Tag Archives: Jewish Art

Yom Kippur – In Search of Self

Jonah by Laya Crust

Book of Jonah ; Prophet-either 8th C. BCE or 4th C. BCE

Yom Kippur is a day many of us face with feelings of awe, fear, and discomfort. We go to synagogue surrounded by other people, people who are fasting and praying, but that doesn’t necessarily make us feel more confident. The reason is that Yom Kippur, of all days in the year, is a day that we are alone facing ourselves and facing Gd.

We read the Book of Jonah in its entirety on Yom Kippur in the afternoon. From storms at sea to getting swallowed by a “whale” to a gourd that blossoms in one night, there are many unusual events. The best known event is depicted in the lyrical painting above. We see two sailors in a merchant ship. They have thrown Jonah over the side of the boat and he’s being swallowed by a giant fish. It is based on an illustration from the Kennicott Bible, Spain, 1476, painted by Joseph ibn Hayyim.

The narrative concerns the prophet Jonah disregarding God’s orders to warn the sinning people of Nineveh of Gd’s forthcoming punishment. In contrast to the prophet disobeying Gd, the non-Jews of Nineveh heed Him. Jonah is angry that they were forgiven, angry enough to challenge Gd to kill him.

Jonah says, “I know that you are a compassionate and gracious Gd, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment. Please, Lord, take my life for I would rather die than live.”  Gd listens to Jonah’s anger and answers him.

There are a few lessons taught in this haftarah. One is self-realization. We have to face ourselves and our weaknesses in order to correct ourselves and correct our mistakes. Another is facing responsibility and not running from it. And another lesson is the right of all people to live just lives- whether they are like us or choose a different lifestyle or belief system.

Yom Kippur by Laya Crust

And there is the lesson of forgiveness. Gd created humankind and is waiting to see the goodness and uprightness of humanity.

Jonah was upset when “his” gourd withered up. The gourd was a metaphor for God’s relationship with humanity. If Jonah was sad at the loss of “his” gourd- which he didn’t create, how much more would God be bereaved by the destruction of an entire community? The lesson can also teach empathy and forgiveness. Jonah had to realize that the people of Nineveh had as much right to repent and live as he, Jonah had.

On Yom Kippur we have 25 hours in which we pray, reflect and think. We have the time to consider our relationships and our behaviours. Yom Kippur is a gift for self contemplation, for forgiveness, and acceptance. We have to face our weaknesses and decide on how to fix those weaknesses, and then we can forgive ourselves..

This is a great opportunity to speak to our children or friends and reflect on how, if we are a little more forgiving, patient, and understanding, we can make the world a better place.

Have a meaningful day in synagogue and G’mar Chatima Tova- may the coming year be one of health,  peace, and blessings.

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VaYeilech- Shabbat Shuva

VaYeilech- Shabbat Shuva by Laya Crust

Shabbat Shuva is the Shabbat between Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur. On Rosh haShana we were in synagogue thinking about our past year and obstacles we faced. Many of us wondered about the coming year and what it would bring. Many of the prayers remind us of the fragility of our lives and the inevitability of death. Who will die? What is in store for us, our friends, and for our families?

The Torah reading begins with Moses’ words, “I am 120 years old today. I can no longer go out and come in, for Gd told me, ‘You shall not cross this Jordan’. HaShem your Gd, He will cross before you…” Moses, the greatest prophet and leader, had to face death. But he reminded the Israelites that Gd is the eternal leader of the Jewish people.

The haftarah reading is a combination of texts from three prophets. Hosea, Micah, and Joel. The three prophets, each in their own way, ask us to endeavour to improve ourselves.

I based my painting at the top of the page on a piece by the American artist Ben Shahn. It is based on his painting called Ram’s Horn and Menorah. It illustrates Joel’s words, “Blow a shofar in Zion, consecrate a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, ready the congregation…” The words describe our communities getting ready for the Days of Awe, and Shahn in his unique way used colour and movement to convey the awe, fear and unity of these important days of reflection.

His life was dedicated to human rights and social action, and he expressed that through his prolific artworks. His paintings, graphic art, photographs and essays are devoted to the “human condition”.  The strength of human beings to survive difficulty and stand tall in the face of adversity and unfairness runs through his works. His paintings are gritty, honest, and thought-provoking.

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Image result for ben shahn paintings

Shahn’s work communicates the struggle of the human spirit to succeed, not just to survive. He reminds us that we don’t live in a bubble. We must care for ourselves and those around us. Those are among the meditations of Rosh HaShana.

We are reborn each day. Each day we have the opportunity to make new choices and make them good choices. Each day we can forgive ourselves for what we didn’t do yesterday, or what we wish we had done differently. We can begin anew and strive to have a fulfilling day.

May this year be a year of health, growth, improvement and goodness. Enjoy your Shabbat and have a meaningful Yom Kippur. To you and your family from me and my family,

Laya

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Tisha B’Av, Kamtza and Bar Kamtza

Despair by Laya Crust

We are coming to the end of the “Three Weeks of Mourning”, the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av. Tisha B’Av is the Hebrew date of the ninth day of the month of Av. It is a day of Jewish mourning, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem. The first destruction was at the hands of the Babylonians and the second at the hands of the Romans. It meant the loss of our centre of worship, the loss of our home, and the expulsion from our homeland.

Kamtza bar Kamtza 1 by Laya Crust

There is a story of  two men with similar names, Kamtza and bar Kamtza. The men lived in Jerusalem during the time of the Second Temple, under Roman domination. There was a misunderstanding and one of the men was insulted and shamed in front of other people. The repercussions just got worse and worse. Pride and lack of consideration tangled the possibility of a graceful conclusion.

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Kamtza Bar Kamtza 2 by Laya Crust

The story is often studied in conjunction with Tisha B’Av. It is used as an exemplar of how שנאת חינם , baseless hatred and intense social divisiveness, can cause the downfall of a society. If you want to read the story go to http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/404863/jewish/Kamtza-and-Bar-Kamtza.htm

We are seeing extremes in blame and hyperbole in the streets, in the media, and coming from angry world leaders every day.

Conflict destroys communities. People want their opinions to be heard, but often don’t want to listen to a different point of view. People talk over each other. The conversation becomes garbled, unintelligible and angry. Sometimes the conflicting ideas actually mirror each other. We need to listen to others in order to get on the same “line”.

Kamtza- bar Kamtza 3 by Laya crust

We must figure out how we can talk respectfully to those around us. Sometimes we hear things we don’t understand, that don’t make sense to us. The other opinion may sound like babble but sincere discussion and striving for compromise make peace possible.

Kamtza bar Kamtza 4 by Laya Crust

We don’t have to be in lockstep with anyone. We should never accept a stance that is destructive or cruel. But I have to believe that sincere communication can bring if not exactly what a nation or person wants, it can at least bring what a nation or person can handle in a peaceful and constructive way.

I hope open communication will become more widespread among families, communities, countries and regions. Empathy and mutual respect will save the world.

Have a good Shabbat and a meaningful Tisha B’Av,

Laya

The image “Despair” is part of the exhibit “ILLUMINATIONS” currently on display at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. The exhibit includes 88 haftarah images created by Laya Crust, as well as a number of other art pieces. The display is open to the public.

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Balak- Vision and Truth

Balak, Morning Dew art by Laya Crust

This parsha features a non-Jewish prophet and his conversation with a donkey. It contains lessons about seeing what is in front of you and the judicious use of speech.

The parsha is unusual in a number of ways. No Jews are featured in the reading. Gd and His angel speak to a non-Jewish prophet – a sorcerer. A donkey is the literal voice of reason. The anticipated curse becomes a blessing, and a form of the word רואה, “see”, is figured 19 times in the reading, creating an overlay of vision to the story.

The Moabite king, Balak, was afraid of the Israelites. He had heard about their previous victories against the Amorites and Ammonites. He either exaggerated or was under the impression that the Israelites were a huge nation and said, “[they] will lick up all that are around us as the ox that licks up the grass of the field.” ( Bamidbar 22:4). These are very negative words, chosen to create fear of the Jews among the Moabites. He called for the well known pagan prophet to curse the Israelites. Bilaam was willing to curse them until Gd warned him not to. Ultimately Bilaam blessed the Israelites. Included in the blessings were the following phrases, “It is a nation that will dwell alone and will not be reckoned among the nations” (23:9) and “those who bless you are blessed and those who curse you are cursed” (24:9) .

This story reminds me of politics and attitudes today. Balak was fearful of the Israelites. He did not look to see what instigated the battles that the Israelites had won. He did not care whether or not the Israelites were defending themselves against enemy forces. Instead he saw an imagined scenario where the Israelites were the aggressors. He aggrandized and vilified them using inflamed terminology. Having been offered money and power Bilaam was willing to curse the foreign nation.

Bilaam’s donkey is the one player in this story who spoke with reason. Her eyes were open. She saw the angel of Gd and knew to stop in her tracks. When Bilaam said he would have liked to kill her for stopping, she pointed out that Bilaam was willing to ignore a long history of good service without investigating the reasons behind the donkey’s action.

Balaam and the Donkey by Gustav Dore

The rhetoric is high these days. The Prime Minister of Luxembourg has publicly insulted Israel and the Israeli ambassador because of a negative remark by Israel’s Minister of Education. Rather than looking at Israel’s entrenched policies supporting LGBTQ rights, and praising Israel’s policies PM Bettel chose to do the popular thing, He shamefully boycotted a dinner honouring the Israeli ambassador.

At the same time the western media and vociferous public applaud anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric because it is presented under the guise of , “I can’t be prejudiced because I am an immigrant/ woman / person of colour/ part of a minority.” The media and talking rabble are so invested in protecting the rights and freedoms of the above they refuse to look at the basic objective facts of a situation. They drink up the incendiary language and half truths that are presented. It’s time those who do the popular reporting look at underlying facts. They should stop and listen to the voice of reason, even if it seems to be coming from a donkey. Israel and Jews are castigated, and true to Bilaam’s words seem to be “… a nation that will dwell alone and will not be reckoned among the nations” (23:9)

In the haftarah the prophet Micah says, “The remnant of jacob will be in the midst of many nations like dew from the Lord, like raindrops on the grass.” (Micah 5:). It’s true. Like the dew we are a small element in the vastness of the world and the nations. But like the dew and the raindrops we nurture, create, and make the world a better place. From ethics and morality to medical and technical innovation we bring goodness to the world.

in these painful times it is important to remember these words , also from Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justly and to love true loyalty, and to walk humbly with your Gd.” (Micah 6:8)

Iam saddened by the blindness of the media and the lack of respectful discourse in politics. But, let’s act justly and withtrue love and loyalty, and maybe we’ll tip the scales.

Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya Remember: Come to the exhibit of my haftarah series and other art works at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue, on until October 24, 2019. The exhibit is open during synagogue hours, 7 days a week . For more information e-mail me at layacrust@gmail.com

Compass Rose by Laya Crust. Haftarah for Lech Lecha

Remember: Come to the exhibit of my haftarah series and other art works at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. It continues until October 24, 2019. The exhibit is open during synagogue hours, 7 days a week . For more information e-mail me at layacrust@gmail.com

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Respect: Parshat Yitro

Receiving the Torah by Laya Crust

This parsha presents the Ten Commandments, the outline for life that God presented to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments are the base rules for interacting with God and man. These rules can be encapsulated by one word- respect. It’s not just respect for God, it is respect for God, respect for all people, their families, and their property.

Three individuals take the centre stage in this week’s Torah and haftarah readings. The three are Moses, his father-in-law Yitro, and the prophet Isaiah whose words are read in the haftarah. The theme of respect connect the three men.

Moses was a person who, from his early days, cared for others and sought justice. Our first meeting with him as an adult was when he stepped in to stop a Hebrew slave from being beaten by an Egyptian slave driver. Then he saw two Hebrew slaves fighting and stepped in to stop that violence. Rather than sit back and be comfortable in his wealth and position as a member of Pharaoh’s household he ended up leaving the Egyptian dictates of brutality and regal order. When he came upon Yiro’s daughters being bullied at a well he again stepped in and protected them. He helped the weaker from the stronger, unjust men.

His desire to activate respect for all may be the trait that caused God to choose Moses as His messenger to lead the Israelites out of slavery.

Yitro had some of the same traits. Unlike Jacob’s father-in-law Lavan, Yitro truly embraced Moses as a friend, a son-in-law, and a partner. Although Moses ultimately decided on a path different from Yitro’s after encountering God’s presence at the burning bush, Yitro was supportive of Moses’ decision. Indeed, Yitro recognized HaShem as the one true God although he did not follow b’nei Yisrael on their journey to Canaan.

When we met Yitro at the beginning of this parsha he gave Moses incredible advice. With Yitro’s own trait of wanting good for those around him he told Moses how to change his judicial approach to difficult tribal issues. He saw that Moses stood from morning to night advising all the people of Israel who had a question or problem. Yitro told Moses to create a heirarchy of “able men such as fear God, men of truth hating unjust gain; and place  such over them to be rulers of thousands, fifties and tens”. (Exodus 18:21).  He continued by suggesting that only the most difficult cases that couldn’t be decided by the appointed judges be brought to Moses. Yitro wanted Moses to understand that to lead the people well and strongly Moses had to take care of his own self and health.

Isaiah and the Seraph by Laya Crust

The haftarah begins with Isaiah’s vision of God on a throne. This is a reflection of God’s magnificence in the Torah reading. God wanted to choose Isaiah as a prophet but Isaiah demurred, saying his lips were “unclean”. A seraph touched Isaiah’s lips with a coal and cleansed them allowing Isaiah to have the confidence of heart to preach the correct way to live to the children of Israel.

The three men were chosen because of their own integrity and their desire to help those around them led lives of respect and integrity.

That’s what the Ten commandments are about. They are a gift God created for us,. They are a template for righteousness, fairness and goodness to ourselves and all those around us. Shall I add- the rest is commentary?

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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Marriages and Weddings

Jacob’s Dream  by Laya Crust

This week’s parsha, VaYeitze, tells the story of Jacob’s time in Padan Aram from start to finish. He left his family in Be’er Sheva to escape his bother’s wrath and seek a wife among his mother’s family. When he decided to return home he had two wives, two concubines, twelve sons and one daughter plus cattle and wealth.

When Jacob arrived in Padan Aram he saw his cousin Rachel at a well and fell in love with her. He promised to work for seven years for her hand in marriage. He was tricked by his Uncle Lavan and the morning after the wedding he discovered he had married Leah, the older sister. So Jacob worked an additional seven years in order to marry his beloved Rachel.

In this story we see the foundation of certain elements of the traditional Jewish marriage ceremony. Before the wedding ceremony under the chuppah we have the “Bedecken” when the groom sees the bride’s face before lowering her veil. This is to ensure the groom marries his chosen bride, and avoids the trick played on Jacob. As in ancient times there is an exchange of goods between the two families. The bride brings a dowry and the groom gives something of value to the bride’s family. In Isaac’s case his proxy, Eliezer, gave precious silver and gold and “raiment” to Rebecca’s family. In Jacob’s case he didn’t have valuables so he pledged to work for seven years for each of his brides.

Florentine Ketubah by Laya Crust

Over 2,000 years ago Jews began to use a written marriage contract. The ketubah, meaning “writ” in Hebrew, records the date and place of the wedding, the names of the bride and groom, and the financial obligations of each family. This legal document was the first legal document in history designed to ensure financial stability for a married woman.

Throughout time couples started to get decorated ketubahs. Now it is very popular for a couple to commission an original, hand written and painted ketubah, or to buy a poster-type ketubah on line.

I’ve been making ketubahs for decades and have designed and painted over 600 of them! The ketubah in still written in the ancient language of Aramaic and still mentions dowry and the husband’s responsibilities towards his wife and her well being.  Some traditions use actual dollar values and some ceremonially use ancient currencies.

 

Joy by Laya Crust ——- Tova and Cliel’s Stairway to Heaven by Laya Crust

Leah and Rachel, Jacob’s wives, didn’t have a ketubah. They were fortunate to be married to a man who took care of them and their children, honoured his obligations to his father-in-law, and was able to feed and shelter his large family. It’s true- there were jealousies and difficulties, but Jacob did take care of his own.

I love making ketubahs- discovering a couple’s dreams and preferences. If you want to see more examples of my ketubahs, maybe even order one or commission your own, take a look at my website: www.layacrust.com. 

Make sure to read this week’s Torah portion and enjoy. It’s the beginning of a world altering family saga! Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

 

 

 

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Jacob’s Lentil Stew- The Best Parsha Food Ever

Toldot- Family Dynamics  by Laya Crust

An interesting tradition some families follow is to include food that relates to the Torah reading of the week at the Shabbat meal. You may remember the post where I featured foods to represent the ten plagues (https://layacrust.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/parsha-foods/).  Or for Joseph’s dreams you could make cookies in the shape of the sun, moon , and stars.

This week’s parsha, “Toldot”, tells the story of Isaac and Rebecca and their twin sons Esau and Jacob. According to the text Esau had been out hunting. Naturally he was tired when he came home. When he noticed that Jacob had been cooking lentil stew he said, “Give me now some of that red, red stuff.” (Genesis 25:30). Instead of just giving his brother a bowl of the red lentil stew Jacob traded the food for his brother’s birthright. The stew must have smelled amazing. Here is a recipe for you to try this Shabbat.

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I always wondered about that mystical lentil stew. It must have been filling, it probably smelled wonderful, and it would have been red. I found a recipe which fit the bill.  One note of interest- this recipe doesn’t call for red lentils. Red lentils turn yellow when they cook. Instead this recipe calls for brown lentils.  Yes, the stew does end up red.  P1100786Here we have a nice collection of lentils, vegetables and 10 (!) spices. Beware, the spices are pretty intense!

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The aroma of the sauteeing carrots and onions with fresh ginger and garlic is amazing and the addition of 10 exotic spices makes the aroma even more pungent.  The tomatoes and lentils are added next.

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If you are having a dairy meal you can garnish the lentil stew with yogurt and fresh coriander or parsley.

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Spicy Red Lentil Stew

1 cup brown lentils

2 cups water

2 onions, diced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

4 cloves of garlic, minced

2 Tbsp. ginger, minced or grated

2 Tbsp.  olive oil

6 fresh, chopped tomatoes or a 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes

1/2  cup tomato paste

1 cup water or vegetable broth

Spice Blend

2 tsp. cumin                         2 tsp. Hungarian paprika

1 tsp. turmeric                     1/4  tsp. ground cardamom

1/2 tsp. dried thyme           1/4 tsp. ground coriander

1/8 tsp. ground cloves       1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

1/8 tsp. ground allspice     1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)

Method:

Boil the lentils in the 2 c. of water for about 45 minutes, until they are tender.

In another pot, over medium heat, saute the onions and carrots for 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and spice blend. Saute 5 more minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, the tomato paste and the cup of water/ vegetable broth. Simmer until bubbling.

Yield: 4 large servings.

Let us hope for calm and peace throughout the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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