Jerusalem Between Heaven and Earth at the Derfner Judaica Museum

This exhibition is jointly organized by the Derfner Judaica Museum and the Jewish Art Salon.

Opening reception Sunday January 28, 1:30-3:00pm

Free and open to the public with RSVP to

Exhibition on view until May 27, 2018.

Derfner Judaica Museum
Hebrew Home at Riverdale
5901 Palisade Avenue
Riverdale, NY 10471-1205

This exhibition was first organized by the Jewish Art Salon and curated by Ori Z. Soltes for the 2017 Jerusalem Biennale held in Israel from October 1–November 16, which featured 26 exhibitions and projects from around the world. The current exhibition was coordinated by Susan Chevlowe, Chief Curator and Director, Derfner Judaica Museum. 

The theme of the Jerusalem Biennale and of the Jewish Art Salon’s exhibition, Jerusalem Between Heaven and Earth, is the concept of Watershed. As a geological term, watershed examines water, streams and rivers that split and converge. It can also be used as a metaphor to help us think about ourselves and the way we split and converge as individuals and groups. Both in Hebrew (Kav Parahat Hamayim) and in English, watershed is used to describe an important turning point—an event that changed the course of history.

The works of three artists shown in the Jerusalem presentation are not included here, and some of the original works for that venue have also been replaced or substituted.

More info on the museum’s website here.

Photos opening reception and installation here

Click on images to enlarge


Catalog design by Katarzyna Kozera


As a member of the American Alliance of Museums, the Hebrew Home at Riverdale by RiverSpring Health is committed to publicly exhibiting its art collection throughout its 32-acre campus including Derfner Judaica Museum and a sculpture garden overlooking the Hudson River and Palisades. Derfner Judaica Museum + The Art Collection provide educational and cultural programming for residents of the Hebrew Home, their families and the general public from throughout New York City, its surrounding suburbs and visitors from elsewhere. RiverSpring Health is a nonprofit, non-sectarian geriatric organization serving more than 12,000 older adults in greater New York through its resources and community service programs.

Museum hours:

Sunday–Thursday, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p. m. Art Collection and grounds, open daily, 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Call 718. 581.1596 for holiday hours and to schedule group tours or for further information, visit the website at

Catalog design by Katarzyna Kozera


By Guest Curator Ori Z. Soltes

The idea of a watershed suggests a branching, be it of physical terrain, historical events or spiritual and aesthetic concepts. This notion is particularly powerful in conjunction with Jerusalem. The exhibition arc encompasses multiple divergences that begin with and come back to the geological topography of the Sacred City. That topography—an outcropping of land from the Judaean plain, surrounded by valleys on three sides—offers a symbolic statement of how the spiritual foundations of Jerusalem branch in three Abrahamic directions, and how multiple spiritual ramifications have flowed in diverse aesthetic and political streams. From beneath the surface, they periodically surge up into our consciousness.

Tobi Kahn’s uniquely sculptural paintings and Leah Caroline and Jeremy S-Horseman’s water-based sound-centered video offer, as a beginning point, abstract suggestions of the geological watershed that helps define Jerusalem. The Sacred City’s topography made it difficult for King David to conquer and when he did so, by way of its singular underground water source, he made it his political and spiritual capital. Jerusalem became the basis for much of Israelite-Judaean history and for Jewish, Christian and Muslim fantasy, and remains a centerpiece of contention in the politicized Israeli-Palestinian world of today.

The idea of the city pre-dates the city’s role in that history. The real—spiritual—beginning of the journey toward David’s unification and Jerusalem as a capital is found in watershed moments in Exodus when a loose confederation of tribes embraced a stringent, divinely-mandated covenant. Joel Silverstein’s painting Promised Land—here the beach at Coney Island—is a reference to biblical Israel and to American Jewish immigrant experience as exemplified by the artist’s grandparents.

Richard McBee’s dramatic painting submerges the plague-induced moments that gradually separated the Israelites from Egypt within a framework—conceived as two doors—that suggests the very portals into the Holy of Holies of the Temple in a watershed construction that will eventuate half a millennium after the plagues. For the Israelite evolution yields to David’s son, Solomon, the structure that he built and the wisdom with which he became associated—so that the Book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), as explored by Ellen Holtzblatt’s painting, is traditionally ascribed to him. Gabriella Boros considers watershed warnings to the Israelite-Judaeans articulated by Isaiah. Jerusalem is both particular and universal—and the message of the biblical book of Jonah, a dramatically different focus of Yona Verwer and Katarzyna Kozera, Jan Lauren Greenfield and Alan Hobscheid, emphasizes the watershed outreach of prophecy beyond the city of prophets as far as Nineveh—capital of the Assyrian enemies of Israel. For Verwer her painting (together with its augmented reality—hidden black and white video scenes of her family, located with one’s iphone) echoes her own journey from Holland to New York, from Catholicism to Judaism: her story embedded beneath the immediately visible surface—and Kozera’s parallel journey from Poland to New York. 

The outcome of this series of divergences for the multi-valent city’s place in and between worlds is four-fold.

One, within the Jewish tradition, the biblical has given way to the rabbinic (relating to Jewish law or teachings) and its penchant for midrash (commentary)—encountered through Rachel Kanter’s fiber work, Wake Up, and Beth Krensky’s video, Tashlich. Ben Schachter’s Aquavit: Praying for Rain furthers the rabbinic by re-visioning the concept of the mikveh (ritual bath). The rabbinic has in turn ramified toward the mystical, as in Susan Schwalb’s small, tight abstract visualizations of the legend  of the LamedVav—the 36 hidden righteous ones. In Carol Buchman’s haunting work, the mystical and geological become panentheistic: the Name of God suffuses nature at its most extreme; the artist functions as priestly intermediator.

Two: away from Jerusalem, Jewish history and thought have constantly sought a spiritual and, ultimately, physical return to Jerusalem—with particular vehemence at the harshest watershed moments in the diaspora experience. Mark Podwal conceptualizes the Expulsion of 1492 in his unique style; Billha Zussman imagines how that external watershed has internal consequences in her Spinoza: Marrano of Reason;  I’m the Rose, Beware of the Thorns; Archie Rand’s 1946 offers a cutting edge—watershed—visual reference to the Shoah.

Three: Jerusalem reaches and branches into Islam and Christianity—converging with and diverging from the city’s Jewish emphases. Siona Benjamin’s work always reflects her background as a Jewish woman raised in predominantly Hindu and Muslim India and educated in Catholic and Zoroastrian schools, now living in the US. In Exodus #5, part of a series exploring the current refugee crisis, a Russian firebird, a Phoenix-like symbol of hope and relief, clutches a ball in its talons, above a blue woman, a figure of otherness and alienation, who seeks shelter from the rain under a prayer shawl. Miriam Stern re-visions the lushly colored Christian vision explored in the Crusader Bible.

Four: the watershed of Jerusalem turns inward: Sarah Lightman turns the topography of Jerusalem toward profound life watersheds regarding people and the very making of art.

The watershed of return to Jerusalem and the questions of Jewish-Christian-Muslim coexistence within Jewish-governed modern Israel begin to bring this exhibition arc back toward its earthbound beginnings. The ramifications are multiple. Aviva Shemer’s mobile installation, The Moral Victory, suspended Hebrew, Arabic and Latin (English) letters, is inspired by Martin Buber’s discussion of Jerusalem as a center of the Am Olam (Eternal People) a century ago; Jane Logemann’s  Water—frenetically repeated (like a cross between Philip Glass music and Abulafian mysticism) in Hebrew and Arabic—turns words into abstract images. Leah Raab’s depiction of the Valley of Tears alludes to a specific time and place within the Yom Kippur War. Dorit Jordan Dotan’s Water Matter abstracts from nature, showing  the transformation from liquid to semi-solid on the shore of the Atlit Salt Flats—archeological evidence of how ancient communities collected water into natural evaporation pools for the harvesting of sea salt; her Drop in the Bucket focuses on the crisis of Israeli-Palestinian water-sharing.

Bruria Finkel’s Salt Mound installation turns the issue of potable and salt water convergences back toward the geology of Jerusalem. Yehudis Barmatz-Harris’s video turns water to fire in pushing history backwards: from the crucible of Jerusalem’s return to Jewish hands through the Shoah and the connotations of fire in Hassidic mystical thought to the book-burnings of diaspora experience and the burning of the Second and First Temples to the purification process of the Israelites in the wilderness by means of the burning of the red heifer. Pamela Fingerhut’s digital image of Miriam and Baby Moses returns us to the biblical moment of Moses’s birth through a modern Middle Eastern lens.

Elaine Langerman’s small, colorful painting, interwoven with text, entitled Poem/Painting #11: Watershed, concludes the return to the topographic ground of the exhibition inquiry. Text as the basis for Jewish ethos ramifies to the visual imagery that defines Jewish art—and raises the questions: what is Jewish art? And what is Judaism within itself and within the world? Both “Jewish art” and Judaism are suffused by questions—like the city of Jerusalem itself.
















One comment

  1. Thanks Katarzyna Kozera for the catalog design and thank you Ori Z. Soltes, Yona Verwer and Susan Chevlowe, for bringing the exhibition to The Derfner Judaica Museum, New York.


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