The Jewish Artist of the Week: Melanie Siegel

June 19-25 2022
כ’-כו’ סיון תשפ״ב
Parshat Shlach שלח

Israel Torah Mantle                                                                                                                                                                      12 Tribes                                                                                                                                                    
Piece Description:
In “Israel Torah Mantle” Melanie Siegel provides her report of the land and imagines herself as one of the tribe-head scouts reflecting back on what her time in Israel meant for her. Melanie depicts a lush oasis sprung out of a desert. Though fixed to a geographical location, much like the torah, the more time you spend observing the land the more opulent are the gleanings.

In “12 Tribes” shows each of the scouts returning back to the Israelite camp, ready to report back their findings after having explored the land. Caleb son of Jefuneh is distinguished with distinctive garb and is depicted as significantly larger than the others. The scouts hang in suspense comparable to the suspense that the children of Israel are hung in as they await to discover which scouts will report back favorably and unfavorably on the land. 

Discussion Questions:
1. “Israel Torah Mantle” is ornamented with many details. Do you notice any in particular that stand out? What impression do you have of the land in the space it fills? What do the plain surroundings say about the land as well?
2. These two images provide us with two vantage points of the scene: 1) the aerial view of the land and 2) the “Google Street View” of the spies returning to the camp. How do these two perspectives work in concert and how do they distinguish from one another? 

3. Melanie uses textiles and patches of fabric to tell this story. What are the advantages to working in this medium in storytelling in general and more particularly, to tell this biblical narrative. What techniques are employed to arrive at this piece’s message?

4.  What would be your report if you were to perform Melanie’s exercise on imagining herself in the scouts’ shoes? Imagine if you were present in their time or if you were to draw from your own life experiences and report back on your own personal connection to it. What memories do you recall? What is your personal connection is conjured?

Artist Bio:

Melanie Siegel is a textile artist, educator and exhibition coordinator. Her work in textile creation is innovative yet simplistic. Presently on several volunteer committees, Melanie is the co chair of the Museum Committee at Baycrest, specializing in the installations. As an Artist in Residence, Ontario Arts Council education grant recipient for the York Region District School board, has taught more than 700 students in felting workshops per school year and created permanent legacy projects. A graduate from the Ontario College of Art, Melanie has acquired many awards, published and exhibited her work in Canada, USA and abroad.

To see more art by Melanie:

Artist-Rabbi Chevrutah Pair:
Aliza Sperling
Riverdale, NY

Rabbi Bio:  Aliza Sperling teaches Talmud at the Maharat- Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Beit Midrash Program. She is also the director of HerTorah, an innovative women’s Torah study and community program that brings women across the Jewish world together to learn from- and with- one another. Aliza received semicha from Yeshivat Maharat and a JD from NYU Law School. 

Sermon of Rabbi: 
Parshat Shelach: Leaders Who Find the Courage to Resist
Melanie Siegel uses handmade felts, combined with vintage fabrics, findings, and gemstones to create a portrait of the 12 spies. Rendering the spies in such a tactile and layered way acknowledges that each of these men had a backstory and fabric to their lives that led them to the decisions that they made. While ten of the spies frighten the people and tell them that they will never be able to overcome the nations dwelling in Canaan, Joshua and Caleb resist. They tell the people that the land is very good, and that G-d will help them conquer it. However, the people are so frightened by the spies’ report that they panic, leading them to spend 40 years in the wilderness.What gave Joshua and Caleb the courage and backbone to resist? This is an important question for today — in the United States, we have been watching the January 6th hearings and seeing which leaders succumbed to the pressure to violate the law, and which leaders were able to resist. It is important to the proper functioning of society that leaders are able to resist the pressure from others to lie, and to find within themselves the ability to loudly tell the truth.Joshua and Caleb are two very different people, who give us two models of resistance. Joshua is Moses’ faithful apprentice, and he never leaves his side. Before he embarks on the journey with the other spies, Moses changes his name from Hoshea to Yehoshua, with the extra letter yod meant to symbolize G-d’s support. Like Melanie’s artwork, where each piece of fabric adds another layer of meaning, this extra yod gives Joshua another level of protection and closeness to G-d. If you would ask me at the outset of the parsha which leader would be most likely to resist pressure from the other spies, my answer would be Joshua — he is “Moses’ man” through and through.On the other hand, it seems that the spies perceived Caleb as being on their side. Even though Caleb is also associated with Moses — according to the midrash, he is married to Moses’ sister Miriam — he has the potential to go along with the spies. According to the Midrash, when the spies conspire to give a bad report, Caleb tells them that he will join them. He gets the people to listen to him by pretending to be on the side of the spies. Rashi comments on BeMidbar 14:24: [BUT MY SERVANT CALEB, BECAUSE HE HAD] ANOTHER SPIRIT [WITH HIM] — The word “another’ suggests that he was filled with a twofold spirit — the one to which he gave utterance (lit., one in his mouth), and another which he concealed in his heart. To the spies he said, “I am with you in your counsel”, whilst in his heart he had the intention to tell the truth, and it was only on this account that he possessed the power to silence them (the people), as it is said, (Numbers 13:30) “And Caleb silenced [the people concerning Moses]” (cf. Rashi on that verse), for they thought that he would say the same as themselves (as the spies). It is this that is alluded to in the Book of Joshua (Joshua 14:7) where it states that Caleb said “And I brought him (Moses) word again as it was in my heart” — but not as it was in my mouth (i.e. not what I had said to the spies) (Midrash Tanchuma, Sh’lach 10).Caleb has the potential to be like the rest of the spies, but the Torah tells us that he has “a different spirit” (BeMidbar 14:24) that allows him to overcome the pressure that they exert upon them. Where does this spirit come from? Rashi, quoting the Midrash, tells us that when Caleb is in the Land of Canaan, he goes to the Cave of Machpela, burial ground of the patriarchs and matriarchs, and prays there for the strength to resist the other spies. In addition, Caleb’s son Hur was killed for resisting the construction of the Golden Calf, and he has that memory to inspire him as well. In his book Teenagers Educated the Village Way, Chaim Peri explains the educational philosophy that he put into practice at Yemin Orde Youth Village. Many of the youth at the village came from troubled backgrounds, and they didn’t have immediate relatives on whom they could rely. Peri taught them to establish for themselves “anchors in the past and future”: to find family members who inspire them from previous generations, and to envision a future to which they could aspire. These anchors would help them overlook their present circumstances and family situations, and find strength by reaching back into their past and looking forward to the people they wished to become. Caleb resists the pressure from his fellow spies by remembering the matriarchs and patriarchs at the Cave of Machpelah, and by remembering his son Hur who was slain to sanctify G-d’s name. In this way, he establishes for himself “anchors in the past” who remind him who he is supposed to be even when everyone around him at the moment is pressuring him to do the wrong thing. Joshua has a living, breathing mentor in Moses, but Caleb succeeds by finding role models whose legacy he can draw upon, even though they are no longer alive. In our tumultuous times when lies masquerade as truth, and there is so much pressure upon leaders to close their eyes to what they know is right, the story of Joshua and Caleb can help us locate the courage to resist. We can follow the model of Joshua, who receives support from his close mentor, Moses. Or, if we cannot find a Moses to help us, we can, like Caleb, look to the past to remember those heroes who did the right thing, and keep them alive in our hearts so we can follow in their paths. 

AMEN Institute Happenings

Next Jewish Artist of the Week:
Next week, we will be featuring Naomie Kremer, who studied Parshat Korach with
Rabbi Jessica Meyer. Catch their live articulation on Sunday July 3rd at 1 pm ET! 

Creative Articulation Featuring Melanie Siegel and Rabbanit Aliza Sperling
On Wednesday June 22nd at 7 pm ET, Melanie Siegel and Rabbanit Aliza Sperling will shed light on the importance of independent thinking and the ability to resist the temptation of reductive discourse. In their collaborative study, they have unearthed many underlying themes and resulted in two very distinct art works. Enter into Melanie and Rabbanit Aliza’s creative world and sign up to join us for this wonderful articulation:

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 June 27th 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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