Jewish Artist of the Week: Naomie Kremer

June 26 – July 2 2022
כז’ סיון – ג’ תמוז תשפ״ב
Parshat Korach קרח

Piece Description:
Rabbi Jessica Meyer and I studied Parshat Korach. It tells the story of the rebellion against the authority of Aaron as the head of the priesthood. As a test to prove Aaron’s “chosen-ness” Moses proposed that all 12 tribal heads place their wooden staffs side by side overnight. In the morning only Aaron’s staff had bloomed, and the commentary identifies the blooms as almond blossoms. The generative and regenerative imagery inspired my visualization of this story. The blossoming almond tree is the symbol of Tu B’shvat, which also happens to be my birthday.

Discussion Questions:
1. The twelve sticks, that represent the 12 staffs of each tribe-head, line themselves across the length of this piece are shown translucently. Why does Naomie depict them in this way? What else do you notice about these 12 staffs? How do these qualities inform us of Korach’s uprising?
2. This still is taken from Naomie’s animation. Her animation narrates the moment that Aaron is distinguished from the other tribe leaders. What elements stand out to you? If you could select one of the staffs, which would you say is the one that represents Aaron’s? Why do you think this moment was selected from the story? How does the image reflect the rest of the story in this week’s Parasha?

3. There is a lot of kinetic energy portrayed in this image. What direction does it flow? Why do think it is this way? Notice two elements in particular that present this motion. What significance do you place on it? How does it add to this moment in the biblical narrative?

4.  What emotional state does this image convey? Can you locate a time that you felt this feeling before? In a broader sense, is there a budding almond blossom that you are currently looking out for? In what ways are you nurturing it to allow for its growth? 

Artist Bio:

Naomie Kremer is a painter, video artist, and stage designer. She has exhibited widely in the US and abroad. Her work is in many private and public collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Berkeley Art Museum, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and the US Embassy, Beijing, China.

Kremer has taught Painting and Drawing at California College of the Arts, San Francisco; The San Francisco Art Institute; California State University, Hayward; and the Pont Aven School of Contemporary Art, Brittany, France. She has been a visiting artist and guest lecturer at The Ruskin School of Drawing and Painting, Oxford University; the Syracuse University Painting Program, Florence, Italy; Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota; and Mills College, Oakland. Kremer is based in California with studios in Berkeley, Paris and New York.

To see more art by Naomie:

Artist-Rabbi Chevrutah Pair:
Jessica Meyer
San Francisco, California

Rabbi Bio:  
Rabbi/Chazzan Jessica Kate Meyer served as a rabbi of Romemu in New York City and is currently a rabbi at The Kitchen in San Francisco. She was ordained by Hebrew College Rabbinical School, and strives to build community through prayerful music, and music through prayerful community. At Hebrew College and in Jerusalem, Jessica studied Sacred Jewish music with rabbis and paytanim from Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions, and performed as a vocalist with ensembles in New York, Boston, and Jerusalem. Jessica pursued graduate theater training in London, and appeared in many film, theater, and television projects in Europe and the United States: most notably, as a principal role in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist.

Sermon of Rabbi: 
In Hebrew, the word for tribe and the word for staff are one and the same: מטה/mateh.  Each tribe wields its own staff.  Each staff symbolizes its tribe; the staff is the tribe.

From one giant piece of wood Moses carved out the twelve staffs of the twelve tribes.
They come from a single source, just like the tribes themselves.  Only now, the tribes have fragmented, fighting each other for dominance.  God calls a trial to clarify, once and for all, which tribe is divinely ordained to lead.

Each tribal leader inscribes his name into the wood of his staff, then presents it to Moshe.  As darkness falls, Moshe places the twelve matot/staffs side by side within the Holy of Holies, right next to the ark holding the 10 Commandments.   

In the darkness of night, cocooned within the Holy of Holies, a transformation takes place.  A miracle. Aaron’s staff begins to sprout almond blossoms.  No sooner do the flowers appear, than the fruit of the almond ripens alongside it.  All in darkness.

A seemingly dead branch, uprooted and dried, sprouts colorful blossoms, ripe almonds. They say the staff wasn’t even made from the wood of an almond tree!  According to 19th century Polish rabbi, Malbim, the branch is awakened from a dormant place and filled with Divine spirit, which emanates through the blossoms and fruit.  So too, the soul of the wielder of the staff will awaken, from an inanimate slumber.  This is the true blossoming, says Malbim.  The soul of the tribe will quicken and bring forth ripe fruit.  

The almonds blossom in a grim time.  In last week’s parasha, the whole generation redeemed from Egypt was condemned to die in the wilderness for their faithlessness, never to set foot in the Promised Land.  In this week’s parasha, Korah and his friends attempt to topple the leadership of Moshe and Aaron.  All of the rebels are smited, some swallowed alive by the earth yawning open.  If that wasn’t enough, a plague decimates the community, killing 14,700 people.  

How is it that from nowhere, in the darkness of night, life and beauty sprout victorious?

It conjures Psalm 121, where the psalmist asks:

 מאין יבוא עזרי me’ayin yavo ezri     

The simple translation of מאין (me’ayin) is ‘from where’?  From where will my help come?  And yet  מאין (me’ayin)  can also be translated as ‘from nothing.’   God created יש מאין (yesh me’ayin), something from nothing.  מאין יבוא עזרי me’ayin yavo ezri becomes : My help emerges out of nothing.  

Sometimes help, and future, and rehabilitation and beauty sprout from seemingly nothing and nowhere.  Like an almond blossom on lifeless wood.

In mystical Jewish interpretation, the אין, this nothingness, isn’t an emptiness.  it’s thick with movement and meaning, ‘Nothing’ is the primordial source of all life.  It’s what we sense, but can’t see. Anything beyond our comprehension, concealed or unknown is called ayin.’  God is called ayin, our soul is called ayin.  

13th century kabbalist, Azriel of Gerona understands that יש and אין , being and nothingness, are made from the same stuff.  The point where they touch, where the first hint of being takes root in the nothingness, is the beginning of faith: “For the term ‘faith’ applies neither to visible, comprehensible being, nor to the nothingness, invisible and incomprehensible, but rather to the nexus of nothingness and being.”

The psalmist continues:
  עזרי מעם השם עושה שמיים וארץ.    
Ezri me’im Hashem oseh shamayim va’aretz –

 My help comes from God who makes heaven and earth.
The Piezetzner Rebbe reminds us that the psalmist doesn’t write: My help comes from God who redeemed us from Egypt, but ‘My help comes from God Who made heaven and earth’ — ex nihilo, out of nothingness.   The One who built a world in a black hole.  This is the One who must help us, The only One who can teach us to create something out of nothing; to awaken our inanimate places; to grow flowers from our staffs, and to discover faith and life and beauty where we least expect it.

AMEN Institute Happenings

Next Jewish Artist of the Week:
Next week, we will be featuring Sam Fein, who studied Parshat Chukat with
Rabbi Mike Rothbaum. Catch their live articulation on Thursday July 7th at 6 pm ET! 

Creative Articulation Featuring Melanie Siegel and Rabbanit Aliza Sperling
On Wednesday July 3rd at 1 pm ET, Naomie Kremer and Rabbi Jessica Meyer will retell the story of Korach paying close attention to the sign distinguishing Aaron from the other tribes. Let Naomie and Rabbi Jessica guide us as we discover new perspectives on this classic tale. 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 next year 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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