Susan Weinberg   
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The Jewish Artists' Lab


Early in 2013 I began to participate in the Jewish Artistsí Laboratory.  The Lab is an arts initiative through the Sabes Jewish Community Center (Sabes JCC) featuring 17 artists exploring the theme of Text/Context/Subtext.  We meet twice a month and spend part of the session in dialogue around topics relevant to artists using text as our starting point. Text is interpreted rather loosely, perhaps a religious text, perhaps a TED lecture.  The second half of the session is spent in an arts exercise that relates to the topic we've discussed. A similar project is underway in Madison and Milwaukee.  The three projects are funded by The Covenant Foundation. I've found the sessions to be very thought-provoking and write about them in my blog.

In August-Sept 2013 we had an exhibition at the Tychman Shapiro Gallery where each artist developed a piece that related to one of the topics we explored. My artwork began as an unrelated piece and it was only once I began it that I realized how much it connected to one of our discussions.  As is typical of my work, it embeds story.  I also wrote a poem that connected the story within the artwork to the text that we discussed.

For more information

We Walk Together
Acrylic on Canvas
30" x 24"

The Story

In the Artists' Lab we talked of the Binding of Isaac and found little resolution in this story where God commands Abraham to sacrifice his child.  We talked of the negative space, the sparseness of the story that offers little as to the emotional state of our protagonists.  That space allows each of us to project our emotion from our own experience, everyone once a child, perhaps a parent.
The following week I got together with my friend Dvora who is a survivor of the Shoah and has told me many of her stories of that time.  We had talked of me painting some of her stories and she reminded me of that  discussion.  I began to paint one of the most vivid of her stories, the death march from Auschwitz towards Bergen-Belsen, a march that she did with her mother who was by her side throughout the war and in the camps.

They were given three things at the outset, a blanket, a can with a picture of a chicken and bread.  The cans soon littered the road as they had no way to open them.  The blankets hung like nooses around their necks. If you sat down to rest, you received a bullet in the back of the head. After two ten hour days of walking, Dvora asked a guard when they were going to stop.  He motioned to a village ahead.  When they continued forward after reaching the village, Dora exhausted, prepared to sit down despite the consequence. 

Her mother tried to dissuade her unsuccessfully and finally responded, "All right, we'll sit down together" to which Dvora replied, "Not you!!"   In that moment came the realization that their lives were bound together and they continued on.



As I painted, I realized the many parallels with the story we had discussed in the Lab.  Each contains a parent-child
relationship, a journey, the threat of impending death, a sacrifice proposed, but not enacted and three things which they carried.  I found myself thinking of the Binding of Isaac as representing the inextricable  bond between a parent and child.

Perhaps I have merely recast a story which is difficult to understand into one which while still one of high drama, is more comprehensible.  Or perhaps one story sheds light on aspects of the other in a more metaphorical sense, to sacrifice one is in fact to sacrifice the other, to give oneself fully, for Abraham and Isaac as well as for Dvora and her mother.
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The Poem

The accompanying poem began with a series of questions to my friend Dvora.  What was the weather  like? Where did you sleep? What did you feel?  I began to craft the story from her responses and then refined it into an alternating and often parallel structure between Isaac and Abraham and Dvora and her mother told in the voices of Issac and Dvora. When juxtaposed, the two stories present different views of sacrifice and the bond between a parent and child.

We Walk Together
by Susan Weinberg

We walk together,                    
My mother and I.
We always walked together,
In the labor camp,
In Auschwitz,
Always my mother by my side,
My protector,
My sustenance
And I, hers.

We walk together.                  
My father and I,
I the child of his old age,
I know his love well.
But now his heart seems heavy.
Silence drapes us.
Mt Moriah, our destination.
Three things we carry,
The wood,
 the flint
and the knife.

We left Auschwitz yesterday.
They gave us three things,
A blanket,
A can
with a picture of a chicken,
And bread.
Cans soon littered the road,
A cruel joke,
Contents locked within
With no means to escape,
The blanket, a noose around the neck,
First on one shoulder, then the other.
To falter or pause is deadly,
Greeted by a bullet
in the back of the head.
Soon bodies litter the road.
We hold the bread tightly,
Grasping life,
A slim chance of survival
amongst a world of death.

We walk together,
My father and I,
To the foot of the mountain.
Wait for us he says
To our two men.
We will go to pray
And return to you.
A man of faith my father,
A man of faith.

We walk together
My mother and I,
A day we walked,
for ten hours.
At night we slept in a barn.
Our heads rested on our wet shoes
Lest they disappear in the night.
Sharing a blanket between us,
As snow coated the ground
And cold froze our limbs.
Today we walk again.
Now dusk settles over our tracks
And exhaustion weighs heavy.

(continued in next column)


My father binds me

And places me on the wood.
My father
who always protects me from harm.
He looks at me tenderly
And I see his hand tremble
As he lifts the knife.
And his eyes inquire to the heavens

I venture to ask
When will we stop?
The guard motions ahead
The lights of a village beckon,
Relief as the distance closes.
But Anguish seizes me
as we continue past
"He lied to me", I cry out.
All my weariness descends
in that moment of betrayal
"I want to sit down
I want to sit down"
A bullet unseen
This misery ended
I hold that thought in my hands
And my grasp on life loosens.

They try to dissuade me
My mother and the women
They still cling to life
Even now, even now
"I want to sit down,
 I want to sit down"
 Quietly my mother replies,
"All right,
 We'll sit down together."
'Not you", I cry,
Even as I say the words
I know the impossibility

He releases me to life
My father.
Rubs my wrists
between his large hands

Until feeling returns,
Takes a ram caught in the thicket
And makes a sacrifice to God.

She releases me to life
My mother
In sacrifice proposed
She nurtures life
Gives me strength and
Warms me with her love
Always by my side.

And we walk on together
Bound together
Inextricably bound
we walk on together.

Blog Links on the Lab

Seeing Through Fresh Eyes
Painting Time
Breathing Deeply
Negative Space
They Walked Together
Essence and Absence
All Beginnings are Hard
Historical Truth vs. Artistic License
Teetering on Finished
A Curious Artist
Something Worth Sharing
Criticism Without the Ouch
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