Illuminated Midrash Mash-ups

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Illuminated (n) (adj)        1. To provide or brighten with light.

                                            2. To decorate or hang with lights.

                                            3. To make understandable; clarify.

                                            4. To enlighten intellectually or spiritually


Midrash (n) (v)                 1. Any of a group of Jewish commentaries on the 

                                                Hebrew Bible compiled between a.d. 400 and 1200 and

                                                based on exegesis, parable, and haggadic legend.

                                            2. From Hebrew: drash to search or explain


Mash-up (n) (v)               1.    An audio recording that is a composite of samples 
                                                 from other recordings, usually from different musical styles.

                                            2.    A new breed of Web-based applications that mix at least      
different services or sources of data from disparate and          
 competing, Web sites. A mash-up, for example, could  
traffic data from one source on the Internet over
                                                 maps from Google or another content provider.

Things that are illuminated shed light and clarity, midrash fills in the gaps to some of life's toughest questions, and mash-ups reveal the harmony found in combining disparate elements. Illuminated Midrash Mash-ups is the name of a workshop that brings together three different concepts in an effort to evoke audience responses to exhibitions at the Yeshiva University Museum in New York City. The workshops explore Jewish visual history and challenge participants to probe deeper into the questions that permeate Jewish tradition and art.


Through a guided tour of current exhibitions followed by a hands-on workshop that invites creative responses to the work on display, participants have the opportunity to interact with museum collections in new ways. The workshop raises aesthetic questions, theological quandaries, and uses the language of comic books and illuminated manuscripts to draw innovative conclusions from the participants.


In the spring of 2010, four different groups participated in the Illuminated Midrash Mash-ups workshops. College students, high school students, an after school program for elementary school students, and a group of adult learners created visual work drawing from images taken from the Braginsky Collection, Drawing On Tradition and participants own illustrations.


Depending on the age of the group and their knowledge of Jewish text and art, the activity was framed differently. For the younger students, topics were focused on symbolism and narrative structure. With the more advanced students, Talmudic allusions and historical contexts were introduced. The goal of each workshop was to immerse the participants in the historical and contemporary worlds of Jewish art and then provide a structured but loose setting where they could creatively respond. Participants dissected and remixed images and used arrows and word balloons to create work that explored topics of both personal and biblical proportions.


The following image taken from the Braginsky collection served as a wonderful touchstone for the workshops.

Tayqu.jpgMantua Haggadah (1560) Detail Courtesy of the Braginsky Collection

The image depicts the return of the Messiah at the gates of Jerusalem heralded by the shofar trumpet of the prophet Elijah. Participants were then introduced to a phrase used in the Bablyonian Talmud called "teiku." which is short form of the Aramaic word teikum meaning, "let it stand." When a section of Talmud ends with this word it means that no answer has been arrived at and that the question should stand forever...or at least until Elijah comes. Whenever the term "teiku" is employed the rabbis are trying to tell the learner to see as many sides of an issue as possible rather than come up with a practical decision about what one should do.


Teiku is an open invitation to interpret since no clear answer exists until the End of Days and the return of the messiah. It is a wonderful creative prompt and helped to frame much of the work produced during the workshops.


The following images are examples of Illuminated Midrash Mash-ups made during the spring of 2010.


From Order to Chaos

Image courtesy of Eric Hamerman and Melanie Greenspan

June 2010

Thumbnail image for Teiku.jpg


Image courtesy of  Elisheva Eisenberg

May 2010



Sheridan Gayer, June 2010


The Story of Esther (front)

Image courtesy of Cheryl J. Fish, June 2010


The Different Sides of God 

Images courtesy of Sarit Ron, June 2010

Header Image courtesy of Sara Figueroa, June 2010


I met Lacey Schwartz, Director of Outreach for Be'chol Lashon, in 2008 while attending the ROI Summit of Young Jewish Global Innovators. Though our interactions were brief I sensed a sort of camaraderie with Lacey since we both explored our Jewish roots through creative means.

Recently, I had the chance to catch up with Lacey at the Taste of LimmudNY Arts JAM that occurred on June 3rd 2010 at the Yeshiva University Museum. While I presented a workshop on illuminated midrash-mashups, Lacey presented a teaser of her documentary and led a group discussion.  I followed-up with Lacey to see how the event went for her and to learn more about how her work as a filmmaker fits into the tapestry known as Jewish Art.


JTW: What session did you offer at the Taste of LimmudNY Arts Jam?


LS: I led a session entitled: Outside the Box.  I screened a teaser from my documentary in progress about dual identity and family secrets. I then followed up with a Q & A and a discussion on diversity in the Jewish community.



JTW: What did you enjoy about your session?


LS: Well, what was nice about this Taste of LimmudNY event was that it drew a lot of different people. It seemed like people were there for different reasons so it was nice to not have a unified audience. All the various perspectives melded together and created a diversified experience that was really interesting.


JTW: What was your favorite comment or question from the evening?


LS: I guess I'm most interested by the different things that people connect to. It's cool how this documentary about my personal family secrets and identity can resonate with other folks. One woman shared how her experience of coming out as a lesbian to her family paralleled my situation. Listening to her story about coming out and not being able to connect with her family openly resonated with me and other people in the room.


After the session, a few other people came up to me and divulged their family secrets. People want to be heard, so I guess by sharing my story it makes them feel a bit safer to speak about their secrets. I'm like a magnet for people to confide in now.


JTW: What's your take on Jewish visual history? How does your work fit in or not?


LS:  I guess I never thought about my work through that lens. My work is really about the complexities of experience of family and identity...something individual but intimately shared. As a documentary filmmaker I'm really interested in the "who and how" part of the process. So I guess those are Jewish themes that I see my work fitting into.



JTW: Do you work in anything besides film? Do you visually connect with your culture in other ways?


LS: I think that art and media serve as amazing conversation pieces to shed light on social contexts and the totality of human experience. I work with film and other mediums- online, writing ...  the organization that I work with Be'chol Leshon works with lots of media. In fact, we're partnering up with to mount an exhibition for visual artists who address what it "looks like" to be Jewish.  I think that art in all its formats is a wonderful tool to demonstrate how diverse the global Jewish community really is.


For more info about Lacey and her film got to:

To learn more about Jewish diversity check out Be'chol Leshon:


On June 3rd, the global Jewish learning movement known as Limmud converged at the Yeshiva University Museum. Limmud is a grassroots learning initiative that offers a diverse
of options for people to connect with Jewish culture. The New York City chapter of Limmud is one of the most active and vibrant communities in North America. Every year LimmudNY offers a weekend retreat for more than 600 people to explore and celebrate Jewish values and community. If you can't make it to the "big event" Limmud offers a variety of programming throughout the year to give people a "taste" of the Limmud experience.


Taste of Limmud events are intended to be an outreach tool to stoke the interests of the uninformed as well as to give current and past Limmud-niks the chance to reconnect and dig deeper into Jewish learning. Taste of Limmud events are offered throughout the year and tend to be two-hour evenings where 3-5 sessions relating to Jewish text study, history, or culture are presented.



On June 3rd, 2010, Taste of LimmudNY sponsored an Arts Jam at the YU Museum. In conjunction with the Teaching Artist in Residency program, the Arts Jam explored Jewish history through the arts. Gallery tours, discussions about film, hands-on creative opportunities, and a smidge of musical theory gave participants the opportunity to connect with Judaism through less conventional means.


With almost fifty people in attendance on a humid Thursday night, the Arts Jam was a wonderful opportunity to utilize the resources at the Center for Jewish History. Special collections of the YU Museum were made available to the public while some participants had the rare opportunity to not only get a gallery tour by the exhibiting artist, but also have the chance to creatively respond to the work on display.


For an evening, the YU Museum was transformed into a creative incubator and think tank of Jewish imagination. By partnering with community-led organizations like Limmud, the YU Museum was able to bring engaged people into the museum in a structured and thematic way, rather than individually or haphazardly. By providing a context for participants to interact with the museum space and collections, the Taste of LimmudNY Arts Jam framed the museum experience in a whole new way. The event transformed the museum into a laboratory of ideas inspired and informed by the rich archives of the past.



Here's a full list of the sessions that were offered at Taste of LimmudNY Arts Jam:

·        Outside the Box  View a teaser from filmmaker Lacey's Schwartz's documentary in progress about dual identity and family secrets. Followed by Q & A and a discussion on diversity in the Jewish community with the filmmaker.  Lacey is Director of Outreach for Be'chol Lashon.


·       Museum Tour  Tour the Braginsky and Drawing on Tradition exhibits with Zachary Paul Levine.   Consider:  Why does 19th century French Haggadah look like it's from Turkey?  Why are there cherubs and zodiac signs on so many ketubot? How might we visualize Shushan, the grand capital of the Persian Empire, as the center of intrigue in the Purim story?  Zachary is Assistant Curator at the Yeshiva University Museum.


·       A One-Pot Seminar  Join Gabe Goldstein for a close-up, hands-on look at a rare 18th century cholent pot. Cholent is literally more than the sum of its ingredients - see how this pot suggests the interconnectedness of Jewish law and lore, how cholent pots created bonds between individuals and communities, how evolving technology shaped the structure of the Jewish life and how a pot can suggest recipes, social status, diversity, economics and gender relations - much more than just "meat and potatoes."  Gabe is YU Museum Associate Director for Exhibitions and Programs.


·       Illuminated Midrash Mash-ups  Explore Jewish visual history through a whirlwind tour of the YU Museum followed by a 50-minute hands-on creative workshop facilitated by JT Waldman.  Drawing from historical images in the exhibits and their own illustrations, participants will use the modern language of comix to dissect, remix and collage images from Jewish visual history into modern fables of personal or biblical proportions.  No artistic talent required.  Just bring an active imagination and good questions.  JT is the Teaching Artist in Residence at the YU Museum.


·       Jewish Identity through Music  David Freeman will consider how contemporary musicians incorporate and reinterpret traditional Jewish texts.  Come prepared to engage with original and provocative music through video and audio recording and live performance.  David is a percussionist and composer.





Cross Cultural Comix

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On April 27th I had the pleasure of leading an after-school program with students from the Progressive Dominican Alliance After-school Program in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Also in attendance were volunteer students from the Yeshiva University student body that had helped set up the program. The title of the workshop was Tell Your Own Megillah.


Thirteen 4th and 5th graders made their own 'megillah' comix. Each student created a story that reflected their interests and some of the problems their community face. I introduced the kids to the story of Esther using images from my graphic novel in a Powerpoint presentation and told the story of Purim in very simple and straightforward terms. I then asked the students to identify the key elements of a good story so that they could craft their own megillah.


One boy drew robots another fought battles under the sea, while one girl used images from Megillat Esther to tell the story of a shopaholic girl. For 90 minutes the ten year-olds were focused and excited about their work. None of the students were stumped about what to write, they instantly began working and drew, colored, and pasted epically small vignettes in the form of mini comix.


The story of Esther wasn't too foreign for the young Dominican students.

Her problems, and exotic setting blended right into the exaggerated far off worlds of comix. The students seemed at ease using panels and other comix conventions. But I have to admit the best part of the workshop was seeing the smiles on the kids' faces as they were so satisfied with their completed comix.


Check out some of the photos from the afternoon, including examples of student art.



Have you ever wondered if comic book artists and writers are hardwired differently from everyone else? Alan Moore, Robert Crumb, and Stan Lee are clearly not your typical human specimens. People immersed in making comic books, graphic novels, webcomics, and comic strips seem to live in a linguistic limbo where sign and signifier lack clearly defined boundaries. The artist-scribes who made illuminated manuscripts in medieval times (and hieroglyphics before then) pioneered the life between visual and verbal worlds. Today, comix creators easily slip into this 'show and tell mode' like giddy kindergartners. We also have a propensity to think by drawing on napkins and other impractical surfaces.


Studies now show that human cognitive development is enhanced when we learn visually as well as verbally. So does this mean that comix creators have more stimulated brains percolating with grey matter?!


The word "autopsy" literally means "to see for oneself." Generally, we associate the word with carcasses and forensics but its meaning in the abstract is solipsitically charming...and perfect for narcissistic-prone comic book artists.


Most people are familiar with the trite joke about how many different opinions two Jewish people can produce ... what happens when those members of the tribe also live, breathe and draw comix? What happens when five different Jewish comic book creators perform a public autopsy on different examples of sequential art? How will they "read" themselves into the text and art? What surprises will the audience offer?


On Thursday April 8th, 2010 come to the Yeshiva University Museum at the Center for Jewish History in downtown NYC to witness what happens when practioners and enthusiasts dissect comix, live and in public. Opinions welcome!


Here are the specialists that will be leading us through this gross anatomy of comix:



Jeff Newelt: Professional publicist, tireless connector, and man about town, goes out almost every night of the week, with several parties and people on permanent mental speed dial, his brain constantly buzzing with new ideas. Described by friends as a "human MySpace" he works with Heeb, Smith, Royal Flush, and ACT-I-VATE.


Miss Lasko Gross: The author and illustrator of Fantagraphics Books: A Mess Of Everything (named one of Booklist's  top 10 graphic novels of the year) the follow up to the YALSA  nominated Escape From "Special." Currently she's working on Henni, a serialized adventure for the Comixology / House of Twelve  iphone app.


Chari Pere: A freelance cartoonist whose published works include MAD Magazine,  and The Jerusalem Post, as well as web-based work for The Orthodox Union, JGooders, and Recently selected by The Jewish Week as one of their "36 Under 36" young Jewish people remaking the community, Chari is also one of the youngest members of the National Cartoonists Society.


Eli Valley: Eli Valley's art has been called "ferociously repugnant" by Commentary.  His comics have appeared in the ForwardHaaretzGawker and Jewcy, and new work appears monthly in the Forward.  Eli is also the author of The Great Jewish Cities of Central and Eastern Europe, and he is currently finishing his first novel.  His website is


JT Waldman: JT is the author and illustrator of the graphic novel, Megillat Esther. He also designed a web application of biblical proportions for JPS called the Tagged Tanakh. He is the 2010 Yeshiva University Teaching Artist in Residence. JT is currently working on his next graphic novel with Harvey Pekar.


For more information go to the Event Page on Facebook


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This year's Yeshiva University Arts Festival is entitled, Think Outside the Box. A comic book artist could not have asked for a more serendipitous tag line. I have been drawing inside and outside of boxes (or panels, as we comix geeks like to call them) for years. I'm elated to have the opportunity to share this creative process with YU students in my inaugural session as the 2010 YUM Teaching Artist in Residence.

On Sunday March 21st I led a group of YU students through the museum to explore the themes that flow through Jewish visual history. Participants then had the opportunity to make their own comix using images taken from current YUM exhibitions.  Blending drawing with snippets of illuminated manuscripts and word balloons, we dissected, remixed, and collaged together stories of personal or biblical proportions.

Check out images from the workshop!

I serve as tour guide and instigator during this journey through Jewish worlds. I hope that you'll come back to this site to discover how illuminated manuscripts, graphic novels, and the Jewish art of questioning come together. Stay tuned to this blog to discover what this artistic expedition has uncovered.

Click here for more information about the YU Arts Festival.
Click here for more information about the 2010 YUM Teaching Artist in Residence.

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