The Jewish Artist of the Week: Beverley Jane Stewart

Parshat Mishpatim מישפּתים
January 23th – 29th  2021
כ”א-כ”ז שבט תשפ״ב
Piece Description:

Framed within the rounded tablets of the darkened weathered stones light
surges through the cracked windows, capturing the spirit of the synagogue
through its Jewish laws. The murmuring of communal prayer combines belief
and commitment within this holy space and beyond. 

In Mishpatim G-d speaks about ethics, humanity, and obligations of man
towards his fellow men, servants, workers, and animals that serve him.  
In discussion with Rabbi Eryn London, we stretched to more modern concepts,
applying empathy to others less fortunate than ourselves, to demonstrating,
generosity, kindness, and charity to those around us.  

Mishpatim this year falls on International Holocaust Week. An evil chapter in
Jewish History where society ignored justice and humanity. It was for this
reason I chose a neglected and dilapidated synagogue linked with the
holocaust. Within these crumbling ruins the spirit of Judaism survived,
overcoming evil intent.  This etching started with a flawless shiny metal plate
of perfection and optimism. The surface within time becomes scratched and
the lines are corroded by acids. Out of this destruction a new stronger image is

Encasing this moment of devoted prayer are symbols of the ancient reminders
of humility. In Mishpatim, a foundation of laws to protect the vulnerable
breaks the chains of hardship and the importance for justice to overcome
corruption and prejudices.

Discussion Questions:
1. This piece was created with the themes of the Holocaust and the law laden text of Parshat Mishpatim in mind. Though there is no explicit imagery, both themes are alluded to implicitly. Where are these allusions found in this piece, and why do you think Beverley Jane Stewart chose to keep those depictions subtle?  

2. The chains that link the 10 slaves, walking in procession, twine their way up the two scales and are being torn apart by two unshackled hands. Who do those chained individuals represent? Whose hands are those? What do the symbols of chains and scales elicit in you? Where in your own life do you experience those chains and where do you feel your unshackling? 

3. The viewer is asked to stand on the outside and peer through the window of an illuminated synagogue space. What effect does this perspective have on you? In what ways is the border in conversation with or differ from what is in the inside panels?4. The image plays with symmetry. In what ways is the symmetry used to divide and where can it be seen as a tool to bring the different elements together? How does this emphasis of symmetry engage with the heavy handed power differentials that were instituted through the Holocaust and in the legal system of Germany? And where do those symmetries breakdown?

Artist Bio:

Beverley is a British artist whose works in recent years deal with Jewish Heritage, acknowledging diversity and inclusivity in a multicultural society, whilst appreciating the input immigrants have made to the host country. Beverley’s initial training was a fine arts and education degree at London University specializing in oil painting and she also studied at Morley College as a teacher. Beverley Jane Stewart veiews herself as a visual writer, and uses her art to tell stories on Jewish social history. She lets the past coexist with the present, and balances history with modernity. Beverley’s paintings, drawings and etchings were exhibited at various group and solo exhibitions both in UK, Israel and Italy. Her art has been exhibited in the Jerusalem Biennale, The Judaica Museum Sternger Museum at Tel Aviv University, Omer Tiroche Gallery, London.

To see more art by Beverley Jane Stewart:

Artist-Teacher Chevrutah Pair:
Rabbi Eryn London
London, England

Rabbi Bio: 
Rabbi Eryn London, BCC, is a freelance rabbi, chaplain, and Jewish educator living in London. Following ordination, she trained and worked as a multi-faith and Jewish hospital chaplain in New York City. She is the program manager for the Honeycomb Project, a community volunteer training program, and is involved with a number of other projects within the UK and the global Jewish community. 

Sermon of Rabbi: 

In last week’s Parsha the Children of Israel received the 10 Commandments, and in this week’s Parsha, Parshat Mishpatim, we receive a whole slew of extra laws. These laws primarily speak about how we are meant to be creating and keeping a just and civil society. 

It goes through rules regarding one who has slaves, how they are meant to treat them. It also explores how to deal with property and the safety of others who might come in contact with it. 

We read: 
דברים כ״ב:ד׳
(ד) לֹא־תִרְאֶה֩ אֶת־חֲמ֨וֹר אָחִ֜יךָ א֤וֹ שׁוֹרוֹ֙ נֹפְלִ֣ים בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ֖ מֵהֶ֑ם הָקֵ֥ם תָּקִ֖ים עִמּֽוֹ׃ (ס)
Deuteronomy 22:4
(4) If you see your fellow’s ass or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it; you must help him raise it.

This might not be too surprising. It is quite intuitive to help those we see in need. Maybe what is surprising is that we are commanded not only to help our fellow humans in their time of need, but we are also meant to notice and look out for their animals. It is important to not forget the one who is actually doing the manual labour; the one who is unable to speak for itself in its compromised pain. It is in this moment that we are called to should stop and assist, even indirectly, the donkey of our fellow if it is needed. 
It is about a chapter later that we read: 

שמות כ״ג:ה׳
(ה) כִּֽי־תִרְאֶ֞ה חֲמ֣וֹר שֹׂנַאֲךָ֗ רֹבֵץ֙ תַּ֣חַת מַשָּׂא֔וֹ וְחָדַלְתָּ֖ מֵעֲזֹ֣ב ל֑וֹ עָזֹ֥ב תַּעֲזֹ֖ב עִמּֽוֹ׃ (ס)
Exodus 23:5
(5) When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him.

Again we are meant to be paying attention to the donkey, the one who is unable to represent itself, but here we are commanded to help out even when it is the donkey of our enemy. Even though we might have long standing arguments or have feelings of hate towards this person, we are still obligated to refrain from triangulating our animosity onto an innocent soul in their time of distress. 

These two verses prescribe us to assuage the helpless or voiceless and we are summoned to look beyond our myopic inhibitions and reach out to help even our foes in their vulnerabile moments. 
But how do we do this? 

I do believe that there are times that we need to distance ourselves from those that prove to be anathema to what we deem as virtuous. The Torah isn’t asking us to remain in the purview of our enemies. We are not asked to gravitate towards the precarious. It is not a matter of apathy; personal safety does, and should, come first. 
But in a time and place when one feels secure, what does it mean to share the space with one’s nemesis and breakfree from their inclinations to offer them assistance? Does this mean that I forgive them? Does it mean that I have relinquished their appellation as my adversary? 

By virtue of the Torah labelling them as an enemy it never concedes to the position that they are not your enemy, rather that I still need to assist them, despite the fact that they are my enemy. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says: 

It says, in effect: your enemy is also a human being. Hostility may divide you, but there is something deeper that connects you: the covenant of human solidarity. Distress, difficulty- these things transcend the language of difference. A decent society will be one in which enemies do not allow their rancour or animosity to prevent them from coming to one another’s assistance when they need help.

Despite my feelings, I need to remember that my enemy too is human. That they will also have struggles and pain and in the instant that I subdue my proclivities to remember their humanity, I am able to pause and help them. It does not matter what they have done or might still be intent on doing to me. My deeds are indiscriminate of whether or not they would reciprocate if the roles were reversed, because in this moment they are a fellow human in need. 

These seemingly small laws have a large impact on how we interact with the world. In the midst of tort law and other nitty gritty details, we are called to look out. We are called to pay attention to what is happening around us. We are called to help those who are in need, even those (or especially those) who are unable to speak for themselves. We are called to look out for those who are unable to speak for themselves, even when they come from nations or communities that we might think of as ‘enemies’. We are called to notice the humanity in all beings, and to act on that acute reframing. We are called to transcend our feelings, and work towards a more just and humane community, society and world. 

As Dena Weiss teaches: 
The purpose of the Torah is to make you more vigilant about your own actions, more concerned about preventing the harm that you do to others than with extracting revenge from those who do harm to you. Parashat Mishpatim is not a collection of cases about oxen, thieves, and dangerous pits; it is about you. It’s a reflection of your own ability to cause harm and a collection of the myriad ways in which you do so. Reading this parashah should fill our hearts with dread and awareness of our capacity to be agents of destruction. Studying this parashah should strengthen our commitments to be vigilant, cautious, generous, and kind.

May we all be blessed to help those who are in need, and to be part of helping to create a more just world and society.

AMEN Institute Happenings

Jewish Artist of the Week Next Week:
Next week we will be featuring Maxine Lee Ewaschuck, who studied Parshat Terumah with Rabbi Aaron Levy. 

Creative Articulation Featuring Beverley Jane Stewart and Rabbi Eryn London

On Sunday January 23rd at 2:00 p.m. Est, we heard from Beverley Jane Stewart and Rabbi Eryn London. about their studies on Parashat Mishpatim. It was a lovely conversation that pulled back the curtain on a moral ethic that we are responsible to uphold in the wake of tragedy and destruction. Here is the link to the talk:

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.                 


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: