Jewish Artist of the Week: Kate Lenkowsky

January 9th – 15th  2021
ז’ – י”ג שבט תשפ״ב
Parshat Beshalach בשלח

Kate Lenkowsky                                                                                        Miriam’s Song 
Piece Description:

Miriam’s Song – an embroidery on pieced cotton fabric – focuses on the crossing of the Sea of Reeds by the Israelites and on that same crossing through darkness and terror by Jews in later generations; on the leadership and faith of Miriam who encourages the women to pack timbrels in anticipation of celebrating a miracle; and on the partnership of the Jews with G-d, requiring that they step forward despite the risks.

Discussion Questions:
1. Miriam’s Song is an embroidered textile. What are features of this medium that stand out to you? In what ways is this medium uniquely suited to be in conversation with the story of Beshalach?

2. Look at the backs of the different figures crossing the Sea of Reeds. What do you notice about what they are carrying, their dress, their emotional states and their postures? Who do you think these individuals represent and what relationship do they have with those who have made it to the other side?

3. In different areas, Kate Lenkowsky, deliberately inserts a distinct patch from those around it. Some have a corresponding pair found elsewhere in the piece. What were the thoughts behind these artistic choices? Notice her choice of colours. What connotations do the colors of these distinguished patches have in your own life? 

4. The contrast between the dark cerulean depths and the ocean floor mud with the the cyan sky and untouched white sand can be interpreted as different paradigms of growth trajectories. Whether they describe fixed vs. unbounded, humanity vs. divine, internal vs. external, individual vs. planetary, physical vs. mental, healing vs. elevation, subterranean trauma vs. overt healing… Which of these growth trajectories (or others that you have discovered) resonate with you. Where do you see yourself on this growth trajectory? Where do you aspire to be by the end of 2022? 

Artist Bio:

 The discovery that textile crafts, an avocation since childhood, were an art medium, was the start of my art career in the 1970s. In 2008, Indiana University Press published my book, Contemporary Quilt Art: An Introduction and Guide and in 2015, I began making relief prints, often on cloth.  Printmakers often emphasize line in their art, as do many traditional and contemporary embroiderers. I now use embroidered line in much of my art work.

My quilts and prints hang in both public and private spaces, including Indiana University and Shaarey Tefilla Synagogue in Carmel, Indiana.  I have participated on the juries of national, state, and local quilt exhibits and co-curated others, including one at the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s community gallery, and have lectured on contemporary quilts at Baylor University, and the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.

To see more art by Kate:

Artist-Teacher Chevrutah Pair:
Rabbi David Evan Markus Esq.
New York, USA

Rabbi Bio: Rabbi David is North America’s only pulpit rabbi simultaneously holding a full-time public oath of office. Unique in Jewish life, he weaves the spiritual and secular on terms faithful and authentic to the energy and ethics of each. He is the senior rabbi at the non-denominational city island synagogue, Temple Beth-El. Rabbi David was honored to serve as co-chair of ALEPH, umbrella organization for the Jewish Renewal legacy of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l. After completing his ALEPH service, Rabbi David became a Founding Builder of Bayit: Building Jewish, a trans-denominational Jewish creativity initiative for all ages and stages. In secular life, David presides as Judicial Referee in New York Supreme Court, Ninth Judicial District, where he presides in New York’s first Foreclosure Court that he helped create.

Sermon of Rabbi: 
Moving Through
By Rabbi David Evan Markus

“Move through and don’t turn back!” 

If the ivrim (“moving through” people, the “Hebrews”) received that name for their pre-slavery nomadic culture, maybe we kept the name for our spiritual ancestors’ dramatic “moving through” the Sea of Reeds – from slavery to freedom at last.  

This Biblical moment, in this week’s Parashat Beshallah, is the high noon of spirituality’s battle to liberate humanity from inhumanity.  It’s the climax of miraculous signs and wonders, the apotheosis of impenetrable barriers felled by a holy puff, the rousing of ancestral courage to face the unfaceable.  To midrash, the scene at the Sea of Reeds calls us to walk into the raging waters of our lives – even up to our faces, at risk of drowning – and by sheer persistence and faith manifest holy power to part those waters.

The scene is so pivotal to Jewish identity, Western monotheism and liberation theology that we’ve been talking about it ever since.  Jewish tradition’s liturgy revisits it every morning and every evening.  Passover’s Dayeinu praises it.  Movies dramatize it.  African-American spirituals channel it.  Comics tease it.  (Ever see The Far Side cartoon of a restaurant-patron Moses parting a bowl of soup?  How about a divinely inspired Jim Carrey doing the same in the movie Bruce Almighty?)

But “moving through” is serious business.  We’re named for it, and our core identity as descendants of slaves calls us to keep liberating humanity from inhumanity, to keep “moving through” – for we know the stranger’s heart, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt.  That’s why our eponymous “moving through” isn’t in the past tense, some “one and done” moment in spiritual history to place on the museum shelf of memory.  Our “moving through” is in the present tense – every day, this moment, these waters.

Easier said than done, of course.  It makes sense that we’d languish, or fear, or tire, or even feel the impulse to turn back.  Today’s Sea of Reeds might be a raging pandemic, the churning of global climate change, the torrent of gun violence, the tidal waves of political storms, or the over-wash of systemic racism.  Today’s Sea of Reeds might be any collective force, structure or system seemingly too big to control, too vast to move through, too deep even to see clearly.

But learning to see, even move forward when we can’t yet see, might be the spiritual purpose of the journey.  Torah records that our fleeing ancestors camped at Pi-Hahirot, linguistically linked to “mouth of freedom,” before Baal-Tzafon, literally “master of hiddenness” (Ex. 14:9).  It was precisely there that Egyptian forces caught up to them, seeming to trap them at the Sea’s edge.  Only there could all come to see what had been hidden – the power to part the waters, a way forward to freedom.

And as they moved forward to freedom, our spiritual ancestors saw dry ground perhaps never before exposed to light.  Sunlight usually penetrates only the topmost layer of sea water – a few inches to some feet.  The depth remains invisible from above, and darkness reigns below.  But when the Sea of Reeds split, the retreating waters revealed the sea bottom, as never seen before.  And as our spiritual ancestors moved through, even the most concealed depth radiated with light – and so did they, enlightened by the prophetic power to foretell and make a future of freedom.

As for our spiritual ancestors then, so for us now.  The depths of today’s seas – and the way through them – surely are not fully visible to us.  Storms churn the waters, limiting visibility even more.  We camp before the “master of hiddenness,” not yet seeing our way forward, perhaps even feeling trapped.  But we can remember who we are – the ivrim, the “moving through” people, descendants of prophets with ancestral resilience coursing through our veins.  

“Move through and don’t turn back!”

And as we do, even with fear, not letting our imperfect visibility stop us, together we can find the way.  Even up to our faces, at risk of drowning, our collective persistence and faith can manifest the holy power to part waters we imagined were impenetrable, to walk in light even in the deepest dark.  Every liberation and every social movement of consequence did exactly that – and so can we.  We must: we’re named for it.

And if we do, if we dare, there will be dancing on the other side (Exodus 15:20-21).  We’ll be reminded how to dance again.  We’ll celebrate not that our journey is done, for there always will be seas to part.  Rather, we’ll dance in soul joy that we moved through, that we again held timbrels in our hands, that we lived up to our names, that we forged again the way to freedom.

AMEN Institute Happenings
Jewish Artist of the Week Next Week:
Next week we will be featuring Gabriella Boros, who studied Parshat Mishpatim with Rabbi Benjamin Greenfield. 

Creative Articulation Featuring Kate Lenkowsky and Rabbi David Evan Markus Esq.

On Thursday January 13th at 8:00 p.m. Est, we will be hearing from Kate Lenkowsky and Rabbi David Evan Markus Esq. about their studies on Parashat Beshalach. Join us as we unpack the true meaning of gratitude and when joy and faith act as its substitute. Here is the link to the event page:

Yetzirah Circles:
The Yetzirah Circle is a monthly gathering where we open up an online zoom room for Jewish artists to work on their crafts in a shared virtual space. Join us on January 25th at 7 pm EST to meet kindred spirits and to partake in this Amen activity. Here’s the link:
Heal Over Head Retreat:
We hosted a Jewish experiential weekend of healing, growth, introspection and creativity for young adults. Participants ventured to a paradisiacal estate in the scenic backdrop of the Pocono Mountains to gain access to deep healing, clarity and self expression through workshops led by skilled facilitators. Stay tuned for updates on when our next retreat will be.                 


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