This semester, I have had the privilege of working with a wonderful group of young women through the Jewish Journeys Project at JCC in Manhattan. At each of four sessions, we studied Jewish texts about a social justice issue and then they created art work about the texts and our conversations about the issues.
The first week, we spoke about homelessness and Sukkot, starting with a text from Sefer Chasidim which tells us “If a community does not have a synagogue or a shelter for the poor, it must first build a shelter for the poor.” Then the students got to work sewing.
The resulting art showed how much they really thought about homelessness. The artist statement for the piece on the left below states “When you work together, you can build something sensational.” The one on the right below says “Everyone should have love and family.”
At our second session, we studied two texts about hunger: “If there is a poor person that you don’t know and they say ‘I am hungry,’ you should feed them without finding out if they’re telling the truth. You should feed them immediately.” (Mishneh Torah, Gifts to the Poor 7:6) and “If your enemy is hungry, give them bread to eat and if they are thirsty give them water to drink.” (Proverbs 25:21)
The piece on the right below says “To even give someone just a piece of bread is true chessed.”
We spoke about refugees at our third meeting using the following texts: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9) and And if a person becomes poor and they need help, then you should help them, whether a stranger or a visitor, they should live with you. (Leviticus 25:35) The resulting art work is below. In the piece in the middle below, a triangle represents a person who moves to a new place. At first, they are scared, but then they meet a new friend and are happy to be welcomed in their new home.
At our last class, we took the art created in the first three sessions and mounted it on stretched canvas. We also spoke about Hanukkah and ways we can bring light to our dark world.
Then the students presented their art work to their families, explaining the meaning behind the art and talking about the texts that inspired their work.
I hope these young artists take what they’ve learned and continue to bring light to the world through their art and actions.