Finding My Parents' Ketubah

As we were clearing out my parents’ apartment following my mother’s first Yahrtzeit, my parents’ ketubah was discovered amongst some old documents.  None of my seven brothers and sisters had ever seen it before. In fact, it was not immediately apparent to us that this was indeed their ketubah.

The folded yellowed document, almost 90 years old, was written in half culmus : bearing a similarity to Hebrew and “Rashi” (the typeface used in the Rashi commentary). The half culmus font had been used by the Sepahardic Jews particularly in Spain during the Tor Hazahav (the Golden Era of Spanish Jewry).  Later, after fleeing to North Africa, the Jews living in Morocco continued to write various religious documents in this font.b2ap3_thumbnail_Jewish-wedding-contract.png

The wedding contract—handwritten--elaborated on the families of both my mother and father, with special attention to my mother’s father ( “ a man of great knowledge of the Torah and acts of chesed--good deeds”) as he had been a highly-respected member of the local Jewish community.

Although the ketubah is unadorned, two passport-sized pictures of my parents were attached according to official requirements. This was very surprising for us, and at the same time also delightful. My parents were 19 and 16 at the time of their marriage. I had never seen photos of them looking so young.

Another unusual detail on the wedding contract caught my eye. There was a kind of abstract line drawing on the ketubah that we could not figure out the rhyme or reason for it being there. Only later were we able to get the answer to this curious squiggle. When b2ap3_thumbnail_Aramaic-text-Ketubah.png
we brought the ketubah to the local rabbi, we were told that this was the signature of the rabbi who officiated at the ceremony and that his signature, itself, was a chain of signatures incorporating all signatures of his predecessors -- including the current rabbi’s own addition.  Today a fine- print made of the original ketubah is framed and hanging in each of our family’s homes.

Added to the joy of being an artist and having my work be part of the wedding ceremony for many young Jewish couples around the world, my own experience of finding my parents' ketubah, gave me a new perspective of the ketubah’s significance--for not only the couple on the wedding day, but for their offspring and the generation to follow.

Azoulay's ketubah's can be found at http://ketubahstudioazoulay.com.

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Digging Deep into the Bible

Jewish digital artist Naomi Susan Schwartz Jacobs remembers vividly when Philip Ratner walked into her fourth grade classroom at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and instructed her class on how to make Hebrew letters out of yarn. Jacobs chose the aleph. Many years later Jacobs is still creating Jewish themed art, including using the alphabet. Her recent Kabbalah series of the 10 sephirot includes carefully placed Hebrew names.b2ap3 thumbnail Holocaust-Remembrance-Day

But Jacobs is not only a Jewish artist; she is a Jewish scholar, with a focus on the Hebrew Bible and Judaism during the Second Temple period. Not only has she done numerous paintings related to the Exodus, she has also drawn on the War Scroll and the Book of Enoch. Jacobs says that her goal in making Biblical art is to bring about aspects that are often less emphasized.

Recently she has done a series of paintings on women in the Bible, especially women who were not Israelite. Feeling very strongly the desire that the children of Abraham find peace together, Jacobs painted Hagar My Sister, capturing the moment that Hagar is convinced her son Ishmael is about to die. Other biblical women portrayed by Jacobs include the wise and noble Queen of Sheba and the controversial Queen Athalya of Judah. Jacobs also depicts the less widely known Lady Wisdom, who is a divine figure in the Book of Proverbs. Later identified as the Torah, the phrase “she is a tree of life to all who hold on to her” refers to her.

b2ap3 icon Keter-CrownJacobs focused on another famous woman in the Torah for Passover exhibit at the Imajewnation Museum in Saint Louis. Invoking rainbow colors, a theme in her art in general, Jacobs depicts a dancing Miriam, tambourine in hand, dancing out of the well of water the midrash links to her. Jacobs has also long been drawn to the story of Joseph. “At the moment of meeting his brothers, Joseph realizes that he can destroy them entirely as they are now in his power. But he ultimately chooses to forgive,” says Jacobs. In her painting of Joseph and her brothers, Joseph is depicted as an enormous Sphinx towering about his tiny siblings. His facial expression is enigmatic; perhaps he is not sure yet what he is to do.b2ap3 thumbnail Miriam-s-Well

Jacobs has also felt especially haunted by the Holocaust, in which she lost relatives. In honor of Yom HaShoah Jacobs constructed a black and white painting. Marked by the strokes of barbed war, indistinct figures and ominous smoke convey a sense of muddled horror. Other inspirations have come from God’s address to Job during a whirlwind, Nachman of Bratslav’s image of a narrow bridge, mystical Jewish views of heaven and angels, the act of creation, and of course, Jacob’s ladder, a painting that was inspired by the work of Israeli artist Yaacov Agam.

Jacobs has a website at www.art2uplift.com

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