Laura Mandel and the staff at Jewish Arts Collaborative (JArts) want people to step back this coming Shabbat, Oct. 23-24, to “imagine a day when synagogues and other Jewish organizations across the region pause at the same time to experience and appreciate an aspect of Jewish arts and culture.” Branded as “Creativity Connects Shabbat: A Statewide Celebration of the Arts,” the concept is a joint venture with MASSCreative and Synagogue Council of Massachusetts.
Mandel told JewishBoston that the upcoming Shabbat is a time to highlight Jewish advocacy for the arts. In previous years, artists and performers appeared at various synagogues to share their talents. But, as Mandel pointed out, “Everyone was having a different experience.” This year, one of the pandemic’s silver linings is that people have identical access to the diversity of voices in the arts community. “We’re all having the same conversation this year,” Mandel said. “The lack of ability to come together is a bonus.”
To drive home her point, Mandel said that over the last several months, JArts has attracted over 11,000 viewers to its live and video programs. Pre-pandemic, JArts never saw that level of participation, she said. Eliminating the logistics of going to an event has been a significant factor. Consequently, increased viewership online has enabled JArts to amass a library of Jewish stories and artworks. Given these impressive online numbers, Mandel said she believes that such programming is the wave of the future. “Going forward, going online is not what we will do in just the pandemic,” she said. “It’s what we’ll continue to do after this is over. We’ll move forward to create meaningful programming that people can view from anywhere.”
To bring together online viewers and participants, JArts has partnered with MASSCreative to produce a short film about how creativity connects Jewish communities in Massachusetts. The 15-minute video features area rabbis, cantors and community members and takes its inspiration from the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. “Creativity Connects Shabbat” participants can watch the video simultaneously on YouTube. “The fact that people spoke different languages shows how culture, creativity and art connect us,” said Mandel. The lesson is that although a world containing differences can lead to divisions, they can also lead to connection. The goal of the film is to show that everyone has something to share creatively; the subtext is that creativity is associated with each person’s divinity.
The film’s centerpiece is a stunning presentation of multiple versions of L’Cha Dodi—the traditional prayer-song of welcoming Shabbat—from across the Diaspora. Cantors from around the state sing Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Yemenite, Hasidic and contemporary versions of the ancient prayer. In the end, a diverse group of cantors come together as one in their Zoom squares to sing the contemporary version of the prayer.
Emily Ruddock, MASSCreative executive director, shares that the paintings of Marc Chagall and the plays of Moises Kaufman, particularly “The Laramie Project,” inspire her to seek out ways to pursue social justice. And writers Judith Viorst and Ruth Reichl have helped her to become a better wife, mother and daughter.
Another bonus of the online adaptation of “Creativity Connects Shabbat” is that people don’t need to belong to a particular community. “We’re all watching a video in which so many of us are represented,” said Mandel. She pointed out that although the video will debut on Shabbat, Rabbi Yossi Lipsker appears in the video on behalf of the Orthodox community. Lipsker is the rabbi of North Shore Chabad and he asserts that the arts generate a sense of renewal and hope in the community. They are “a catalyst for redemption,” he says.
Mandel added that “Creativity Connects Shabbat” reflects how serious synagogues and communities across Massachusetts are about focusing on and sponsoring programs in the arts. She predicts there will be an uptick in advocating for the arts in the next five years. “The power of the Jewish community in various contexts,” said Mandel, “is important for boosting the arts. This is a Jewish issue and we are positioned to lead in this ongoing effort.”
Find more information about “Creativity Connects Shabbat” here.