother cherished expensive phone calls with her sister.
My own sister died when I was twelve. “Dayn shvester,” your sister, my mother said.
We didn’t speak much Yiddish at home.
Decades later, I am occasionally hit by the breathtaking understanding that I will never speak to my sister again.
The Torah is the biblical scroll Jews use for ceremony and study – a book that is meant to transmit to each generation of Jews the ethical grounding for launching and navigating any argument.
It is a myth, dead weight, an archaic thing we grab and save, each time we run from a burning building. It conveys a signal across thousands of years.
Every time we take it up, we reboot it like a crystal radio.
The atzei chaim are the wooden handles of the Torah scroll. They are its binding and page turning mechanism, the scroll bars of an ancient PDF (Portable Document Format).
These pencils are from the contemporary journal of Yiddish studies, In geveb (Yiddish for “in web,” which also translates as “weave” or “texture”), the aim of which is to “catalyze and renew dialogue between scholars around the world about Yiddish culture, weaving together the voices and texts of Yiddish’s past, present, and future.”