Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theatre


Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theatre at The Jewish Museum  is not to be missed. Most of this exhibit is on loan and has wonderful art not shown before in New York.

This exhibit has Marc Chagall and other fine artists, theatre sets and theatre history, political history and the arts, the Golem, set and costume design, Jews under the Soviet regime, many wonderful old film excerpts, sci-fi and haunting imagination,  Bubbe Yachne (if you have to ask-don’t ask), and something for you  to seriously consider and learn if you haven’t yet learned enough about the cruelty of Stalin.

This exhibit features a time of great creativity in a severe political context. Seriously a terrific exhibit in all aspects. Placing the art in political history is the most special aspect of this exhibit, for instance: We do not think of the stories of Sholom Aleichem as expressing a “ruined past and good Soviet future”, it is certainly not how we have seen or interpreted Fiddler on the Roof and so this raises many very good questions about artist’s intent, context and time.

Also, the artists had to live under the radar of Soviet censorship of ideas. An-Sky’s play, The Golem, who was a monster created with the best of intentions, and expressed the dangers of Kabbalah study, was re-interpreted by the theatre troupe as a comment on the Russian revolution and got past the censors who didn’t get the reference and interpretation. Costumes, sets etc are on display while the moving and haunting score written for the Golem plays in the gallery of the costumes and drawings of fantastic Kabbalistic costumes and sets.

When you see Marc Chagall exhibited in a setting that knows Jewish cultural and religious references you realize that the exhibit cards actually make sense…that his work expresses how the natural world and the spiritual are one and that Chagall’s paintings allows you see the unseen and the seen, human and animal, and deep interconnections…oh..even a cow that moos in Yiddish: “Shagall”, and a fantasy of magical chicken soup (and chickens) in the magical (and natural) realm of a wedding feast. Try to remember that in Kabbalah, the Bride is a reference to the Shekhina, the feminine aspect of God, as you enjoy his stage design,….and that a Bride is also a Bride.


Also at the Jewish museum at this time: Susan Hiller: The J. Street Project.  Susan Hiller researched every German street that has the prefix “Juden” (Jews) in its name. These were the names of the streets before the Nazis took over Germany. The Nazis changed these names and following Germany’s defeat and after de-nazification, these street names were restored to the original names containing “jude..”.

There are no Jewish communities on these streets now, so they mark what once was. 

The exhibit contains the 303 photographs of these streets Hiller created over a three year period, arranged alphabetically by location, along with a map of Germany, a list of sites, and a video documenting the hundreds of locations she identified throughout the country.

It is shocking to see the charming little streets and corners in lovely little towns and contemplate how these communties of Jews where so cruely destroyed. How did the neighbors living in these towns behave? No contemporary local residents appear in the photos, just the empty “charming” streets.


And more at the Museum : The Dead Sea Scrolls: Mysteries of the Ancient World, here is the Museum’s own description of the exhibit:

“The Dead Sea Scrolls: Mysteries of the Ancient World
September 21, 2008 – January 04, 2009

In 1947, a significant discovery of ancient Jewish texts was made in a cave near the Dead Sea. These and other Dead Sea Scrolls found later have shed light on the major transformations and debates that occurred in ancient worship during the first centuries BCE and CE, that contributed to the development of early Judaism and Christianity. This exhibition will present six Dead Sea Scrolls complemented by objects excavated from the site near where they were found. Three of the scrolls have never been exhibited, including a portion of one of the three earliest copies of the Hebrew Bibles in existence, and three others have never been shown in New York.”


Ok, ok you have read this far and you have asked : Bubbe Yachne,  also known as Bubbe Yagga,  is a witch(! ) who lives in a cabin deep in the woods which rests on chicken feet (!) that allows the cabin to turn in any direction! Careful, she causes the black spots on the moon! And possibly in bananas as well (said my older brother). Can be mean or kind. Probably tried to roast Hansel and Gretel or is a relative. She is from Slavic folklore. Told you not to ask. Now if you ever see chicken feet under a building in a Chagall you might get the reference. Aren’t you glad that you asked?

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