18 January 2019

How an Angel Led Me into the Garden of Eden


This morning, an angel led me into the Garden of Eden and I met my wife Miriam.  Other angels had done the same on other Friday mornings. 

What happen when Miriam and I found ourselves in the Garden of Eden?  We worked together cooking lunch for our Shabbat afternoon meal.  Miriam handed me the bunch of scallions that she had washed to chop into tiny discs. She rubbed the baking pan with olive oil, baked potatoes in the microwave, and gave the hot potatoes to me to slice and arrange in the pan. Listening to heavenly music from our favorite disc, we sprinkled garlic and herbs on the potatoes and spread a layer of cottage cheese that we dotted with the scallion discs and grated cheese.  Miriam covered the pan with foil as I set the oven for 30 minutes at 180 degrees Centigrade.


 
How did we discover that the Garden of Eden was hidden our kitchen? We realized that the biblical word for “angel” malach and “food” ma’achal are written with the same four Hebrew letters to teach us that angels are spiritual messages arising from everyday life.  As Hebrew speakers living in Israel, we know that the feminine form of the word for “angel” malach is “work” malachah to tell us that spirituality can be experienced in all the meaningful work that we do. When Miriam and I work together in our kitchen preparing food, we discover that we are in the Garden of Eden like Abraham and his wife Sarah had discovered millennia ago.

How Hungary Angels Led the Patriarch Abraham to the Garden of Eden

He was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day.  Looking up, he saw three men (angels in disguise) standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them. (Genesis 18:2)  Abraham rushed back to the tent to Sarah and said, “Hurry!  Take three measures of the finest flour!  Kneed it and make rolls!” Then Abraham ran to the cattle to choose a tender and choice calf.  (Genesis 18:6, 7)

The Midrash, a compilation of two thousand years of creative narratives that elucidate the biblical text, asks why does it say “ran?”  Why doesn’t the Torah just say Abraham took a calf to grill?  The Midrash explains that Abraham ran after a calf that ran away from him into a cave. He discovered that the cave 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)

Miriam and I worked together to create paradise in our vegetarian kitchen.  Adam and Eve had a vegetarian kitchen, too.

How the Deepest Secrets of the Universe are Revealed in Jewish Ravioli

In Fragments of a Future Scroll, Rabbi Zalman Schachter tells a Hasidic tale set in Eastern Europe more than a century ago that teaches the essence of Kabbalah, the down-to-earth spiritual tradition of Judaism.  It emphasizes that spiritual mysteries can only be understood at the level of everyday life.   

Shmuel Munkes was walking down a road on his way to see his illustrious Rebbe when an elegant carriage stops.  A well-dressed dandy invites him to ride with him since he is going to see the Rebbe, too.  The dandy brags about being the son and grandson of kabbalists.  Shmuel asks this self-proclaimed kabbalist for help in deciphering a kabbalistic text of cosmic proportions that he said he had found on a scrap of paper in an old holy book:

"In the very primal beginning there was chaos—all was sundered and separate.  Grainy nuclei unconnected.  Swirling.  Then fiat, they were in one sphere.  The sphere unfolded into an orb.  On the orb-lines appeared, forces cut the space in fields.  These fields became centered in a point and enfolded the point.  Peace was made between fiery angels and the angels of the vital fluid and in their cooperation all came our as it ought to be."

The dandy expressed amazement at this mystical text that he admitted he could not place.  Shmuel explained that since he was a young student, he would have to wait weeks before the Rebbe would see him.  He said, “Since you are such an important man, you will be invited to see the Rebbe soon after you arrive in town.  Please ask the Rebbe about the text and tell me what he says.”  The dandy agrees and does get to see the Rebbe without a long wait.  The Rebbe slowly reads from the scrap of paper, closes his eyes and stares into inner places searching for the deepest meaning the text.  He opens his eyes and turns to the anxious dandy explaining the text with one word: kreplach (a Jewish version of ravioli).

 "In the very primal beginning there was chaos—all was sundered and separate, grainy nuclei unconnected swirling.” (That was flour.)  “Then fiat, they were in one sphere.” (Dough.)  “The sphere unfolded into an orb.” (The dough was rolled out flat.)  “On the orb lines appeared, forces cut the space into fields.” (Of course, diamond shaped pieces of dough are cut and meat put in.)  “The fields became centered in a point and enfolded the point. Peace was made between fiery angels and the angels of the vital fluid.”  (As the pot was filled with water and put on the stove to boil, the kreplach were put in.) “And in their cooperation all came out as it ought to be."

The Rebbe laughed when he finally saw Shmuel.  “What a dish you cooked up,” he said.

How to Fuse Heaven to Earth and Make the Mundane Rise Up to Touch the Divine

My “Shook Shopping” blog post in my book Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media http://throughabiblelens.blogspot.com teaches how to you can find spirituality in everything you do.  Written in Twitter tweets, the language of today’s digital culture, it begins with our daughter Iyrit shopping in the shook (marketplace) in Israel for the ingredients to make her family’s Shabbat meals.
 
It continues with the thoughts of three of the of the 20th century’s leading spiritual leaders based upon the biblical passage “For the Lord thy God walks in the midst of your camp.” (Deuteronomy 23:15): Talmudic scholar Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, known as “The Rav” by the hundreds of rabbis he ordained at Yeshiva University in New York, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, head of Chabad Hassidism that reaches out to Jews throughout the world, and Rabbi Abraham Y. Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel and author of the poetic book Orot Hakodesh (Holy Lights).

In Rabbi Soloveitchik’s seminal book Halakhic Man, he teaches that Judaism does not direct its gaze upward but downward.

It fixes its gaze upon concreate reality an every aspect of life, from the mall to the banquet hall. 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that we must strive to draw spirituality down into every part of life, from our work to our social life.

A person’s work should not only not distract him from his pursuit of G-d, but they must become a full part of it.

Chief Rabbi Kook explains that 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.

They were charged to make the mundane to rise up to touch the Divine, the spiritual to vitalize the physical, not only as individuals but as an entire nation.

01 January 2019

91 Story Torah Tower to Top Tel Aviv Skyline


 
Construction has begun on the tallest building in Israel that will tower over the other high-rise buildings shaping Tel Aviv’s skyline.  The 91 story skyscraper will grow up like a living form that expresses the spiral structure of Jewish consciousness.  It is being built by the Azrieli Group next to its well-known circular, square and triangular towers in the heart of Tel Aviv.

Dana Azrieli, chairwoman of the Azrieli Group, described the concept of the building’s architecture as an expression of values of Judaism coupled with aesthetics of nature.  She said, “We looked at a range of sources of inspiration for the design, including our history, nature, culture and values.  We looked at Jewish tradition, and we saw the Jewish people as the ‘People of the Book.’ We considered the curving shape of the megillah and the Torah, in addition to receiving inspiration from the curving lines of Tel Aviv’s strong Bauhaus tradition and the twist of a snail’s shell.”

As a biologist turned new media artist and professor of art and Jewish education, Dana Azrieli’s thoughts about life forms and Jewish tradition reflect my teaching at universities in USA and Israel. I taught “Morphodynamics: Design of Natural Systems” at Columbia and MIT and “Art in Jewish Thought” at Bar-Ilan and Ariel. 

The significance of the spiral form in both biological systems and Jewish consciousness is explored in my books: Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media (Elm Hill/HarperCollins) and The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press).  Through a Bible Lens is one of two books and 80 articles that I wrote during the six years that I have lived with my wife Miriam at Palace Ra’anana, Azrieli Group’s retirement community.

PEOPLE OF THE SPIRAL SCROLL

Jews are called am haSePheR, usually translated “People of the Book.” But SePheR is a word written in the Torah scroll itself long before the invention of codex type books contained between two covers. SePheR means spiral scroll. It is spelled SPR, the root of the word “SPiRal” in numerous languages, ancient and modern. Jews, then, are “People of the Spiral.” In kabbalah, Judaism’s down-to-earth spiritual system, the SePhiRot are emanations of divine light spiraling down into our everyday life. The English words “SPiRitual” and “inSPiRation” share the SRP root from the Latin SPiRare, to breathe.
 

In Judaism, form gives shape to content. The medium is an essential part of the message. Weekly portions of the first five books of the Bible in the form of a Torah scroll are read in synagogue. The symbolic significance of the spiral form is so strong that if a Torah scroll is not available in synagogue, the Bible is not publicly read at all. The exact same words printed in codex book form convey the wrong message. If the divine message encoded in the Torah is trapped between two rectilinear covers, it loses its life-giving flow. The Torah teaches that the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians in a malben, a brickyard.  Malben is also the Hebrew word for rectangle.   

The Torah must have the infinite flow of a Mobius strip where the final letter of the Torah, the lamed of yisraeL (Israel) connects to the first letter, the bet of B’reshit (in the beginning). Lamed bet spells the word for “heart.” The heart of the Torah is where the end connects to the beginning in an endless flow. Form and content join together to symbolize the essence of Jewish values. The Bible encoded in a flowing scroll form provides a clue as to the nature of biblical consciousness as an open-ended, living system like DNA molecules, snail shells, and the spiral growth pattern of palm fronds.

SPIRAL LADDERS AND SPIRITUAL BAR CODES

The spiral is a key symbol of Jewish culture, from tzitzit fringes to ram's horn shofar to spiral hallah bread.  Their spiral forms parallel the major life forms in nature.  The ladder in Jacob’s dream can connect spiritual and scientific viewpoints: “He had a vision in a dream. A ladder was standing on the ground, its top reaching up towards heaven as Divine angels were going up and down on it.” (Genesis 28:12)  Jewish tradition arrives at the spiral shape of Jacob’s ladder by noticing that the numerical value of Hebrew words for “ladder” sulam and for “spiral” slil are both 130. Creative play using numerical equivalents of Hebrew letters, a system called gematriah, can lead to fresh insights.  The spiral ladder in Jacob’s dream can be linked to the DNA spiral ladder with rungs on which codes for all forms of life are written with four words: A-T, T-A, C-G, G-C.  

“Speak to the Israelites and say to them that they shall make fringes (tzitzit) on the corner of their garments for all generations.  And they shall include in the fringes of each corner a thread of sky-blue wool.” (Numbers 15:37)  The sky-blue dye used to color the thread is derived from a spiral sea snail.   

To this day, these ritual fringes are tied to the corners of a rectangular prayer shawl.  Like the DNA spiral that spells out the code for the characteristics of all plants, animals, and human beings, each spiral fringe spells out “God is One” in a numerical bar code.  Each fringe is tied with four sets of spirals held together by five knots in a sequence of 7, 8, 11, and 13 turns (in the Ashkenazi tradition). Seven days of divine creation is followed by the eighth day in which humanity joins with God in continuing the creation. 7 + 8 = 15, the numerical equivalent of YH, the first two letters in the divine name. The numerical value of second two letters, VH, is 11. The full divine name YHVH equals 26. The fourth set of 13 turns is the numerical value of ehad, the Hebrew word for “one.” In morning prayers, Jews gather together in one hand the fringes from the four corners of our prayer shawls as we recite the shema, the central affirmation of Judaism “God is One,” while looking at the spiral tzitzit that spells out “God is One” in a numerical bar code.



I created Four Corner of America, the official artwork celebrating the Miami’s Centennial. I make large ship-rope tzitzit, colored one strand sky-blue, and placed them at the four corners of America. The tztzit on the coast of Florida and Maine reached into the Atlantic Ocean and on Washington State and California into the Pacific Ocean. The Torah not only speaks of four corners of a garment, but also about the four corner of the Earth.  The biblical word for “corner” kanfot literally means “wings.”  It was appropriate that American Airlines sponsored my art project.

JEWISH ARCHITECTURE AS LIVING SYSTEM

A Jewish structure of consciousness in architecture emphasizes temporal processes in which space is actively engaged by human community rather than presenting a harmoniously stable form in space. Architectural theorist Bruno Zevi, compares the Hebraic and Greek attitudes toward architecture in his essay on concepts of space-time shaping Hebraic consciousness in the book Bruno Zevi on Modern Architecture:   

“For the Greeks a building means a house-object or a temple-object. For the Jews it is the object-as-used, a living place or a gathering place. As a result, architecture taking its inspiration from Hellenic thought is based on colonnades, proportions, refined molding, a composite vision according to which nothing may be added or eliminated, a structure defined once and for all. An architecture taking its inspiration from Hebrew thought is the diametric opposite. It is an organic architecture, fully alive, adapted to the needs of those who dwell within, capable of growth and development, free of formalistic taboo, free of symmetry, alignments, fixed relationships between filled and empty areas, free from the dogmas of perspective, in short, an architecture whose only rule, whose only order is change.”

Theologian Thorleif Boman writes in Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek  about the dynamic action-centered Hebraic consciousness, noting that biblical passages concerned with the built environment always describe plans for construction without any description of the appearance of the finished structure. The Bible has exquisitely detailed construction instructions for the Tabernacle (mishkan) without any word picture of the appearance of the completed structure.  The mishkan was a movable, small scale structure made of modular parts and woven tapestries.  It was taken apart, packed on wagons, and moved through the desert from site to site. Its modest tent-like design and active life was quite different from the immovable marble temples of ancient Greece that still stand today.

We can see a renaissance of this ancient Hebraic consciousness in the scientific foundations of the hi-tech revolution.   Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogione explains in Order Out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature that the traditional science of the age of the machine tended to emphasize stability, order, uniformity, equilibrium, and closed systems. The transition from an industrial society to a hi-tech society in which information and innovation are critical resources, brought forth new scientific world models that characterize today’s accelerated social change: disorder, instability, diversity, disequilibrium, nonlinear relationships, open systems, and a heightened sensitivity to the flow of time.

BUILDING STORIES

Influenced by the narrative structure of the Hebrew Bible, architect Daniel Libeskind explains that he creates buildings that tell stories. “If a building doesn’t tell a story it’s a nothing.  Every building should tell you the deeper story of why it’s there.”

Libeskind follows in the tradition of his grandfather who made his living traveling from village to village in Poland telling stories colored with Torah values. He emphasizes that his architectural sensibility is consciously Jewish, aiming at shaking people’s souls.  Architecture, he wrote, “seeks to explore the deeper order rooted not only in visible forms, but in the invisible and hidden sources which nourish culture itself, in its thought, art, literature, song and movement.”  He explores the symbolic potential of architecture through which history and tradition, memories and dreams are expressed. 

In an interview with The Jerusalem Report, Libeskind describes how his architecture expresses Jewish values that reject looking at buildings as merely material reality.

“I know that any building that I love is a building full of connections to something memorable, to something that has to do with the larger world, not just the immediate functional use.  Architecture should be able to pose questions, not just make people fall asleep and be anaesthetized, but invoke the real vitality of life, which is full of something wondrous.  It’s the Jewish value that space in not just the superficial idol that people often venerate, but that space is connected to culture, to spirit, and has great resonance in terms of tradition, the present and how it’s oriented towards new horizons.”

91 STORIES

The 91 stories the Azrieli Tower has significance in Judaism.  When the reader chants the words from a Torah scroll, he sees the unspoken divine name YHVH but reads it as Adoni. In prayer books in the Sephardi tradition, these two divine names are printed together as YHV followed by a stretched out H holding within it the word Adoni.  YHVH has the numerical value of 26 and Adoni of 65.  Together they equal 91.  The visual and spoken divine names become one.

After a prayer is recited, the congregation says amen, a Hebrew word adapted by English to affirm the truth of the prayer.  Amen has the numerical value of 91.

The word for artist oman is 91. The words for angel malach and for food ma’achal each have a numerical value of 91.  The biblical words for angel and food are written with the same four Hebrew letters to teach us the angels are spiritual messages arising from everyday life.
 
 
As an artist, I am currently collaborating with students at Emunah College School of the Arts on my Jerusalem in Israel to JerUSAlem in USA art project (http://jerusalem-usa.blogspot.com).   They are creating one-minute smartphone videos about food in Jerusalem that will be sequenced with animated cyberangels and streamed from Israel to the twelve US states that have places named “Jerusalem.”  These cyberangels are digitized Rembrandt images shown ascending from a NASA image of the Land of Israel on a smartphone screen on the cover of my Through a Bible Lens book (http://throughabiblelens.blogspot.com).

 It would be appropriate for the cyberangels to fly to the four corners of the Earth from the 53 story Azrieli Sarona Tower, the highest building in Israel, until the 91 story Spiral Tower is completed.  It will be the realization of the commentary of the eminent biblical interpreter Rashi that angels in Jacob’s dream ascend from the Land of Israel and come down throughout the world.

From The Times of Israel, Jan. 1, 2019    

12 November 2018

Interconnects Art, Creative Processes, Religion and New Media Technologies



“In Through a Bible Lens, Alexenberg offers us a magnificent and original approach that interconnects art, creative processes, religion and new media technologies. The book is an important contribution to the study of media and is a must read for anyone interested in our contemporary culture. – Dr. Lucia Leao, author of The Labyrinth of Hypermedia and The Chip and the Kaleidoscope: Studies in New Media; professor of Communications and Semiotics, Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, Brazil

08 November 2018

Cyberangels of Peace Fly from Jerusalem in Israel to JerUSAlems in USA and on to all the World


“He had a vision in a dream. A ladder was standing on the ground, its top reaching up towards heaven as Divine angels were going up and down on it.” (Genesis 28:12)

The preeminent biblical commentator Rashi (11th century, France) taught that the angels ascending and descending the ladder in Jacob’s dream go up from the Land of Israel and come down to earth throughout the world. 

Digital technologies give me the power to make this vision a reality by launching animated Rembrandt angels from Jerusalem in Israel to the JerUSAlems in twelve states of USA that have places named JerUSAlem and then to nations around the globe.  See http://jerusalem-USA.blogspot.com.     


I am creating international digital art events that launch cyberangels worldwide.  These events celebrate launching my new book Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media that is available on Amazon.  The book’s cover above shows cyberangels ascending from a satellite photo of the Land of Israel on a smartphone screen. See http://throughabiblelens.blogspot.com.  

Cyberangels as Messengers of Peace

The biblical word for “angel” and “messenger” are one and the same in Hebrew.  Cyberangels are messengers of peace rising up from the Land of Israel and descending into each of the seventy biblical nations populated by the descendants of Noah that God “separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations” (Genesis 10: 5).  They convey God’s message that the nations of the world are not meant to speak one language as in the disastrous Tower of Babel episode.  Each nation has its unique and distinct voice to contribute to the grand planetary choir singing God’s praise.

Peace upon You, Angels of Peace

The Hebrew word shalom means “peace.”  It is a greeting for both coming and going.  In Israel where I live, when I see a friend approaching, I greet him by saying “shalom.”   When a guest leaves my home, I also say “shalom.”  Shalom is akin to the word shalem, meaning “wholeness,” the integration of material and spiritual realms. 

The Sabbath eve meal in a Jewish home begins with the people gathered around the table singing the traditional song Shalom Aleichem (“Peace upon You”): 

Peace upon you, ministering angels, angels of the Highest, from the King who reigns over kings, the Holy One, blessed is He.  May your coming be in peace, angels of peace…. Bless me with peace, angels of peace….  May your departure be in peace, angels of peace, messengers of the Highest, from the King who reigns over kings, the Holy One, blessed is He.”

The words of the song were composed four centuries ago in the Galilee town of Tzfat (Safed) by Jews involved in exploring kabbalah, the down-to-earth spiritual tradition of Judaism.  Surprisingly, the well-known melody for the song, thought of as a centuries-old folk tune, was composed by the American composer Rabbi Israel Goldfarb in 1918 at Columbia University where he earned a degree in music education. (He studied in the same Columbia Teachers College building where I was professor of art and education in the 1970’s.)

45 years after Rabbi Goldfarb composed the music for Shalom Aleichem, he wrote: "The popularity of the melody traveled not only throughout this country but throughout the world, so that many people came to believe that the song was handed down from Mt. Sinai by Moses."  Shalom Aleichem played by the renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman creates an ethereal energy appropriate for launching cyberangels worldwide.  You can hear it at   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BDaDfmBQXA

“Angel” and “food” are written with the Same Hebrew Letters  

The biblical words for “angel” and “food” are written with the same four Hebrew letters to tell us that angels are spiritual messages arising from everyday life.


The Bible (Genesis 18:1-8) relates how three angels disguised as men appeared to Abraham while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.  When he looked up and saw them a short distance from him, he ran to greet them and invited them to stay to eat.  He rushed to his wife, Sarah, and asked her to bake cakes for their guests. 

Then Abraham ran to the cattle to choose a tender, choice calf.  The Midrash, a centuries-old biblical commentary, questions why Abraham ran after the calf.  It tells that he ran after the calf because it ran away from him into a cave.  Abraham discovered that he had entered the burial place of Adam and Eve.  He was drawn to intense light emanating from an opening at the end of the cave.  As he approached, he saw the Garden of Eden through the opening. 

This deeply spiritual person, the patriarch Abraham, found himself standing at the entrance to Paradise.  About to cross over the threshold into 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 lunch for the three strangers.  They sat together in the shade of a tree enjoying the food that Abraham and Sarah had prepared.

Angels are Spiritual Messages Arising from Everyday Life

In his review of my book, Dr. Jim Solberg, USA National Director of Bridges for Peace and author of Sinai Speaks, points out how Jews and Christians who share an abiding love of the Bible seek spirituality in everyday life.  

"Through a Bible Lens offers a unique and personal challenge to the reader to integrate Bible Study, the creation that surrounds us, and our personal experience into a “living journal.”  Dr. Alexenberg’s approach offers a fun, yes fun, path to integrate pondering the deepest questions of Scripture with modern living and a literally visual journey through life.  Written from a Jewish Torah loving perspective, this book will be a joy to any lover of the Bible, Christian or Jewish.  I not only endorse it, I look forward to integrating these ideas into my personal encounter with Scripture”

My dialogue with Dr. Solberg lead me to learn how Bridges for Peace builds relationships between Christians and Jews in Israel and around the world by merging spiritual and material realms.  The Bridges of Peace website quotes from Isaiah (58:10-11):

“If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday.”

Their Food Project provides over three tons of food every working day to needy people in communities throughout Israel from their food banks in Jerusalem and Karmiel, a city in the Galilee a short drive from Tzvat where the words for the song Shalom Aleichem “Peace upon You, Angels of Peace” was composed more than 400 years ago. 

From The Times of Israel and IsraelSeen  

24 August 2018

Smartphones Can Make Biblical Visions Real


“He had a vision in a dream. A ladder was standing on the ground, its top reaching up towards heaven as Divine angels were going up and down on it.” (Genesis 28:12)


I created the artwork “Angel Ascending from the Land of Israel” nearly three decades ago in the printmaking studio affiliated with the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  It shows two digitized Rembrandt angels ascending from a NASA satellite image of the Land of Israel. It illustrates the commentary by the preeminent biblical interpreter Rashi (11th century, France) that the angels in Jacob’s dream go up from the Land of Israel and come down to earth throughout the world.

My last Times of Israel and IsraelSeen articles describe how I created a faxart event in 1987 using these same digitized Rembrandt angels to connect Long Island to mainland USA. Two years later, I sent a digitized Rembrandt angel on a flight around the globe using AT&T satellites.  The cover of my new book Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media displays the Rembrandt angel images from my Israel Museum serigraph (See http://throughabiblelens.blogspot.com.) However, it shows the same two angels flying out from a smartphone screen. Fax technology has morphed into the Internet, smartphones and social media.  

I am exploring how to celebrate my book launch in January by demonstrating how smartphones have the power to make this biblical vision a reality.  I’d welcome suggestions from smartphone/social media savvy readers of this article on ways to creatively disseminate these angel images from the Land of Israel to cities throughout the world.  Send them to melalexenberg@yahoo.com.  

Since my pioneering faxart projects are conceptually relevant today, let’s take a look at how I flew a digitized Rembrandt angel from the AT&T building in New York, to Rembrandt’s studio in Amsterdam, to Tokyo where fax machines were made, to the City of Angels – Los Angeles, and back to New York.  My circumglobal faxart event was followed in 60 newspapers, in three thousand copies of AT&T’s Annual Report, and by ten million viewers of news stories on all the major TV networks covering the cyberangel’s return to New York.

Cyberangels Circle the Globe via AT&T satellites

Working with Rembrandt’s angels, reminded me of the small etching he had made as a book illustration showing angels going up and down the ladder in Jacob’s dream.  It was in the only book he had illustrated, Piedra Gloriosa/Even Yakar (Glorious Stone in Ladino and Hebrew), a kabbalistic book written by his neighbor and friend, Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel.  
I wanted to do something to honor Rembrandt.  On October 4th, it would be the 320th anniversary of his death.  Jewish tradition honors people on the day they complete their lives rather than on their birthdays.  It’s like applauding after seeing a great play instead of when the curtain opens.  It dawned on me that I could applaud Rembrandt best by having his winged angels wing their way around the world.

I phoned AT&T.  I asked if I could use their telecommunications satellites to send a cyberangel on a circumglobal flight.  “You have what to send around the globe?” was the usual response as I was transferred from office to office.  Incredulity was turned to interest when I reached the director of the Infoquest Center, AT&T’s technology museum on the ground floor of their postmodern building designed by Philip Johnson.  I took a clangorous subway train across the Manhattan Bridge to present my proposal.  The public relations people liked the idea and AT&T agreed to sponsor my memorial faxart event.

I flew to Amsterdam to meet with Eva Orenstein-van Slooten, Curator of Museum het Rembrandthuis, the artist’s home and studio.  With trepidation, I proposed having a fax machine placed on Rembrandt’s 350-year-old etching press to receive the angel that would fly there from New York.  She thought it was a wonderful idea.  It would make her museum, a quiet place, come alive as Rembrandt’s angel rematerialized in the place he had originally created it. 

On the morning of October 4th, his angel ascended from the Chippendale top of the AT&T building in New York.  It flew to Amsterdam to Jerusalem to Tokyo to Los Angeles, returning to the former New Amsterdam on the same afternoon.  It took an hour in each city to receive 28 pages of angel fragments and fax them on to the next city.  After a five-hour flight around the planet, the deconstructed angel was reconstructed for the fifth time at its starting point.  

When it passed through Tokyo, it was the already the morning of October 5th.  After the line printed out on the top of the fax “Tokyo National University of Arts and Music, 5 October 1989” was the line “Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 4 October 1989.”  Cyberangels can not only fly around the globe, they can fly into tomorrow and back into yesterday.  They reshape our concepts of time and space in ways that correspond to the vision of kabbalists centuries ago.

The cyberangel was received at Rembrandt’s house seconds after it left New York.  It came as 28 sheets, each with an abstract fragment of the angel image.  Ms. van Slooten feed the sheets back into the fax machine on Rembrandt’s etching press and dialed the fax number of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  She then assembled all the fragments into a whole 4 x 6 foot angel.

Jerusalem was the appropriate next stop since it is an angel from a biblical scene.  It was evening when the cyberangel arrived.  Amalyah Zipkin, Curator of European Art at the Israel Museum, sent me a description of the angel coming and going.  She wrote:

“There is something appropriate in the illogic of the event: here we were in Jerusalem, the Holy City of 4000 years of turbulent history, huddled next to a fax machine in the mail room of the Israel Museum.  It was a few days before Yom Kippur.  Somewhere out there in technological space, a disembodied angel – computerized, digitized, enlarged, quartered, and faxed – was winging its way towards us from Amsterdam.  This angel had been drawn in the 17th century by a Dutch artist with the instantly-recognizable mass-media name of Rembrandt van Rijn, and had undergone its electronic dematerialization 320 year after the artist’s death as the hands of a New York artist and technology freak who had the audacity to make the connections: Rembrandt, the Bible, gematria, the electronic age, global communications, the art world, and the fax machine.  Like magic, at the appointed hour the fax machine zapped to life and bits of angel began to materialize in Jerusalem.  Photographs and the attendant PR requirements of contemporary life were seen to, and the pages were carefully fed back into the machine. We punched in the Tokyo phone number and the angel took technological flight once more.”

It was almost dawn on October 5th when the angel arrived in Tokyo in the Land of the Rising Sun where fax machines are made.  Ikuro Choh of Tokyo National University of Arts and Music received the angel and revealed its full image by assembling the 28 sheets on the ground among the ancient pillars in Ueno Park.  He then disassembled them and attached all the sheets end-to-end in a long ribbon ascending the stairs and entering into a centuries-old religious shrine built in traditional pagoda style.  The old Tokyo site was selected to carry a spiritual message of electronic age homage to tradition.  Ikuro Choh laments, “not only in Tokyo but everywhere in Japan, the traditional and the old are being destroyed at a ferocious speed, making the culture of paper, wood and bamboo evaporate like a mist, allowing the ugly demons of concrete to appear in its wake.”

  
With the sun rising over Japan to begin a new day, the faxart angel rose over the Pacific Ocean to fly into yesterday.  It arrived in the City of the Angels at 2:40 p.m. on October 4th.  The angel came together once again at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles on the day before it had visited Tokyo.

The cyberangel returned to New York five hours after it had left.  It had entered tomorrow before flying forward into yesterday.  Camera crews for all the major television networks welcomed the cyberangel’s return from its circumglobal flight.  It was broadcast on the national news from New York that evening.  After having flown around the world, the cyberangel simultaneously visited millions of homes across North America.  Associated Press covered the faxart event, too, sending the angel image and story over its wire services.  Sixty newspapers carried the AP story, each with a different headline.  It even made the front page in Billings (Montana), Marion (Ohio), and Selby (North Carolina).  AT&T made it the feature of their annual report.  They distributed three million copies showing me, a gray-bearded Jewish artist sporting a Hasidic black hat, welcoming the cyberangel on it return from its high tech flight around our planet.

Lucy Lippard’s words in Mixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural America best summarizes the postmodern concept behind the computer angel story: “I am interested in cultural dissimilarities and the light they shed on the fundamental human similarities,” as well as “art that combines a pride in roots with an explorer’s view of the world as it is shared by others.”

“Artist’s ‘Angel’ to Fly by Computer” (The New York Times, Aug. 16, 1987)


On Sunday, August 16, 1987, The New York Times published Barbara Delatiner’s article “Artist’s ‘Angel’ to Fly by Computer” that I present in part on August 16, 2018 in The Times of Israel. She interviewed me at the Fine Arts Museum of Long Island about my one-man exhibition “Angels of Peace.” From the Museum, I connected Long Island to the 48 states on mainland USA via a faxart event. 


Although this project is conceptually as relevant today as it was 30 years ago, fax technology has morphed into the Internet, smartphones and social media.  I explore the spiritual dimensions of this change in my newest book Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media.  The cover of the book uses the same digitized Rembrandt angels that appeared in my 1987 exhibition.  However, they appear in 2017 ascending from a smartphone screen showing a NASA satellite image of the Land of Israel. See http://throughabiblelens.blogspot.com.    



As a child on Long Island during World War II, Mel Alexenberg had a recurring nightmare.  “Because the Island wasn’t connected to the mainland,” he recalled, “I kept on dreaming that we’d float away and be connected to Europe – and be killed by Hitler.”

More than 40 years later, Mr. Alexenberg, now a noted practitioner of computer-generated art whose works are in the permanent collections of museum throughout the world, is about to do something about joining the Island to North America, if only for the 13 seconds it will take for a computer in Hempstead to tie in with a computer in California.

As part of his one-man exhibition “Angels of Peace,” which opens Tuesday at the Fine Arts Museum of Long Island in Hempstead, he will send his “Long Island Angel” flying, via computer a telephone hookups, to 48 mainland states and the District of Columbia where images will be rematerialized on facsimile machines.

“We’ll probably transmit to newspapers because they already have fax machines, said Jamie Z. Young, director of the Hempstead museum’s Computer Imaging Facility.  “That way we hope they’ll send back clippings.  And a museum in every states will get a copy of a limited-edition serigraph ‘A digital Homage to Rembrandt.’”

The event will mark the first transmission of what is called “fax art’ in America, Mr. Alexenberg said. Last March, Mr. Alexenberg who calls himself a ‘conceptual artist,” send his angles, digitized – translated in computer language – from a Rembrandt image from Jaffa, Israel, to New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Melbourne and Buenos Aires.

More than just a technical feat, “to show that it can be done,” the electronic angel launching, from the museum at noon on Sept. 3, is meant to “link Long Island to the rest of the country, both physically and in spirit,” the artist said. “It parallels the biblical commentary in Jacob’s dream that angels go up from the land and come down in other places throughout the world.”

In 1969, he and his family moved to Israel, where he has taught at Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan universities and the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.  He founded and directed both Ramat Hanegev College and the Experiment School of University of Haifa. Today, he is chairman of the art department at Pratt Institute and research fellow at M.I.T.’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies.

An Orthodox Jew with what he called a “strong Hasidic connection,” Mr. Alexenberg tends to discuss his art in terms of mysticism in the kabbalah and bilingual letter play. For example, during an interview at the Fine Arts Museum – where his show of computer-generated paintings, lithographs, etchings, serigraphs and mixed-media works runs through Oct. 25 – he explained how traditional Judaism and modern technology are inexorably linked to his particular art.

“The Hebrew term for ‘computer angel,’” he said “is ‘MaLaH MaHSheV,’ which is the masculine form of the term for ‘fine art,’ or ‘MeLeHet MaHSheVeT.’ Art and angel are basically the same word in Hebrew.  Its root is ‘going,’ the action of communicating a message.

So, an angel is a divine message, and inspiration received by the artist guiding him in his transformation of the material world.  The artist, through his work, creates new angels that emanate from his work, communicating to others the qualities of his inspiration.
“But Jewish art,” he said, “is distinct from Western, or Hellenistic, art in a very basic way. The English word for ‘art’ is the root for such words as ‘artificial’ and ‘artifact.’ Similarly, the French word ‘ars’ and the German word ‘kunst,’ as well as art in all European languages, are related to imitation, copy, phony, counterfeit and falsification.  On the other hand, the Hebrew word for artist is not only different, it’s opposite.  It’s the same word as truth, faith, craft and education.”

“Furthermore, in Western art, the artist’s task is to imitate nature as if it were the height of creation. Judaism, however, does not view nature as complete or ideal. It – and therefore Jewish artists – see the artist and God as partners in an ongoing creative process.  It is imitation the Creator, rather than the creation, that is valued.”

“As I wrote in the exhibit catalogue,” he said, “the words ‘art,’ ‘food’ and angel’ are all written with the same Hebrew letters.  As an artist, I am most interested in pointing out the spiritual in everyday life.  I strive to make the ordinary extraordinary.  I aim to show the miraculous in the mundane.”    

(My “Long Island Angel” serigraph is in the collections of Birmingham Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, Kansas City Art Institute, Mississippi Museum of Art, North Dakota Museum of Art, and University of Michigan Museum of Art.)