24 June 2014


The Jerusalem Post, Tuesday, June 24, 2014, p. 15
 
Politics is dead, killed by art in Nablus
By Mel Alexenberg
            President Shimon Peres declared “politics is dead” in his address at the Knesset honoring the 2014 Wolf Prize laureates on June first.  He spoke against the backdrop of Chagall’s colossal tapestries alongside world leaders in science and art being awarded the prestigious prize. 
Peres’ erudite talk that expressed hope that peace would come when Israel’s neighbors join it in creating a better life for its people through apolitical scientific research and artistic creativity.  In his multiple roles in the Israeli government, he was a close-up witness to the dismal failure of all “peace processes” and “road maps” from Oslo to Obama.
His “politics is dead” speech was confirmed the next day as Fatah teamed up with Hamas, branded a terrorist organization by EU, US, Egypt, and numerous other countries.  While the newly formed government in Ramallah posed for a photo-op, rockets from Gaza were fired into Israel.  Fatah’s “moderate” mask has been removed to reveal terrorists in suits.  All along, Fatah was no different than the militant jihadist Hamas that called for destroying Israel and massacring of all it Jews. 
Fatah hoodwinked the world in English to believing they seek peace while in Arabic they called for the annihilation of Israel and celebrated terrorist mass murders by naming squares, streets, and schools after them.  In a children’s show on Palestinian Authority television, you can view a child proudly reciting a poem calling Jews “the most evil among creations, barbaric monkeys and wretched pigs.”  At least they were honest stating in English that they will never accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People.  They were backed by the emphatic declaration at the 2014 Arab League summit in Kuwait in March: "We express our absolute and decisive rejection to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state" 
Hamas always remained up-front, explicitly stating its aims on its English website for all to see: “So-called peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the Islamic Resistance Movement.”  Their charter states that the sole path is the violent destruction of the Zionist State through armed struggle and mass murder: “The Day of Judgment will not come until Muslims fight Jews and kill them.”
Forgetting 9/11, Obama and Kerry are being joined by EU modern-day Chamberlain in chanting “peace in our time.”  They are ignoring their own terrorist designation to embrace the united Hamas-Fatah front’s effort to wipe Israel off the map.  These misguided Americans and anti-Semitic Europeans chose to ignore that fact that PA’s new “technocratic government” is headed by Rami Hamdallah, long-time president of An-Najah University in Nablus, the hotbed of hatred for Israel and America and the center for recruitment of terrorists.
In President Peres’ call for peace through joint efforts of Arabs and Jews in science and art, he echoed the words in The Peres Center for Peace website that proposes that art and creativity can inspire new approaches and create new metaphors to transform attitudes fixed in old patterns of mutual mistrust and prejudice.  His hopes are dashed by the use of art by Hamdallah’s students to glorify mass murder of Jews.  Instead of creating art to embrace peace, they created an artwork reveling in the death of fifteen Israelis including seven children and a pregnant woman and the maiming of more than a hundred others in August 2001. 
At Hamdallah’s university, a grotesque art exhibition was mounted celebrating the slaughter by a Palestinian Arab suicide bomber of women, men, children, and entire families eating pizza in the heart of Jerusalem.  A group of An-Najah art students constructed a replica of the Sbarro Pizzeria, site of the massacre.
Visitors pushed to see realistically sculpted body parts and pizza slices strewn throughout an environment set for a performance artwork.  Wearing a terrorist’s military uniform and black mask, the performance artist entered the mock pizzeria under a sign “Kosher Sbarro” and set off a simulated explosion to the cheers of the crowd. Upon entering and leaving, the visitors enthusiastically wiped their feet on Israeli and American flags used as doormats.
Visitors then encountered a mannequin outfitted as a terrorist standing next to a large boulder. A recording placed behind the rock called out in Arabic: “O believer, there is a Jewish man behind me, come and kill him.” In another room, two students dressed as suicide bombers, each with the Koran in one hand a Kalashnikov assault rifle in the other hand, were reenacting the grisly last testaments in front of a video camera that suicide bombers create before carrying out their deadly attacks.
Historian of Islamic art, Elisabeth Siddiqui, writes in the Arabic journal Al-Madrashah Al-Ula that art is the mirror of a culture and its worldview.  She emphasizes that there is no case to which this statement more directly applies than to the art of the Islamic world.
As former professor of art at Columbia University and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies, I concur with Siddiqui.  The values of Hamdallah are mirrored in his students’ art that praises terrorism and genocide.
Another artistic indictment is the logo design of An-Najah’s student council.  A green map of Israel and the territories is partly obscured in the background.  A black M-16 rifle is superimposed over the upper section of the map with a black flag, attached to the rifle, to the left. To the right, black lettering translates as "Muslim Palestine Block." The gun rests on a globe, which in turn rests on the Koran. Encircling the globe and Koran is a red crescent with the inscription: "An-Najah National University."
Green is the color of Islam: the fact that both Israel (and the territories) and the globe are in green signifies the group's desire to Islamize them. The rifle and the flag are symbols of militancy. The Koran, upon which the globe rests, is considered the foundation of the movement. The red crescent symbolizes Islam.
Under Rami Hamdallah’s watch, the An-Najah student council has promoted anti-Israel violence and recruits Palestinian Arab college students into terrorist groups. The council, almost completely controlled by factions loyal to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah, glorifies suicide bombings and propagandizes for jihad against Israel. Hamas has described An-Najah as a "greenhouse for martyrs."
The gruesome An-Najah art exhibition, logo symbolizing the elimination of Israel leading to Islam’s conquest of the entire world, and the terrorist activism of its student council reveal the values of Hamdallah.
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, who appointed Rami Hamdallah, assured US Secretary of State John Kerry that his new technocratic government is committed to the principles of nonviolence and negotiations.  Hamdallah, a PhD-holding head of a university where mass murder is celebrated, is a fitting choice for Abbas, who builds monuments for terrorists and wrote his PhD thesis denying the Holocaust.  Neither are mere technocrats.  
Peres is right.  Politics is dead.  Murdered by art in Nablus.         
The author is a member of the Council of the Wolf Foundation.  His book The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness is published by Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press.  He was art professor at Columbia University and research fellow at MIT.

08 April 2014

Memory: International Mail Art Exhibtion



"Joseph and His Brothers," postcard size entry cut from larger serigraph, Mel and Miriam Alexenberg, exhibited at the Richmond Art Gallery in Richmond,Virginia, 2014 and online at:
http://richmondartgallery.org/internationalmailart2013/single-country?thecatID=106

28 January 2014

My New Book - Photographing God: Crreating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life


Photographing God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life teaches how to create a blog that cultivates imaginative ways to photograph God in everyday life while crafting a vibrant dialogue between the blogger’s story and the Bible’s story.  It draws on the biblical narrative, the wisdom of kabbalah, and digital technologies to develop conceptual and practical tools for photographing God as divine light reflected from every facet of the blogger’s life.  

Photographing God offers opportunities for discovering how the biblical narrative provides fresh insights for seeing the spiritual dimensions of life in a networked world.  It develops skills for looking inward at the blogger’s own creative process to energize the outward search for meaningful images to photograph.  An exemplary blog http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com demonstrates innovative ways to enhance images with colorful texts for dissemination worldwide through the blogosphere and Twitterverse.       

29 December 2013

Angels, Biofeedback Imaging, and the Jewish Origins of Art

Israel National Radio's "Life Lessons with Judy Simon"
 

Mel Alexenberg tells of art in the postdigital age.     
An enthralling show!

Where is the boundary between science and art?

Why do major art schools worldwide require the reading of a book about art and Judaism?

How did Rembrandt's angels ascend from the New York subway and fly around the world, making

NBC, CBS and CNN news and piquing the interest of the Lubavitcher Rebbe?

Where were the world's largest tzitziot (ritual fringes) tied and why?

How can a person's portrait change with one's thoughts?

Professor Menachem (Mel) Alexenberg is a world renowned artist, author and art educator whose work is exhibited in more than 40 museums worldwide. In this week's show, Professor Alexenberg shares his fascinating journey through the world of postdigital art and tells of the respect the general art world has shown his unabashedly Jewish-centered approach to his art.

Tune in for a enthralling show with an innovative thinker!

30 June 2013

Fresh Directions

Ariel University
The Jerusalem Post, 28 June 2013

Sir – Hamadallah’s resignation from being a powerless Prime Minister in a corrupt Palestinian Authority with a bogus “peace” process is good news (“Abbas accepts Hamadallah’s resignation” June 24).
His return to the presidency of An-Najah University offers him a creative opportunity to become an honest peacemaker.  Rami Hamdallah has the power to initiate a real peace process by driving 20 minutes to meet with Dan Meyerstein.  Hamdallah used his creative energies to build a small college into a major university in Nablus while Meyerstein built a major university a mere 12 miles away in Ariel.

Today, 600 Arab students study in Ariel University.  Hamdallah can initiate a genuine peace process by inviting 600 Jewish students to study in An-Najah University. 
These two neighboring universities working together can forge fresh directions for Arabs and Jews to live in peace with each other between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River.

Mel Alexenberg, Ra’anana
The writer is professor emeritus at Ariel University

11 June 2013

Peace Partners?


The Jerusalem Post, 11 June 2013
Sir – The editorial “Rami Hamdallah?” (June 6), asks what possessed US Secretary of State Joh Kerry to praise the appointment of Rami Hamdallah as the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas for appointing Rami Hamdallah as prime minister is unfortunate.  Hamdallah is president of An-Najah University in Nablus, a hotbed of anti-Semitism and hatred for Israel and the US, to lead the Palestinian government.

At Hamdallah’s university, an art exhibition was mounted honoring the slaughter by a Palestinian Arab suicide bomber of women, men, children, and entire families eating pizza in the heart of Jerusalem.  The artists had constructed a replica of the Sbarro Pizzeria, site of the massacre.
Visitors pushed to see realistically sculpted body parts and pizza slices strewn throughout an environment set for a performance artwork.  Wearing a terrorist’s military uniform and black mask, the performance artist entered the mock pizzeria under a sign “Kosher Sbarro” and set off a simulated explosion to the cheers of the crowd. Upon entering and leaving, the visitors enthusiastically wiped their feet on Israeli and American flags used as doormats.

The An-Najah art exhibit reveals the true beliefs of “moderate peace partners” Abbas and Hamdallah.  Kerry needs to acknowledge this dangerous change of guard in Ramallah as the enemy of peace.
Mel Alexenberg, Ra’anana

03 June 2013

Arab Refugees: Political Pawns in the Mideast

No New News.
My letter below was published in 1966 in the Long Island newspaper Newsday before the Six-Day War.


Arab Refugees: Political Pawns in the Mideast

Oakdale – In the editorial “Peace in the Middle East” (March 11) it was stated: “After two decades, the Arab states continue dedicated to the destruction of Israel and, inferentially, the annihilation of Israel’s Jewish population.  Israel seeks to mind her own flourishing business, and to forget about the 1,500,000 Arab refugees camped on her doorstep, most of who will never be satisfied until they are back and the Jews are out.”
There are two vital facts that Newsday continually ignores in its editorials, feature articles and news reports on the Middle East:

1 –  The so-called Arab refugees have never left Palestine.  They are not camped on the doorsteps of Israel.  They are caged in the own home by their Arab brothers.

When Palestine was formed out of the territories of the Turkish Empire, it included the present states of Israel and Jordan, and the Gaza Strip.  The British handed the part of Palestine east of the Jordan River to Hussein’s Hashemite family who were exiled from Arabia.  The Arab armies that tried to destroy Israel conquered he West Bank and East Jerusalem, which were annexed by Jordan in n1950, and the Gaza Strip, which was occupied by Egypt.  It was the Arab rulers in Amman and Cairo, not the Jews, who kept their Arab brethren in refugee camps in Palestine so they could use them as political pawns in their plans to murder the Jews of Israel.

The part of Palestine that Is Israel has an area of 7,993 square miles and a population of 2,624,900, while the part of Palestine that is Jordan has an area of 37,737 square miles and a population of 2,040,000 (including the so-called Arab refugees).  Although there are more Jews than Arabs in what was formerly Palestine, the Arabs hold five times as much Palestinian territory.

The 250,000 Arabs who chose to stay in Israel are Israeli citizen who enjoy higher standards of health and education and more political rights than any Arabs in the world.

2 – There are more Jewish refugees from the Arab lands than there are Arabs who chose to leave Israel in the Jordanian and Egyptian parts of Palestine.  Under threat of death as demonstrated by the recent hangings in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled their homes in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and other Arab states during the past two decades since Israel’s rebirth.  The Arabs confiscated Jewish property although the Jews have lived there for millennia.  There was a flourishing Jewish community in Iraq centuries before Arabs settled there.  The Jews who left with only the clothes on their backs were the lucky ones.  The fate awaiting the minority of the Jews who now remain captive in Arab states seems grim.

How come Americans never hear about these Jewish refugees?  Israel grants automatic citizenship to these fleeing Jews and resettles them in Israel.  They stop being refugees the minute they set foot on the soil of Israel.

It is indeed unfortunate that the Arabs exploit their brethren.  But it is not the fault of the Jews.  The Arab leaders are able imitators of Hitler and all the anti-Semites that every generation of Jews has experienced for the past 2,000 years.  The Arabs use the Jews as scapegoats with which to placate their masses’ frustrations over their lack of economic, social, educational and political progress.

Prof. Melvin L. Alexenberg, Dowling College     

02 May 2013

New Book: Photographing God

Down-to-Earth Spirituality in an Networked World

(From Introduction to new book Photographing God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life by Mel Alexenberg) 

Abraham rushed to the tent to Sarah and said, “Hurry!  Take three measures of the finest flour!  Kneed it and make rolls!”  Abraham ran to the cattle to choose a tender and choice calf.  (Genesis 18:6,7)

Abraham ran after a calf that ran away from him into a cave that was the burial place of Adam and Eve. 
At the far end of the cave, he saw intense light emanating from an opening.
When he came close to the opening, he found himself standing at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. 
About to enter the pristine garden, he remembered that his wife and three guests were waiting for lunch back at the tent.
What should he do?  Should he trade Paradise for a barbeque?
The Bible tells us that he chose to return to the tent and join his wife in making a meal for their three guests.
Abraham realized that Paradise is what we create with our spouse at home. 
Other visions of Paradise are either mirages or lies.

Enjoy life with the wife you love through all the days of your life. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)
My wife, Miriam, and I worked together to create paradise in our vegetarian kitchen.
Adam and Eve had a vegetarian kitchen.
Spirituality emerged from our collaboration making a potato casserole for our guests.
We bought potatoes and scallions in Avi’s vegetable store and cottage cheese and grated yellow cheese in Bella’s grocery.    
We baked the potatoes in the microwave, sliced them into the baking pan and covered them with the cheeses. 
Miriam washed the scallions, cut them up, and sprinkled them over layers of cheese-covered potatoes.
After the casserole was baked, we served it to our guests. 
 

Photograph God in Your Kitchen 

This biblical narrative linked to revealing God in a contemporary kitchen is a posting from the “Torah Tweets” blog http://torahtweets.blogspot.com that presents the core concept of this book that we can photograph God in all that happens in our everyday life.    Although its ideas are derived from the Hebrew Bible and kabbalah, its message speaks to people of all religions and spiritual traditions.   

The book begins by teaching you how to make an invisible God become visible through your creative lens.  It draws on the ancient wisdom of kabbalah to help you recognize that you have been looking at God all the time and often missed the action.  It helps you develop conceptual and practical tools for photographing God as divine light reflected from every facet of your life.

Just as a prism breaks up white light into the colors of the spectrum, kabbalah reveals a spectrum of divine light based upon the biblical passage "You God are the compassion, the strength, the beauty, the success, the splendor, and the [foundation] of everything in heaven and on earth” (Chronicles 1:29).   You will learn that photographing God is to creatively photograph these six divine attributes as they flow down into your life.
The second part of this book invites you to connect your personal narrative to the biblical narrative.  It guides you in creating your own blog to document how your everyday experiences reflect biblical messages.   It teaches how to find fresh meaning in your life story by relating it to the biblical story.      

Having learned how to focus your lens on God wherever you look will help you create blog narratives gleaned from your reading the Bible creatively.   

You will be encouraged to explore imaginative ways for blogging photographic sequences that link two stories – the story of your life as it unfolds and the enduring biblical story.  You will learn creative ways to write accompanying tweet texts to disseminate worldwide through Twitter and other social media. The 52 postings of the year-long “Torah Tweets” blogart project that my wife, the artist Miriam Benjamin, and I created offers a model for your Bible blogging.

15 February 2013

Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

My papers, letters, exhibition catalogs, book manuscripts, and art project documents have been incorporated in the collection of the Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.   The curators of the Archives wrote me how “thrilled they were to have such interesting materials.”
  

The Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art is the world’s pre-eminent and most widely used research center dedicated to collecting, preserving, and providing access to primary sources that document the history of the visual arts in America.

Founded on the belief that the public needs free and open access to the most valuable research materials, the collections are available to the thousands of researchers who consult original papers at our research facilities or use our reference services remotely every year, and to millions who visit us online to access detailed images of fully digitized collections.

Through collecting, preserving, and providing access to the collections, the Archives inspires new ways of interpreting the visual arts in America and allows current and future generations to piece together the nation’s rich artistic and cultural heritage. 

07 February 2013

The Lone Pelican


Israel is the land bridge for 70,000 great white pelicans migrating from Africa to Europe in spring and from Europe to Africa in fall.

On their migratory flight, pelicans stop for a few days at the lake across from our home in Ra’anana.      

One pelican with a broken wing could not join with the others as they continued on their flight to Europe in April. 

Her mate stayed behind with her. 
Miriam and I enjoyed seeing the pelican pair swimming side by side as a pair of black swans and a pair of white swans, permanent residents of the lake, glided past them.

After a rain storm In January, her mate was no longer there.


23 January 2013

Tu B'Shevat: Songs of the Trees


This week ends on Shabbat with the celebration of Tu B'Shevat – the New Years for Trees.  I photographed these trees in Israel.

Reb Aryeh Levine (1885-1969), known as the "Tzaddik of Jerusalem," recorded the following incident in his memoirs.
I recall the early days, after 1905, when God granted me the privilege to ascend to the Holy Land; and I arrived at Jaffa. There I first merited meeting our great master, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (of blessed memory), who greeted me with good cheer, as was his sacred custom to receive all people.
We chatted together on various Torah topics. After an early Minchah (the afternoon prayer-service), he went out, as was his custom, to stroll a bit in the fields and collect his thoughts. I accompanied him.  During the walk, I plucked a twig or a flower. Our great master was taken aback when he saw this. He told me gently:

"Believe me - in all my days, I have been careful never to pluck a blade of grass or flower needlessly, when it had the ability to grow or blossom. You know the teaching of the Sages, that there is not a single blade of grass below, here on earth, which does not have a heavenly force above telling it, Grow! Every sprout and leaf of grass says something, conveys some meaning. Every stone whispers its inner message in its silence. Every creature utters its song [of praise for the Creator]."  
Those words, spoken from a pure and holy heart, engraved themselves deeply on my heart. From then on, I began to feel a strong sense of compassion for all things.

(Adapted from "A Tzaddik in Our Time" by R. Simcha Raz, pp. 108-109)

04 January 2013

Downsizing a Lifetime

The new Ra'anana retirement home of artists Miriam and Mel Alexenberg in Ahuzat Bayit is featured in the article "Downsizing a Lifetime" in The Jerusalem Post Magazine series on the most beautiful homes in Israel (text by Gloria Deutsch, photos by Uriel Messa), 4 January 2013, pages 26-29.

"Walking into the apartment feels a little like walking into a doll's house.  It's very neat, very compact, and most of the furnishings and fittings are white so as not to overpower the small space.  Color -- and there is plenty of it -- comes from flowers, plants and a few decorative items but is mostly concentrated on the walls, which are embellished with a selection of the unconventional art that both have pursued over the years."


27 December 2012

Fringed Sukkah


My drawing "Fringed Sukkah" is a proposal for a fragile hut built in the form of a huge talit (prayer shawl).  It symbolizes the prophet Zechariah’s teaching that if people worldwide would live for just one week in huts open to their neighbors and the sky then all humanity would experience peace. 

A sukkah is a hut built to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot during which Jewish families move out of their homes into fragile structures with roofs through which stars can be seen.  Blue fringes flowing from the sukkah link sky to sea, heaven to earth, and spirituality to everyday life.  I built this fringed hut at the BMW Museum in Munich for the "Sky Art" exhibition. 

My drawing appears in the book Architectural Inventions: Visionary Drawings edited by Matt Bua and Maximillian Goldfarb (London: Laurence King Publishing, 2012), the catalog of a traveling exhibition of drawings envisioning speculative architecture that opened at Mass MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in 2009.  

30 November 2012

Praise to the Czechs


The Czech Republic is the only European country that moved past Europe's anti-Semitic past to vote against the UN attack on Israel by the genocidal Palestinian Arabs.

These murders approved by the UN General Assembly showered Israel's civilian population with thousands of rockets.  One made a direct hit on my niece's apartment house in Kiryat Malachi killing her neighbors and sending her children into shock!

I'm happy to be in Prague participating in the Mutaphorphosis conference exploring interrelationships between art and science.

The last time I was there was in 2004 for my exhibition Mel Alexenberg: Cyberangels/Aesthetic Peace Plan for the Middle East at the Robert Guttman Gallery, Jewish Museum in Prague.  Miriam and I spent a wonderful few weeks there living in a romantic attic apartment in the museum.

At the opening of my exhibition, I explained my Aesthetic Peace Plan to the ambassadors of Israel and the United States.

 
Comment from Jeorge Enoughie:
Maybe the Czech have a good memory and they realize that what Israel is going through now is not much different from their own experience in the 1930s... Here's a powerful video on why Israel is the new Czechoslovakia: "Israel 2013 - Czechoslovakia 1938: http://www.geopolitics.us/?p=1525 

16 November 2012

Miami Beach Eruv


Mel Alexenberg’s painting Miami Beach Eruv in the "Shaping Community" exhibition at Yale University Art Galleries shows a generic Art Deco hotel on Ocean Drive with the cord of the Miami Beach eruv hovering over it.  The Miami Beach eruv encircling the island city is the largest environmental sculpture in North America.  It is also kinetic art that transforms itself in seven day cycles and participatory art that shapes community.

Texts describing the Miami Beach eruv are published in the Yale exhibition catalog, my paper “Eruv as Conceptual and Kinetic Art” in the Visualizing the Eruv issue of Images: Journal of Jewish Art and Visual Culture, Vol. 5, 2011, and my website www.melalexenberg.com   
 
 
Shaping Community:  Poetics and Politics of the Eruv

An exhibition exploring a Jewish spatial practice
Yale University Art Galleries
October-November 2012
Curated by Margaret Olin


ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
Talmudic law interprets the biblical imperative to “do no work” on the Sabbath as forbidding the carrying of objects from a private space into a public space on that day.   Because, however, the injunction against carrying would seem to contravene the biblical command that the Sabbath be “a joy,” the rabbinical corpus also instituted the eruv, a partnership that operates during the Sabbath to transform a neighborhood into a community with a shared dwelling place, within whose borders an orthodox Jew may carry a prayer book to the synagogue, push a stroller or wheelchair, and where children may play outdoors.

The eruv boundary is marked, so subtly as to be nearly invisible, by redefining urban fixtures such as utility wires with the addition of common pieces of hardware or fishing line. Yet the institution of an eruv demands the cooperation of surrounding communities and is often the center of acrimonious disputes and litigation.  The concept of the eruv raises issues about public and private space, borders and limitations that speak, in multifold and fascinating ways, to wider concerns about multiethnic communities, immigration, and human rights.

14 September 2012

Postdigital Consciousness

My paper "Postdigital Consciousness" was published in the Swiss magazine Archithese: International Thematic Review of Architecture, No. 4, 2012. Below is the Archithese editor's summary.  For the full paper see: http://www.melalexenberg.com/paper.php?id=42


Paradigm Shift from Hellenistic to Hebraic Roots of Western Civilization
The Hellenistic concept of an ideal and static state of perfection is losing relevance in a networked world that is alive, thriving through dialogue and fast interaction.  An aspiration for rest might remain, but the non-linear dynamics of the universe and everything within cannot be ignored.  It is a process which departs from the formal object to focus once again on the vitality of nature and us as human beings.  

27 July 2012

Amazing Story

(The Jerusalem Post, July 26, 2012)

Sir, - Marc Zell ("Making Ariel University a reality," Comment & Features, July 24) tells an amazing story in which I had the privilege of participating. I came to Israel from the United States 12 years ago to teach at the College of Judea and Samaria. To see it grow from a small college to a university with 13,000 students during that time is a powerful demonstration of the Zionist miracle of our start-up nation.

As former professor at Columbia University and research fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I can attest to the excellence of Ariel University's educational and research programs. I proudly identified my affiliation with Ariel in my papers published in peer-review international journals and in books.

It was my great honor to have taught at Ariel University until I retired as its first Professor Emeritus.

Menahem (Mel) Alexenberg
Ra'anana

Painting from my "Digitized Homage to Rembrandt" series hangs in the library of Ariel University

09 December 2011

Bar Mitzvah in a Brooklyn Mosque

Silent Witnesses: Migration Stories through Synagogues Transformed, Rebuilt, or Left Behind

Mel Alexenberg and his wife Miriam Benjamin participated in this exhibition at the Holocaust Memorial Center in conjunction with the Conference of the Council of American Jewish Museums, Detroit, February 2012


Bar Mitzvah in a Brooklyn Mosque by Mel Alexenberg

I was born in the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital (now Interfaith Hospital), celebrated my bar mitzvah in my Uncle Morris' synagogue at 1089 Coney Island Avenue (now a Pakistani mosque), and was married in the Park Manor Jewish wedding hall on Eastern Parkway (now an African-American Baptist church).

My Uncle Morris Wasserman founded a storefront synagogue in Brooklyn that he named Congregation Beth Abraham for my father. He was the rabbi of the congregation. He lived in the two floors above the shul with his wife Dora (my mother's sister) and their five children. My parents, my sister and I spent all the Jewish holidays in their house. We had only to run down a flight of stairs to participate in the services.

On the Sunday following my being called up to the Torah as a bar mitzvah on Shabbat, we celebrated with family and friends in Uncle Morris's shul as he sang with the accompaniment of a choir. My parents sat with my sister and me in front the bima draped with an American flag.

When my uncle retired, he sold 1089 Coney Island Avenue to a Hasidic group that later sold it to Muslims who redesigned the synagogue to serve as a mosque.

My Synagogue Came on Aliyah

Silent Witnesses: Migration Stories through Synagogues Transformed, Rebuilt, or Left Behind

Miriam Benjamin and her husband Mel Alexenberg participated in this exhibition at the Holocaust Memorial Center in conjunction with the Conference of the Council of American Jewish Museums, Detroit, February 2012


My Synagogue Came on Aliyah by Miriam Benjamin

I came on aliyah in 1950 from my birthplace, Paramaribo, Suriname, when I was 9 years old. 60 years later, my synagogue followed me and came on aliyah. The Tzedek ve-Shalom synagogue established in 1736 on the northern coast of South America was dismantled and shipped to Israel and reconstructed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

My father, Moshe Yehuda Benjamin, chanted the Torah portion on Shabbat in the two synagogues in the Dutch colony, both the Tzedek ve-Shalom (Justice and Peace) Sephardi synagogue and the Neveh Shalom (House of Peace) Ashkenazi synagogue. Neveh Shalom, established in 1735 and reconstructed in 1835, still stands in the center of Paramaribo next to a mosque built in 1984.

I rushed to be the first person in synagogue on Friday evenings after the sand floors were raked smooth so that my footprints would be the first to show. Both synagogues had sand floors to symbolize the Diaspora wanderings of the Jewish people just as they wandered in the Sinai desert sands on their way to the Land of Israel.

My grandmother was born in Suriname and moved to Amsterdam where she married the son of the Chief Rabbi of Holland Yosef Tzvi Dunner. They were murdered in Auschwitz. Their daughter, my mother Anna Benjamin, passed away several months after giving a Hanukah piano recital at Beit Juliana in Herzliyah, Israel, at the age of 101. She enjoyed her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren thriving in the Land of Israel.

Biography
Miriam Benjamin is an artist who works in ceramic sculpture, environmental art and collaborative projects. She has created Jewish ceremonial objects, clayscapes inspired by geological forces in the Negev desert, and monumental artworks made in collaboration with elders from different ethnic communities of Miami. Her artwork has been exhibited in galleries and museums in New York, Miami, Washington, and Honolulu. She studied at Columbia University, New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, Massachusetts College of Art, and earned her M.F.A. at Pratt Institute. Benjamin was artist-in-residence at the South Florida Art Center and has taught at colleges in Israel and New York.

09 September 2011

Art Education / Jewish Life / Networked World


My paper below is the lead essay for a special issue of Jewish Education Leadership on "The Arts in Jewish Education" (Vol. 9, No. 3, Summer 2011).  The photo shows our granddaughter Elianne reenacting her role as ima shel shabbat (Sabbath Mother) in her kindergarten in Kfar Saba.

Art Education for Jewish Life in a Networked World  

Whoever is endowed with the soul of a creator must create works of imagination and thought, for the flame of the soul rises by itself and one cannot impede it on its course…. The creative individual brings vital, new light from the higher source where originality emanates to the place where it has not previously been manifest, from the place that “no bird of prey knows, nor has the falcon’s eye seen.” (Job 28:7), “that no man has passed, nor has any person dwelt” (Jeremiah 2:6).         Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

The confluence between the deep structure of Jewish consciousness and the postdigital redefinition of art invites a rethinking of art education for Jewish life in a networked world. The 20th century's modern art movements demolished the Hellenistic definition of art revived in the Renaissance. In the 21st century, we are witnessing the emergence of a paradigm shift from the Hellenistic to the Hebraic roots of western culture.

The leading edge of 21st century art education worldwide is responding to the rise of postdigital art forms that emphasize the human dimensions of new technologies in relation to cultural and aesthetic values, community connections, scientific explorations and interdisciplinary thought. This new art education aspires to integrating pride in roots with an explorer's view of the world as it is shared by others.

The Hellenistic definition is reflected in the words for art in European languages: art in English and French, arte in Spanish, Kunst in German and Dutch, and iskustvo in Russian. The roots of all these words are related to artificial, artifact, imitation, and phony. In contrast, the Hebrew word for artist (oman) is spelled (alef-mem-nun) AMN with the same letters as the word amen which means truth. Its feminine form is emunah, faith, and as a verb l’amen means to nurture and educate.

The Hellenistic characterization of art as mimesis, imitating nature, arresting the flow of life, has become obsolete as new definitions of art are arising from Jewish thought and action that explore issues of truth, faith, and education as they enrich everyday life. In Thorleif Boman's classic book Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek, Hebraic thought is characterized as being “dynamic, vigorous, passionate, and sometimes quite explosive in kind; correspondingly Greek thinking is static, peaceful, moderate, and harmonious in kind.”

Not only are the Hebrew words for 'artist' and 'educator' linguistically linked, but the Torah teaches that the prototypic Jewish artists Betzalel and Oholiav were divinely endowed with artistic talent coupled with the talent to teach (Exodus 35:30-34). Art education offers an alternative method of Torah study that beautifies the mitzvah of study through creating visual midrash. Art education in Jewish life needs to cultivate visual midrash through multimedia experiences that extend the verbal exploration of text. ‘Context’ in its primal meaning is ‘with text’ and the defining characteristic of postmodern art.

The narrative of the Jewish people begins with the journey of Abraham as he crosses over from his all too familiar past to see a fresh vision of a future in a new land. Indeed, Abraham is called a Hebrew (Ivri) – one who crosses over into a new reality. Abraham is told: “Walk with your authentic self away from all the familiar and comfortable places that limit vision to a land where you can freely see.” Here, the dynamic Hebraic mindset is established as new ways of seeing emerge from the integration of our journey in life with our inner quest for spiritual significance. The power of Abraham to leave an obsolete past behind and to cross conceptual boundaries into an unknown future presents a powerful message for art education today.

I identified major issues in art education today by analyzing 21st century books published by National Art Education Association, its special interest groups, and papers published in the International Journal of Education through Art. It is instructive that in addition to dealing with culture and ethnicity, collaborative art and cooperative learning, visual culture, interdisciplinary learning, creativity and developing cognitive processes through art making, the most recent special interest group established in 2008 is the Spiritual in Art Education Group. It seeks to study the relationship between the spiritual impulse and the visual arts and to develop art education curriculum theory and practices that encourage the study of the spiritual in art.

My inaugural statement for this NAEA group, papers in four NAEA books and in the International Journal of Education through Art suggest that the most advanced curriculum models for future art education can be derived from Torah sources. Postdigital curricula explore the interrelationships between four realms in the creative process, both divine and human, that flow from intentions, thoughts and feelings to action: Atzilut (Emination) - the precognitive realm of consciousness/spirituality/intention. Beriah (Creation) - the cognitive realm of insight/conceptualization/inquiry. Yetzirah (Formation) - the affective realm of emotions/aesthetic experience/artistic expression. Asiyah (Action) - the space-time realm of acting with materials/technologies/media in local community/global culture/biosphere.

27 July 2011

Torah Tweets: Book 4 / Numbers במדבר

A Postdigital Biblical Commentary as a Blogart Narrative

See our Torah Tweets blogart project at  http://torahtweets.blogspot.com in which we show 6 images for each of the 10 torah portions in Numbers, the fourth biblical book. To whet your appetite for seeing the entire project, we are showing here one image from each of 4 torah portions with torah tweets referring to these images.
The torah portions shown are Shelah (A Different Spirit), Hukat (Miriam's Well), Pinhas (Sight and Insight), and Mattot (Talking Rocks and Trees).

The Lubavicher Rebbe teaches: The purpose of life lived in torah is not the elevation of the soul; it is the sanctification of the world.

Only Joshua and Calev with his "different spirit" could recognize the spiritual in mundane tasks and hard work when accomplished in freedom.

The Arizal, Rabbi Isaac Luria, taught that on entering the Land of Israel, Miriam's well reappeared gushing water beneath the Sea of Galilee.

Why is "see" repeated twice? At first glance, Moses saw the Dead Sea and desert. Then, he saw the future of his people in their land.

Rabbi Haim ben Attar explained that Moses gained a deeper vision. He saw boys and girls playing in the Land of Israel.

Calev's different spirit and independent thought is sorely needed by Calev's descendants who have resettled the Land of Israel in our day.

26 July 2011

Knesset & Karmiel

Postdigital Art, Science, Technology and Kabbalah
  
Art and science came together for me this summer at the Knesset in Jerusalem and in the Galilee city of Karmiel. 
I participated in the annual award ceremony at the Knesset honoring the world's best scientists and artists with the coveted Wolf Prizes. The President of Israel on the recommendation of the Minister of Education had appointed me to the Council of the Wolf Foundation in 2002. Wolf Prizes are awarded in Jerusalem in the fields of agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, physics, art, music, and architecture.

Later in the week, I presented the paper below at the First International Conference on Art, Science and Technology at ORT Braude College in Karmiel.  The presentation following mine was given by Dan Shechtman, who had won the Wolf Prize in Physics and after Karmiel, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.


The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: Art, Science, Technology and Kabbalah

If we google postdigital art, the first listing is Wikipedia's definition from my new book: "In The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age, Mel Alexenberg defines 'postdigital art' as artworks that address the humanization of digital technologies through interplay between digital, biological, cultural, and spiritual systems, between cyberspace and real space, between embodied media and mixed reality in social and physical communication, between high tech and high touch experiences, between visual, haptic, auditory, and kinesthetic media experiences, between virtual and augmented reality, between roots and globalization, between autoethnography and community narrative, and between web-enabled peer-produced wikiart and artworks created with alternative media through participation, interaction, and collaboration in which the role of the artist is redefined."

In the 21st century, not only is the role of the artist changing, but art itself is being redefined. We are witnessing a redefinition of art in our postdigital networked world that is confluent with the Hebraic roots of Western culture rather than its Hellenistic roots. The 20th century was a century of modernism that broke down the Hellenistic definition of art that dominated the art world since the Renaissance. This Hellenistic definition is reflected in the words for art in European languages: art in English and French, arte in Spanish, Kunst in German and Dutch, and iskustvo in Russian. The roots of all these words are related to artificial, artifact, imitation, and phony. In contrast, the Hebrew word for artist (oman) is spelled (alef-mem-nun) AMN with the same letters as the word amen which means truth. Its feminine form is emunah, faith, and as a verb l’amen means to nurture and educate.

The Hellenistic definition of art as mimesis, imitating nature, arresting the flow of life, has become obsolete as new definitions of art are arising from Jewish thought and action that explore issues of truth, faith, and education as they enrich everyday life. In the classic book Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek, Hebraic thought is characterized as being “dynamic, vigorous, passionate, and sometimes quite explosive" and Greek thinking as "static, peaceful, moderate, and harmonious.” It is the Hebraic rather than the Hellenistic roots of Western culture that is redefining art in a networked world in which digital technologies are being humanized through participation and interaction.

I will explore the confluence between emerging forms of postdigtital art and Jewish consciousness through a conceptual model for creative process at the intersections of art, science and technology derived from kabbalah. The kabbalistic model is a metaphorical way of thinking derived from the deep structure of Jewish consciousness. Kabbalah provides a symbolic language and conceptual schema that facilitates understanding the dynamics of the creative process in postdigital art that explores the interplay of art, science and technology with creativity and spirituality.

I will apply this model of creative process to my development of a biofeedback-generated visual imaging system at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies. In interaction with this biofeedback system, a person generates digital self-portraits through internal body changes detected as brain waves by electroencephalograph or blood flow in capillaries by plethysmograph. At New York University and Columbia University I analyzed my in-depth interviews of prominent scientists (Nobel Laureates and members of the US National Academy of Sciences) and prominent artists to develop a model of aesthetic experience in creative process using psychological, biological, and mathematical methodologies. Through my research on art in Jewish thought at Bar Ilan University and Ariel University, I came to see how kabbalah provides a dynamic schema that colorfully integrates these other methodologies.

The kabbalistic model of creative process reveals a progression that draws inspiration down into the material world from a higher source where originality emanates. It demonstrates how inspiration is drawn down into our everyday world in ten stages called sephirot (sephirah in singular) that are derived from biblical passages describing both the artist and God as creators of worlds (Exodus 35:31 and Chronicles 1:29).

The first stage in the creative process is the sephirah Keter / Crown. Keter is (ratson) intention to create, (emunah) faith that one can create, and (ta'anug) anticipation that the creative process will be pleasurable. Without this will to create, self-confidence, and hope for gratification, the creative process has no beginning. Keter sets the stage for the sephirah of Hokhmah / Wisdom that requires (bitul) a selfless state, nullification of the ego that opens gateways to supraconscious and subconscious realms. When active seeking ceases, when consciously preoccupied with unrelated activities, when we least expect it, the germ of the creative idea bursts into our consciousness. We need to become an empty vessel in order to receive (l'kabbel) a sudden flash of insight that kabbalah calls Hokhmah. It is the transition from nothingness to being, from potential to the first moment of existence. In biblical words, “Wisdom shall be found in nothingness” (Job 28:12). When I asked prominent scientists and artists where they were when they had their most profound insight, none said they were in their laboratories or studios.

In synagogue on Shabbat, I was absorbed in the rhythm of the chanting of words from the Torah scroll following them with my eyes. I was far removed from my studio/laboratory at MIT when I suddenly realized that the word for face panim and for inside p’nim are written with the same Hebrew letters. I sensed that I needed to create portraits in which dialogue between the outside face and inside feelings become integrally one. When I told my son what had just dawned on me, my mind left the sephirah of Hokhmah for the sephirah of Binah / Understanding. The shapeless idea that ignited the process began to take form in Binah.

The first three sephirot represent the artist’s intention to create and the cognitive dyad in which a flash of insight begins to crystallize into a viable idea. The fourth sephirah, Hesed / Compassion, represents largess, the stage in the creative process that is open to all possibilities, myriad attractive options that I would love to do. Hesed is counterbalanced by the fifth sephirah of Gevurah / Strength, restraint, the power to set limits, to make judgments, to have the discipline to choose between myriad options. It demands that I make hard choices about which paths to take and which options to abandon.

I thought of a multitude of artistic options opened to me for creating artworks that reveal interplay between inner consciousness and outer face. As an MIT artist with access to electronic technologies, my mind gravitated to creating digital self-generated portraits in which internal mind/body processes and one’s facial countenance engage in spirited dialogue. As I felt satisfaction with my choice, I departed from the sephirah of Gevurah to the next stage, the sixth sephirah, Tiferet / Beauty. This sephirah represents a beautiful balance between the counter forces of largess and restraint. It is the feeling of harmony between all my possible options and the choices I had made. The sephirah of Beauty is the aesthetic core of the creative process in which harmonious integration of openness and closure is experienced as loveliness, splendor, and truth.

The seventh sephirah, Netzah / Success, is the feeling of being victorious in the quest for significance. I felt that I had the power to overcome any obstacles that may stand in the way of realizing my artwork. The Hebrew word for this sephirah, netzakh, can also mean “to conduct” or “orchestrate” as in the word that begins many of the Psalms. I had the confidence that I could orchestrate all the aspects of creating a moist media artwork that would forge a vital dialogue between dry pixels and wet biomolecules, between cyberspace and real space, and between human consciousness and digital imagery. The eighth sephirah, Hod / Gracefulness, is the glorious feeling that the final shaping of the idea is going so smoothly that it seems as effortless as the movements of a graceful dancer. The sephirah of Netzah is an active self-confidence in contrast with the sephirah of Hod, a passive confidence that all is going as it should.

The ninth sephirah, Yesod / Foundation, is the sensuous bonding of Netzah and Hod in a union that leads to the birth of the fully formed idea. It funnels the integrated flow of intention, thought, and emotion of the previous eight sephirot into the world of physical action, into the tenth sephirah of Malkhut / Kingdom, the noble realization of my concepts and feelings in the kingdom of time and space. It is my making the artwork. I constructed a console in which a participant seated in front of a monitor places her finger in a plethysmograph, which measures internal body states by monitoring blood flow, while under the gaze of a video camera. Digitized information about her internal mind/body processes triggers changes in the image of herself that she sees on the monitor. She sees her face changing color, stretching, elongating, extending, rotating, or replicating in response to her feelings about seeing herself changing. My artwork, Inside/Outside:P’nim/Panim, created a flowing digital feedback loop in which p’nim effects changes in panim and panim, in turn, effects changes in p’nim.