Not Your Bubbe's Judaica
These piece first appeared in The Times of Israel.
It’s midsummer and “wedding season” is in full swing. Each week my social media newsfeeds are showing more and more couples under the chuppah, declaring their love and commitment to each other amidst family and friends. It’s around this time of year, amidst all the joy and the bubbly, that I find myself wondering how our Jewish community is doing at welcoming in the many new couples who are choosing to incorporate Jewish rituals into their weddings. Are these couples finding chuppahs, ketubahs and other Jewish ritual objects that speak to their own Jewish experience and aesthetics, or to the varied experiences of interfaith couples choosing to incorporate some Jewish rituals into their wedding?
The world of Judaica is facing the same questions the broader Jewish community is wrestling with: how do we stay relevant in a world where many Jews are members of interfaith families, and all Jews have numerous options for whether and how to engage with ritual and religion? Symbols that you can only connect to if you have always been Jewish, or were raised in a home surrounded by Judaica, may no longer capture the imagination of the new and varied kinds of Jewish families.
My mother, who is not Jewish but raised us in a Jewish home, described to me how she found some traditional expressions of Judaica to be alienating, like a conversation in a language she didn’t understand and wasn’t invited to be a part of. Will our Judaica continue to display Judaism as a closed community meant for the people who were born into it, or will it invite everyone in and participate in a wider cultural conversation? How can we find ways to share our rich history and traditions and engage people in ways that are meaningful today?
Luckily, there is a flourishing community of Judaica artists who are reinterpreting Jewish ritual objects with the goal of inviting everyone in who wants a place at the table. Arielle Angel, co-founder of Ketuv Fine Art Ketubahs, told me: “I always tell people that throughout history there was no ‘Judaica’—there was only the way contemporary trends were incorporated into Jewish ritual objects. This made sure that “Judaica” was always fresh. Somehow, we’ve gotten it into our heads that Judaica is watercolor Jerusalems, or oil-painted rabbis. It seems to me that this was just a trend that stuck at a certain point, and now people believe it’s traditional. But what’s ‘traditional’ is actually being open to the times.”
As an emerging Judaica artist, I aim to contribute to this conversation, learning from and reaching to the world around me while drawing from our rich traditions and stories. When I sit down in my studio to create a new chuppah (wedding canopy) or tallit (prayer shawl), I don’t just bring my Jewish self. I carry every part of who I am into the room—the multi-faith and multi-racial family I come from, the poets I read, the weavers and artists who are my teachers, and the wide rivers of Jewish stories and traditions that help me make sense of who I am in this world.
Selecting ritual objects for a wedding ceremony is just one of many decisions a couple will make in their lives about which traditions and rituals to adopt together. A chuppah is meant to symbolize a couple’s future home, and so as contemporary artists we have the sacred task of creating chuppahs that celebrate the full selves of the couple who will stand beneath them at their wedding. In my chuppah designs, I incorporate fresh and contemporary designs that blend our Jewish traditions with new influences by poets and artists of many different faiths. And there are so many artists creating exciting and imaginative re-interpretations of Jewish ritual objects—some of my favorite ketubah artists includeKetuv Ketubah, Ink with Intent and Modern Ketubah.
As Jews, we are blessed with the commandment of Hiddur Mitzvah, that both everyday life and our important life cycle rituals should be beautiful. I’m proud to be part of a growing community of Jewish artists who are dreaming new ways to bring this commandment into life in a way that is relevant to the wide diversity of Jewish and interfaith families today.