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Jewish Art Seminar at the Jewish University of St. Petersburg

The Center for Jewish Art conducted its fourth biennial Jewish Art Seminar at the Jewish University of St. Petersburg as part of its continuing efforts to enhance the knowledge of local professionals involved in Jewish culture and education. The framework of this year's Seminar, which was organized in cooperation with the St. Petersburg Jewish University and its Institute for Problems in Jewish Education, was widened to incorporate a large number of courses in different fields of Jewish Studies. In addition to courses in Jewish art, courses in Hebrew Literature, Modern History and Jewish Education were also offered. Guest lecturers from Bar Ilan and Ben Gurion Universities joined the lecturers from the Hebrew University, contributing in making this the most successful Seminar yet.

The Seminar took place from June 23-July 7, 1998, at the ORT School in a beautiful neighborhood in central St. Petersburg. Participating were approximately 120 Jewish educators including Hebrew teachers, Bible teachers, and art teachers. They came from regions throughout the former USSR, as distant as Uzbekistan, Moldavia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and cities all over Russia. The lecturers noted that they were particularly impressed with the successful blending of teachers from all movements of Judaism: teachers from Habad schools learning alongside teachers from Reform and Conservative schools.

Scholars from the Center for Jewish Art presented a range of lectures on Jewish art as diverse as "Zodiac Signs in Ancient Synagogues" and "Women Artists in Modern Jewish Art." In a series of lectures discussing "The Problem of Modern Jewish Art," Professor Ziva Amishai-Maisels' first two lectures dealt with emancipation, "Self-identification of Jewish artists during the Emancipation Period," followed by "Assimilation of Jewish Artists." In her lecture dealing with the search for an international style, she spoke about avant-garde art versus Zionist Art. Another lecture dealt with the reflection of the Holocaust and Nazism in Jewish art. Her final two lectures related to the second half of the twentieth century and discussed the return to abstract art and art imagery, and problems regarding Jewish women artists in modern Jewish art.

Boris Chaimovitch, currently a doctoral student at the Hebrew University and senior researcher at the Center, was one of the founders of the St. Petersburg Jewish University, and organizer of the bi-annual Seminar. He presented six lectures dealing with the subject "Verbal and Visual Metaphors in Jewish European Culture." In one lecture Boris presented an overview of Jewish monuments of the Middle Ages and modern period in Western Europe. In another lecture he discussed how symbolic images from Jewish texts are portrayed in visual art. Another lecture dealt with tribal images and the heraldic tradition. He later examined the images of miracles in graphic books and synagogue wall paintings, and finally eschatological images in Jewish folk-art.

Michael Tal, also a doctoral student in Art History at the Hebrew University and senior researcher at the Center, presented a broad series of lectures dealing with: mosaic floors in ancient synagogues, in which he discussed, among other topics, the adaptation of the Zodiac design in Jewish art; the image of Isaac and Moses in Jewish art throughout the ages; and the year cycle as it is presented in Jewish art.

In conjunction with the Seminar, art teachers, several of whom participated in the Center's 1997 summer course on Jewish art, organized an impressive exhibit of drawings by children in Jewish schools.

Toward the close of the Seminar, the art teachers delighted the participants with the creation of a large and very clever collage, which incorporated images that were presented by the lecturers during the courses.

Organizers and participants alike were very pleased with the success of this year's Seminar, the diversity of the courses offered and the level of scholarship. The lecturers were likewise impressed by the seriousness and high level of the participants and look forward to the next Seminar which will take place in summer, 2000.

This seminar was supported by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).



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