David Moss, Illuminator, Animator and Transformer of Jewish Texts, Objects, Spaces and Souls
Il-lu-mi-nate [< Lat. luminare bringing light] v. tr
- To light up.
- To make understandable; clarify.
- To enlighten intellectually or spiritually.
- To endow with splendor; celebrate.
- To adorn with ornamental designs, miniatures or lettering in brilliant colors or precious metals.
An-i-mate [< Lat. anima soul]. tr.v
- To give life to; to fill with life.
- To impart interest or zest; to enliven.
- To impart soulfulness to.
- To inspire, prompt, encourage, stimulate or arouse.
- To fill with spirit or resolution.
- To make, design or produce so as to create the feelings of activity or liveliness.
Trans-form [ < Latin trans beyond + forma substance, shape or form] tr.v
- To give new form or appearance to.
- To change in character or potential.
- To remold the mode in which a thing exists, acts or manifests itself.
- To reconstruct or recast in a new or different way.
- To reeducate or redevelop the mind or character.
- To refashion or retrain.
1946-1975 Creative tutelage under Jack Moss
1968 B.A. Liberal Arts cum laude. St. John’s College of Annapolis and Santa Fe.
1968-1971 Hebrew University and the Jewish Theological Seminary.
1974-7 Judah Magnes Museum, Berkeley, California,
1979, 82, 84 Brandeis Bardin Institute in Southern California,
1980-81 Mishkenot Shaananim in Jerusalem,
1990, 91 Camp Ramah, Palmer, Massachusetts
1992-present Camp Ramah, Wisconsin
1997-98 Center For Southern Jewry, Clayton, Georgia
1999-present Camp Ramah, Ontario, Canada
1992 The Israel Museum’s Jesselson Prize for Contemporary Judaica
1999-2002 Artist-in-Residence, Yakar Center for Tradition and Creativity
Works exhibited at (E) or in the permanent collections (C) of:
British Museum (C), Duke University (C), Harvard University Libraries (E/C), Hebrew Union College (E/C), Getty Museum (C), Israel Museum (E), Jewish Theological Seminary (C), Library of Congress (E/C), Magnes Museum (E/C), National Library of Canada (C), New York Public Library (E/C) Princeton University Library (C), Skirball Museum (E/C), Stanford University Library (C), Yale University Library(C), Yeshivah University Museum (E/C)
TRANSFORMING THE KETUBAH
In 1969, the typical Ketubah was a plain, printed form filled out by the rabbi, ignored at the wedding and stuck in a drawer by the couple.
Aware of the neglected tradition of the hand-made Ketubah, I imagined a new form and function for the traditional Ketubah. I envisioned it as a source of personal growth and Jewish introspection for the couple, a means of embodying Jewish texts and values in visual form for the artist, a source of Hiddur Mitzvah for the family and community. I used early gifts and commissions to introduce the idea. Cover stories in U.S. national publications and exhibits of my work plus the article on Ketubah making in the First Jewish Catalog brought in hundreds of personal Ketubah commissions which I deliberately used to explore and expand the boundaries of what this ancient document could look like in the twentieth century.
Through my work and that of those who eagerly followed, there has been a transformation in the function of the Ketubah in the couple’s marriage preparations, in the ceremony itself, and in the introduction of a personal, original, major work of Jewish art in tens of thousands of homes. In the process a new profession (Ketubah Makers, or Ketubah artists) with hundreds of members has been created.
ILLUMINATING THE HEBREW MANUSCRIPT
A commission for a Haggadah in 1980, was used to explore the possibilities of a new kind of Jewish book: an art book that would avoid illustration and seek illumination, where careful research would be combined with creative insight to produce a work that uses images much as Midrash uses texts and where written commentary on those images itself becomes an integral part of the work-text comments on image commenting on text. The book has been published in both a deluxe facsimile and is now going into its third printing of the trade edition. It’s inspirational and educational impact has been most gratifying:
“Possibly the most beautiful Haggadah of all times.”
—Rabbi Yitz Greenberg
“It is quite impossible to convey the delight experienced by the eye and the mind at virtually every turn of the page.”
—Prof. Moshe Greenberg
“… in my view, the greatest Haggadah ever produced.”
—A London Jewish Chronicle reviewer
TRANSFORMING THE PRAYER STAND
Perhaps the most overlooked Jewish object, the traditional Shtender, discarded from most contemporary synagogues and unknown to most Jews was chosen as the basis of a work of art seeking to encompass all aspects of the Jewish spirit: the heart in prayer, the mind of study, the hand in action.
An extended collaboration with wood artist Noah Greenberg has resulted in the Tree of Life Shtender now being created in a fine limited edition.
Each of the objects contained in the work functions on five levels: a functional object of Judaica, a self standing sculpture, a visual midrash based on a traditional text, a symbol for a particular Jewish value, a connection to the Land of Israel through one of its trees or plants.
The entire piece was chosen as part of the permanent exhibit of the Skirball Museum, L.A.
”There is nothing among them [the Precious Legacy objects] which I could honestly compare not only to the artistry and design of this Shtender and its Judaic pieces, but more importantly, to the utter thoughtfulness and care, dignity and beauty with which each piece is produced, fits into the whole and means what it is meant to do!”
ANIMATING THE HEBREW BOOK
Strongly sensing the vast Jewish potential in a relatively unexplored art form-the Hebrew Artist Book-close collaborations were begun with artists, paper makers, fine hand printers, binders and a publisher. An ongoing marketing plan was devised to enable efforts to be put into creating evocative, personal, imaginative, beautifully crafted inspiring interpretations of Hebrew texts.
The first book, The Maftir Yonah, a collaboration with Mordechai Beck, was sold out within a few months, exhibited in a New York museum, and written up in several periodicals. The second book, The Book of Lamentations, includes engravings of Polish Wooden Synagogues by Leonid Gorban and was published in 1997. A Song of Songs with etchings by Zely Smekhov was published in 1999. The portfolio of twenty two prints of The Alphabet of the Angel Metatron will be published in 2000. Plans include trade editions of each book in addition to the very limited edition deluxe hand made originals.
TRANSFORMING THE ARTIST IN RESIDENCY
The national director of Camp Ramah approached me to rethink and revitalize the place of the arts in Jewish camping. During annual two to three week visits, I developed a new educational program which incorporates imaginative group planning, dynamic inter-arts cooperation, text study and conveying of values through short term projects which combine study, ritual, performance and the hands-on creation of permanent works of art which take on a life of their own. Projects have been created on the themes Amidah, Zeddakah, Prayer, and Chessed. Projects to transform the places of prayer of several groups have also been accomplished by this methodology.
In addition, each year I have run three day retreats for professional Jewish artists. The program I developed for these seminars has three prongs:
- Helping these artists deepen the Jewish meaning and content of their work by serious text study and learning how to translate this into the visual arts.
- Teaching them the practical methods to increase the originality and creativity of their work.
- Integrating the artists into the camp programming.
Several times a year, I make extended trips to the U.S. where I come to communities for artist-in-residency programs. These are sometimes short term (one or two day) visits where I do slide lectures to large groups and/or intimate presentations of my art from the originals or longer visits where I do extended teaching (Hebrew calligraphy/creative process etc) or work with groups of children or adults to create specific projects.
TRANSFORMING JEWISH SPACE
A creative look at how Jewish communal spaces can be infused with deeper meaning through art has lead to a number of projects in synagogues, schools and camps. The notion is to reconceptualize what Jewish space can do to bring it in concert with the Jewish goals of the institution. Site and community specific living art is created with the institution rather than merely imposing decorative works at the location.
ANIMATING THE FUNDRAISING EVENT
Dissatisfaction with the traditional fundraising dinner led to a innovative concept in multidimensional Jewish learning. In collaboration with Elyssa Moss Rabinowitz ‘A Day Away’ has been founded to create day-long islands in time which completely immerse the participants in the intellectual and cultural world of a major Jewish thinker. The first such event-Touching Genius: Saadia Gaon and the Babylonian Jewish Experience -was produced in 1999. Originally commissioned music, drama and poetry and Chevrutah learning with lectures about Saadia, intermingled with traditional Babylonian food, music, storytelling, spice market, exhibit and synagogue visit to give the participants a profound insight into the thought, works, life, and legacy of this revolutionary Jewish thinker and activist.
The second event was on the life, thought and culture of the 18th century Italian writer, thinker, and Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, the Ramchal. It included original drama, Italian baroque music, a recreation of the Luzzato’s wedding including an adaptation of the mystical Ketubah commentary he wrote for the event, a rededication of the Paduan Holy Ark using the poetry the Ramchal wrote for the original dedication etc.
Work in progress:
A Pilgrim Place