Gift of Nancy Berman and Alan Bloch and The Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation in honor of Dean Lewis M. Barth. Additional support provided by an anonymous donor and The Alpert Group, LLC.

Nachamu, Nachamu: The Heavens Spread Out Like A Prayer Shawl, 2006

Nachamu, Nachamu: The Heavens Spread Out Like A Prayer Shawl is an artwork that resulted from the creative collaboration between a Hebrew Union College professor, his class, and a visual artist. Dr. Lewis M. Barth and eleven students in his Midrash course in the fall of 2005 were given the opportunity to work with contemporary artist Victor Raphael. Dr. Ruth Weisberg, Dean of USC's Gayle Garner Roski School of Fine Arts, provided consultation on commissioning public artwork. The challenge for the class was to transmit Jewish texts and ideas emanating from the course's content to the artist. The challenge for the artist was to create an artwork responsive to the material and the students’ desire for an enhanced learning environment.

Nachamu, Nachamu: The Heavens Spread Out Like A Prayer Shawl, 2006
Site specific installation; chromogenic prints, LED lighting, copper and metal leaf

Students, teacher, and artist participated in an "Artist Beit Midrash" in which ideas flowed back and forth between the class and the artist. The essence of the class's study was the Hebrew text, Pesikta de Rav Kahana, Piska 16. The students made an illuminating presentation focusing on the relevant imagery and concepts for the artist to consider. Through a process of investigation, interaction and reflection, art was used to transform the space. Victor Raphael, profoundly inspired by the subject and the process, wanted to create a sanctuary for learning that is both comforting to the soul and stimulating to the imagination. He created three luminous art works for three walls of the room and embellished both sides of the entry door with designs of precious copper and metal leaf.

(left) Victor Raphael and copper leafed door, (center) Chromogenic prints installed in Room 105
(right) Lewis M. Barth, Ruth Adar, Victor Raphael, Nancy Berman and Alan Bloch; photo credit: Marvin Steindler

The finished room is both artwork and classroom, both meditation space and learning place. It embodies the concept of "hiddur mitzvah", the "beauty of holiness" by creating a beautiful and inspirational space for Jewish learning. It is hoped that this newly designed environment will enliven the everyday moments of teaching and understanding that takes place within it. Besides enhancing the physical space of the classroom, the project and its process demonstrated how artistic practice can be integrated into traditional Jewish learning and teaching. As HUC students move into their chosen professions, they will take these innovative ideas and practices with them.

Student participants: Ruth Adar, Adam Allenberg, Alyssa Forrest, Yoni Jaffee, Rick Keller, Mark Miller, Beth Nichols, Eric Berk, Glenn Ettman, Bryna Milkow, and Terry Treseder.

All Artwork ©Victor Raphael

Photos of HUC opening in aminated sequence above: Chris Garland