Every night of Hanukkah, we light one special candle first—the Shamash. The Shamash candle is also known as the “helper candle” and its role is to light all the others. These days, we all take on this helper role when we wear a mask, stay distant and make choices to protect ourselves and our community. In doing so, we are sharing our light and helping our community maintain our glow.

The Shamash candle is the inspiration for my new blacklight installation commissioned by Jewish Arts Collaborative called “Collective Luminescence.” For the past few years, I have created glowing blacklight installations at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston as part of the MFA’s “Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights” community celebration (“Brighter Together” in 2018 and “Brighter Beyond” in 2019). When I realized we would not be able to gather to celebrate as in years past, I was motivated to think creatively to realize a way to still be able to bring glowing artwork to the community during this dark time of year. JArts’ “Brighter Connected” is a public art installation that will share the light of Hanukkah with eight Boston-area neighborhoods through works of art in windows designed for socially distanced viewing. I feel so grateful to have JArts as an amazing partner in this endeavor and am thrilled that we have eight artists engaging communities to spread the light.

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Screenshot from a Zoom workshop with students from The Rashi School (Courtesy photo)

“Collective Luminescence” is inspired by the theme of light as a vehicle for connection during the dark and isolating experience of a global pandemic. In the installation, hundreds of decorated cards by students from eight Jewish day schools light a path toward the central glow of a woven mandala representing the Shamash candle of the menorah. And because it is inspired by the Shamash, the light will not end there. All are invited to sign up to receive a postcard in the mail following the installation that will include a message of light from a student and artwork to color in and hang in your own window to continue to spread the light even further.

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Torah Academy students participate in a workshop with Tova Speter via Zoom in their classroom (Photo: Dina Feldman)

Because I conducted all of my workshops via Zoom, I was able to connect with even more Jewish schools than I have in the past. In addition to continued participation from JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School, Maimonides School, The Rashi School and Solomon Schechter Day School, I was able to form new partnerships with Epstein Hillel School, MetroWest Jewish Day School, New England Hebrew Academy and Torah Academy. Over 200 students participated and contributed their creativity and inspiring messages. Here are some examples:

“The one universal language is kindness. Here is some from me. Please finish coloring and hang it in your window so it will give kindness to others.”

“Be happy because despite everything that is happening right now there is still a bright side. Please color the front and hang it in your window to make other people happy.”

“Smile (even through your mask)! Color this in and put it in your window. Hopefully someone will see it and they’ll smile. Spread the happiness.”

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A JCDS student participates in a workshop led by artist Tova Speter (Photo: Karen Siegel)

Many, many thanks to all the student artists who shared their light during this project. You are all a Shamash!

“Collective Luminescence” will be on display at 821 Beacon St. in Newton Centre from Dec. 9-18 as part of JArts’ “Brighter Connected” public art series. Learn more here.

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