21 September 2016

Blogart Countdown to the Bible’s Beginning: Moses’ Vision of Baseball in Tel Aviv

Did Moses’ vision from Mt. Nebo let him see my son Ari pitching in Tel Aviv?

The annual cycle of weekly Bible readings from a Torah scroll comes to an end in four weeks.  The scroll is then rewound to the beginning and begins anew with the reading of Genesis on October 29, 2016.

This post creatively discusses the biblical portion “When you come” (Ki Tavo) read on Shabbat, September 24th.  It relates to the 9/11 Islamist terrorist attack on USA, the Cybersight project exploring the common visual desires of blind people worldwide, my jerUSAlem-USA blogart project exploring the 20 places in USA named Jerusalem, and my son the professional baseball player in Israel.


Use the next four weeks to begin at the beginning by learning how to create your own blog that transforms your everyday activities into spiritual events. You are invited to create a spiritual blog of your life for dissemination worldwide through the blogosphere and twitterverse.    

The interest of people of all faiths in the “Torah Tweets” blogart project http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com that I created with my wife Miriam encouraged me to write an instruction manual to teach others how to Bible blog their lives.   It was published as the book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com. It explains how to create a personal blog by linking smartphone photography and social media to spirituality.

The photo above shows Mt. Nebo, named after the biblical Mt. Nebo, photographed from Jerusalem, Utah.   See my photo of the original Mt. Nevo as seen from the Dead Sea with all the photographs for this week’s Torah portion at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/deuteronomy-7-911-cybersight-jerusalem.html.  Below are the tweets for this week’s Torah portion.

Ki Tavo/When you come (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:9)


“Accursed is one who strikes his fellow stealthily.” (Deuteronomy 27:24)

On 9/11, Mel was at the graduation ceremony at Ariel University when he heard the horrific news.

The joy of his students, Jews and Arabs alike, was suddenly dashed by the ghastly strike of militant Islamists against the free world.


“Accursed is one who misdirects the blind on their way.” (Deuteronomy 27:18)

We transformed a biblical curse into a blessing using innovative technology to aid blind people in “seeing” pictures with their fingers.

Our son Ari joined us in producing Cybersight.  We asked people born blind what things they would most like to see if they had vision.

Responses: Australia, Czech Republic, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Israel, Korea, Lebanon, Lithuania, Niger, Poland, Slovenia, Zambia, UK, USA.

The amazing similarity of responses of blind people from such diverse cultures teaches us about the common vision of humanity.

They wanted to see things that they couldn't touch – from blue sky, clouds, lakes, oceans, forests, and mountains to sports events.


The photos in this blog post are images from my JerUSAlem-USA blogart project http://jerusalem-usa.blogspot.com and images from “Torah Tweets” posts.

Clouds hovering above the Sea of Galilee in Israel and the Straits of Galilee photographed from Jerusalem, Rhode Island.

A Green Mountain forest in Jerusalem, Vermont, named Jerusalem because it's the same altitude as the original Jerusalem.


“Moses climbed up from the western plains of Moav to Mt. Nebo from where God showed him all the Land of Israel.”  (Deuteronomy 34:1)

Mt. Nebo, named after the biblical Mt. Nebo, photographed from Jerusalem, Utah, and the Moav mountain range east of the Dead Sea.

Mel photographed our son Ari pitching for the Petah Tikva Pioneers in an Israel Baseball League game in Tel Aviv.

Did Moses’ prophetic vision let him see Ari pitching from the mound in the sovereign State of Israel?

(From Times of Israel, September 21, 2016) 

15 September 2016

Discover Spirituality in Supermarket Shopping by Bible Blogging Your Life

Now is the time to learn how to create your own blog to reveal your everyday activities as spiritual events and mundane tasks as extraordinary occasions. 

It is the season leading up to the rewinding of the Torah scroll when we begin to read it from “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1). It is time to begin creating a spiritual blog of your life. This holiday season starts with Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Hebrew New Year 5777, and ends with the joyous holiday of Simhat Torah when we begin the annual cycle of reading the Torah scroll.  My wife Miriam and I were married on the night when Simhat Torah ended.  After having celebrated the Jewish tradition of dancing on Simhat Torah, our wedding guests continued dancing into the night.


To celebrate our 52nd year of marriage we created the “Torah Tweets” blogart project http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com to link our story to the biblical narrative.  During each of the 52 weeks of our 52nd year, we posted digital photographs reflecting our life together with tweet texts relating the weekly Torah reading to our lives.  We disseminated our weekly blog posts worldwide through the blogosphere and twitterverse. 

The great interest of people of all faiths in our blogart project encouraged me to write an instruction manual to teach others how to Bible blog their lives.   It was published as the book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com. It explains how to create a personal blog that links smartphone photography and social media to spirituality.


The chronological blog form invites the creation of a narrative for telling your story.  A blog is a web log, an Internet journal through which you can document the flow of your life’s thoughts, activities, and plans.  It connects your past and present to your future through a stream of images and words

Seeing your life as a flowing narrative can reveal spiritually significant trends. You can recognize extraordinary meanings of events in your life when you join them together in a narrative sequence.  You can discern distinctive patterns flowing through your life by relating your story as a narrative sequence of photographs in dialogue with creative texts.  The photographs in your blog are most powerful when they reveal the spectrum of divine light as they tell your story in relation to biblical stories.

The blog form is an ideal artistic and literary structure for spiritual blogging.  As a form viewed by scrolling vertically it relates to a Torah scroll read by scrolling horizontally.  The blog provides a user-friendly digital structure for recording your experiences and weaving them together into coherent patterns.  Blogs as social media open opportunities for sharing your stories with others worldwide.

Below is the “Torah Tweets” blog post for the sixth portion of the book Deuteronomy.  It is read in synagogues on Shabbat, September 17th.  There are four more Torah portions of Deuteronomy that will be read each week until Torah scrolls worldwide are rewound to Genesis for the annual cycle begin anew.      


Ki Teitzei/When you will go out (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

“For the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp.” (Deuteronomy 23:15)

Seeing God walking in the midst of our daily life is the overriding theme the “Torah Tweets” blogart project.

We photographed our daughter Iyrit shopping for Shabbat in the lively Petah Tikva shook (marketplace).

We present below quotations from three prominent rabbis and an American novelist that emphasize the centrality of down-to-earth spirituality in Judaism. 

Talmudic scholar Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik in his book Halakhic Man teaches that Judaism does not direct its gaze upward but downward:

“It does not aspire to a heavenly transcendence, nor does it seek to soar upon the wings of some abstract, mysterious spirituality. It fixes its gaze upon concrete, empirical reality permeating every nook and cranny of life. The shook, the street, the factory, the house, the mall, the banquet hall, all constitute the backdrop of religious life.”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem M. Schneerson, teaches that it is not enough for the Jew to rest content with his own spiritual ascent:

“He must strive to draw spirituality down into the world and into every part of it from the world of his work to his social life. His work and social life should not only not distract him from his pursuit of G-d, but they must become a full part of it.”

Rabbi Abraham Y. Kook sees individual actions combining to create a spiritual symphony of a sovereign nation in their homeland:

“The first message that Moses chose to teach the Jewish people as they were about to enter the Land of Israel was to fuse heaven to earth. To enable the mundane to rise up and touch the Divine, the spiritual to vitalize the physical, not only as individuals but as a nation.”

American writer E. L. Doctorow in his novel City of God expresses the same thoughts poetically: 

“If there is a religious agency in our lives, it has to appear in the manner of our times. Not from on high, but a revelation that hides itself in our culture. It will be ground-level, on the street, it'll be coming down the avenue in the traffic, hard to tell apart from anything else.”

12 September 2016

Art of Hidden Beauty in Photosynthesis Factories

Biological and Biblical narratives meeting in green leaves invite my aesthetic response as a biologist turned artist. 

The most important scientific narrative about life on Planet Earth is written in the formula for photosynthesis:  6H2O + 6CO2 + chlorophyll + sunlight yields C6H12O6 + 6O2.   Green chlorophyll in plant leaves illuminated by the sun transforms water and carbon dioxide into our food and oxygen.

The most widely read spiritual narrative is the Bible with its many passages about the importance of trees and of the spiral and branching arrangement of green leaves on them.

“A righteous person flourishes like a palm tree [with spiraling fronds] and grows tall like a cedar [with leaf filled branches].” (Psalm 92).

My explorations along the aesthetic interface between scientific and spiritual realms resulted in the creation of two sets of artworks on plant life.  One set reveals beauty hidden within leaves through my paintings on photomicrographs mounted on shaped panels.  The second set appears in the “Torah Tweets” blogart project that I created with my artist wife Miriam Benjamin to link our life story to the biblical story.  Both are expressions of the essence of the ecological consciousness of the biblical portion read in synagogues worldwide on the September 10th Shabbat Shoftim/Judges (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9).

“You must not destroy trees by swinging an ax against them for from them you will eat.  Do not cut them down because the tree of the field is man's life.” (Deuteronomy 20:19)  


I explored the organization of plant cells in the laboratory of New York Botanical Gardens transforming them into paintings in my New Jersey studio.  My botanical studies and artistic creations paralleled my teaching the graduate course “Morphodynamics: Design of Natural Systems” as art professor at Columbia University.  I found hidden within leaves a vital inner beauty that rivals the beauty of the outer forms of plants and their flowers. I sought to reveal this hidden beauty through encaustic paintings on photomicrographs of leaf cross-sections. 

I prepared microscope slides of leaf cross-sections, photographed their elegant cellular patterns through a microscope, enlarged them 600 times, mounted them on shaped panels, and painted on the photographs with vibrant pigments that I suspended in molten waxes.  The shapes of the panels are the outer shapes of the leaves, shapes emerging from the dynamic interplay between the cells within.
Nothing is more important to us than what happens inside leaves.  Without the vital process of photosynthesis occurring within leaves, we would not exist and there would be no life on our planet.  Leaf cells, using sunlight and chlorophyll, take water flowing up into leaves from roots in the earth and carbon dioxide blowing into leaves from the surrounding air and transform them into food and oxygen. 

My focus on the inner beauty of the photosynthetic process and the cellular organization within leaves rather than the outer beauty of the plant is not only inspired by my background in biology and art, but by my Jewish consciousness.  Unlike Hellenistic art revived in the Renaissance that sees beauty in the imitation of external form, Judaism honors the inner dynamics of living systems.  The growth process by which the outer form of a leaf is created by the organization of the cells within reveals an inner beauty known as tiferet.  Tiferet is the innermost node interconnected with nine others in the “Tree of Life” metaphor for the spiraling of divine light into our everyday world of space and time.  This metaphorical way of seeing beauty as the dynamic harmony between multiple forces is called hokhmat hanistar (hidden wisdom), another name for kabbalah, Judaism’s down-to-earth spiritual tradition.  I wrote a book on this subject published by Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press, The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness http://future-of-art.com. 

This aesthetic enthusiasm for revealing the elegant cellular growth patterns hidden within leaves began with large oil paintings that I made when I was a newly-married 22 year old science teacher at Louis Pasteur Junior High School on Long Island.  A few years later, I created tactile collages of arrays of plant cells as a student at the Art Students League of New York while I was also science supervisor for the Manhasset Public Schools.  

My enthusiasm was renewed as the central focus of my artwork during my years teaching at Columbia when I equipped my studio for encaustic painting.  I installed ventilation hoods to remove the fumes generated when I made paints by suspending powdered pigments in a combination of molten beeswax, microcrystalline wax, and dammar resin.  I designed and built special equipment combining soldering irons and funnels with touch values for painting on photomicrographs that I mounted on shaped panels.  Light waves reflected from within the depths of the translucent encaustic paints rendered the cells vibrancy unattainable with oil or acrylic paints.

At the laboratory of the New York Botanical Gardens, I replaced the water in plant cells with alcohol and then xylol and liquid paraffin so that they would be firm enough when refrigerated to be cleanly cut with a microtome into cross-sections one-cell thick.  I prepared microscope slides through which I photographed the cellular patterns creating the outer form of the leaf.  In the darkroom at Columbia, I printed these photographs in black and white to glue on shaped panels that I prepared in my studio. 

Three decades later, I mounted an exhibition at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens when I was head of Emunah College School of the Arts in Israel.  These shaped encaustic paintings of cellular patterns within leaves alongside the actual living plants invited visitors to the exhibition to embark on an aesthetic journey from the whole plant into the beautiful world hidden within it.  Although the exhibition was scheduled for two months, it met with such enthusiastic response that it remained for two years.  


I collaborated with my wife Miriam in celebrating our 52nd year of marriage by creating our “Torah Tweets” blogart project http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com.  
During each of the 52 weeks of our 52nd year, we posted photographs reflecting our life together with a digital poetry text that relates the weekly Torah reading to our lives.  Our project linking smartphones, social media and spirituality grew into my book that teaches people of all faiths how to Bible blog their lives, Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com.  Below is our blog post on how our everyday life became an expression of the fifth portion of the book of Deuteronomy.


Shoftim/Judges (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

“You must not destroy trees by swinging an ax against them for from them you will eat.  Do not cut them down because the tree of the field is man's life.” (Deuteronomy 20:19)

When we were first married, Mel was a biology teacher teaching about the crucial role of trees in maintaining the global ecosystem. 

He taught how trees draw water up through their roots, take in carbon dioxide through their leaves and transform them into sugar and oxygen.

The most important narrative in the world:  6H2O + 6CO2 + chlorophyll + sunlight yields C6H12O6 + 6O2

Without it there'd be no life on our planet. Photosynthesis creates all the food we eat and the oxygen we breathe.

Judaism develops from this biblical passage the ecological laws of bal tashhit (don't destroy) that even forbids destroying a mustard seed.

Judaism celebrates the New Year of the Trees on Tu B'shavat when we begin to see the blossoming of almond trees on our drive to Jerusalem.

The Torah is likened to a tree of life (Proverbs 3:18).   
“A righteous person flourishes like a palm tree and grows tall like a cedar.” (Psalm 92).

We photographed the large leaves of the frangipani in front of our house, the bougainvillea on our porch and the ficus down the street.

Mel reveals beauty hidden within leaves by photographing them through a microscope on which he paints with pigments mixed into molten waxes.

His encaustic painting of the cellular organization within a pine leaf cross-section enlarged 600 times shows where photosynthesis happens.

We photographed new leaf growth sprouting from an old pine tree in the park near our house and date palms in Ein Gedi.

In the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, beauty (tiferet) is the innermost junction of 22 branches through which Divine light flows into our lives.