Congregation using art to connect with God


Clay, color, music, drama and art will be used as tools to facilitate spiritual journeys in a new program at Bais Abraham Congregation called “Reaching Torah Through the Arts: Exploring Art and Creativity in Jewish Religious Life.” The program will include a series of classes and workshops for the community, with the support of a Crown Grant from the St. Louis Jewish Federation.

“As Orthodox Jews, we spend a lot of time connecting with God intellectually and through mitzvot,” said Rabbi Hyim Shafner of Bais Abraham. Shafner said there are also many other ways of getting in touch with God through Torah, and one of those ways is through looking at the world, and that art can be used to see the world as a deeper expression of humanity and as a method to come to love God and the world that he created.

Dan Reich, who is serving on the committee for the program, said the committee has worked to produce “diverse and creative programming.”

“Perhaps because the arts have always played a role in my own life, I feel especially eager to explore, together with members of this dynamic community, various ways that the arts and the creative process can access and impact the world of Torah and mitzvot,” he said.

Phyllis Shapiro, who is co-chairing the program with Ronit Sherwin, said she expects individuals to respond to the various events planned in very different ways, and that Bais Abraham strives to sponsor programs that speak to the entire Jewish community.

Sherwin said this is the kind of learning “in which we as Jews need to more actively engage.”

“It is stimulating, challenging, spiritual, and serves to inspire our greater sense and appreciation of the world around us through our various senses,” she said.

Shafner said the program is not simply art projects, or hearing people speak about art, but hearing experts on art and Judaism, such as Rabbi Chaim Brovender, who is the co-founder of ATID, the Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions in Jewish Education, and founder of Midreshet Lindenbaum and rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Hamivtar.

Brovender will be scholar-in-residence over the weekend of Aug. 26 and will kick off the program. He will speak at noon at a special lunch-and-learn about “Art and the Religious Experience,” and then again at 9 p.m. at a dessert melaveh malkah on Toward a Torah-Based Philosophy of Art. Reservations are required for the lunch-and-learn, which is $10 for adults and $6 for children. The dessert melaveh malkah is $7.

There will be a workshop related to Brovender’s speeches on Sunday, Aug. 27, and Monday, Sept. 11, by local artist and educator Nadine Cohen, who specializes in art therapy. Cohen will facilitate two workshops offering participants an opportunity to personalize their Torah learning and express their creative responses through the medium of clay.

Claywork will be created at the workshop from 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 27 , and pieces will be glazed from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 11. There will be a class for participants ages 6 to 13, and a second class for those ages 14 and up. The cost of $12 covers all materials. Reservations are due by Aug. 19.

On the Shabbat of Sept. 2 there will be a kiddush lunch and limmud with Oshra Koren, director of MaTaN Women’s Torah Institute in Raanana, Israel. Koren teaches Torah and Talmud, and is also the founder and leader of the Bat Kol Ensemble. Koren’s topic of discussion will be “These and Those are the Words of the Living God: Diversity within Jewish Thought.”

Koren’s visit to St. Louis is co-sponsored with Young Israel and Torah MiTzion Kollel.

The next part of the program will explore the Torah through light and color, and will include a Shabbat lunch-and-learn the weekend of Oct. 21, with Rabbi Shafner as the speaker on “Light and Color in Jewish Thought and Tradition.” Shafner will speak about the unique halachic and mystical roles of light and its manifestations, color, in Judaism — from the blue thread to the red string, and from the gold of the Temple to the rainbow, which Ezekiel calls a vision of God himself.

The lunch and learn will take place at noon and costs $10 for adults and $6 for children.

That will be followed by a workshop on Oct. 22 lead by Janet Shafner, who has worked for almost 20 years making large, multi-paneled oil paintings based on the connections between Talmudic and Biblical narratives and contemporary social and political issues, and acted as director of the Adult Studio Art Program at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in Connecticut for almost 30 years. Her work has been shown in numerous group and solo exhibitions and is held in many private and public collections.

Janet Shafner will lead a workshop called “The Magic of Color,” in which she will explore the phenomena and interactions of color, which will be used to express a spiritual idea of each individual’s choosing through paper collages. The project will be followed by an informal group discussion on how each person’s concept relates to Judaism.

There are also plans for future programs related to this series, including an aesthetic Shabbaton, incorporating Jewish music, drama and art with Uria Teperberg and Adina Frydman the weekend of Nov. 18, National Jewish Arts Week March 10 through 17, and a tour of Jewish art at the St. Louis Art Museum with Betsy Zimbalist, at a date to be announced.

To reserve for any of the programs, or for more information, please call 314-721-3030 or visit

Keren Douek is an assistant editor and can be reached at [email protected].