Transcript Interview: Elyssa Moss Rabinowitz (Israel)
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E: Elyssa Moss Rabinowitz
T: Tera Greene
E: Under the Tree? *laughs*
T: Under the tree… meet me underneath the...
T: Mistle… bush?
T: *laughs* Mistle-Palm
T: Umm, OK, awesome. So, go ahead and state your name please.
E: Uh, my name is Elyssa Moss Rabinowitz.
T: And please describe six dynamic adjectives about you.
E: Umm. Creative. Detail-Oriented. Careful. Umm… Adventurous. Happy!
T: And one more.
E: Oh, sorry.
E: …I actually am sorta good at numbers, but not in this context.
T: *laughs* Fair enough… Is that your final answer?
T: OK. And what is your favorite cover? Color?
E: When I asked… when I have to answer that question I usually say turquoise even though I don't, I don't really like having to focus on one color. Umm, I like lotsa colors.
T: You like lotsa colors? OK, but turquoise for the purpose of this interview?
E: ...that will be my final answer.
T: *laughs* Umm, OK, so, now this is the "real" question here: What form of Art do you do?
E: So, I come from a background of, of uh, theatre and drama and I love to dance, umm, I love to sing… on shabbat. *laughs*. But, I would say the form of Art I do is actually - my Art - is to take different media and disciplines and bring them together into a new… whole… experience, and - and that's my - I see my Art in the Production, and the bringing together of different artistic elements to create a very, unified whole.
T: Wow. That's awesome. OK, so - and is that a profession or a hobby?
E: I would say it's a profession. I have a production company called "A Day Away" where I produce events with Jewish content which I pull on all different Arts and disciplines and media to create these unified experiences. And I'm also now one of the founders of a new organization which is really devoted to - in a different, but similar way - umm, devoted to using the Arts - all of the Arts - to portray Jewish ideas, values and text.
T: Wow. Amazing. When did you start on the path of being a creative - umm, I guess how you can say - the creative "glue maker", if you will? *laughs*
E: That's a good way of putting it. I guess I officially started when - soon after i finished University and I sort of had to decide what I wanted to do with myself and I am very blessed to have a father who himself is an Artist and an entrepreneur… and so, he actually allowed me to see the option of creating my own job and my own, umm, take on things. And so, I guess - luckily - I've been pretty much doing that since, since i started working - I mean, I worked in high school before - but since I really started working… I have had a, you know, couple of "breaks" and worked in more regular... "employee jobs"?
T: Uh huh.
E: …But I think all along I've always been creating this kind of Art.
T: OK. Describe a moment in time where Art truly healed you.
E: Well, I'm gunna take that to the, like, most very basic level, I think. And that is… giving birth. And my - When my mother was giving birth to - was pregnant with me - umm, I grew up in Berkeley (editor's note: as in California!) and they were, ya know, hippies in Berkeley, and they did a Lamaze course - and, and one of the ideas of Lamaze is a natural child birth. …is having a focal point - having something that you can focus on during the time that you're going through the contractions, etc.
So my father, being an Artist, and being steeped richly in Jewish tradition, decided to take the ancient tradition of kame'as, which are like good luck charms in Judaism. They have, like, special wordings of text, and they've come, you know, traditionally, and historically, the come in certain shapes or, umm, ideas, but there, of course, there are a lot of traditions surrounding birth and the evil eye - and pushing away the evil eye -, and bringing in the right, good vibes…
T: Uh huh.
E: …So, so he took that idea and created a modern kame'a, a piece of artwork, where he took an ancient text and visual - created a visual - in a very modern way. And my mother used that as her focal point for the Lamaze. And then, I was born! And then they decided, umm, it sort of - it sort of evolved: they started telling people about it and, and, over the years, besides my mother using it for her four children, they started lending it out to people, umm, as they, you know, were having their, their friends were having children. [inaudible] they started writing on the back on the picture all the babies that were sort of born under this good omen and it was still circulating, and in the family, when it came time for me to give birth to my first child and that was… extremely… healing and meaningful to me… to - to be able to, umm, have that continuity and, umm, and, that image - that visual image of that kame'a is very strong and healing in my - in my life - as a child, as a parent, and as a sort of generation passer-oner. *laughs*
T: That's amazing.
E: …So I've now had the opportunity to use it for four children - umm, actually I'll correct that to say that my fourth came out really quickly so I didn't have enough time to have it right when she was born but I used it - a little bit afterwards. *laughs* Anyway…
T: Thank you for sharing that.
E: My pleasure.
T: It was beautiful. What other forms of Art inspire you? I know you mentioned a lot.
E: Yeah, umm… I - The truth is I find that, any, any artist who really creates from within their heart and also focuses to make their Art - their craft - well done, I think can be a fantastic expression of their inner self. And so that can be, umm - I love, you know, visual art, I love dance, I'm very - I love to dance myself - and I'm very intrigued about that non-verbal communication of inner thoughts and feelings. Umm, for sure, drama, music… I like, puppetry, film, photography… basically *laughs*, whatever it is, I think that they're all tools. I think that, that, you know, what really matters is not the vehicle, but the, umm, the fact that there is a vehicle to express something inner, and as long as you have figured out what it is you're trying to express and are working at perfecting the vehicle, and doing it in the best way you can, I think it can be very powerful.
T: Sweet. Tell me: Who are your influences?
E: Well, definitely, significant influences in my life are both of my parents. My father, as I mentioned before, is a Jewish Artist. I guess he started with very visual art, umm, calligraphy, paper cuts, illumination, umm, painting. But he's gone in a lot of different directions and now he's like, working with Architects, and building space design, and also working in wood with wood-cutters… really, very broad. Umm, and so that inter - I, obviously - that interdisciplinary thing has affected me in many ways and it's also effected me on the Jewish side of things because, umm, I - I - I got from him the importance of, really sort of grappling with who you are Jewishly and the significance of really expressing it in your life and not just letting it be sort of something about you, but something [where] you actually constantly are, are dealing with, are relating to, are, umm, identifying with… and my mother is also a big influence. She also has very artistic sides to her. She's a guide at the Israel Museum and a lover of Art; for sure, my love of dance I got from her. But I also got from her a lot of… how to deal with people. And how to, how to listen, how to nurture, and how to also stand up for yourself, and look out for yourself at the same time. And I think that's a a very interesting mix, which hopefully, I manage to walk the, the tightrope of, in my personal life. Umm, many other influences, but I can say those are the two that I'd like to mention now.
T: So, GenToGen is about helping to Support the Arts and the Artists who create them while building a dynamic Jewish community that is trans-denominational, pluralistic and trans-disciplinary. Are you Jewish and if so, how do you approach your Jewishness (are you secular, traditional, cultural, young leadership, conservative, orthodox)?
E: So, yes, I am Jewish, and I - I guess if I had to use a label and a category I would define myself as a Modern-Orthodox Zionist… Umm, Modern-Orthodox in Israel and in the States have a little bit of a different connotation, but I guess, what I mean by Modern-Orthodox, is, is being Orthodox, and committed to Jewish law, while at the same time embracing the secular world and - of, you know, with all it has to offer in terms of - not all, but, *laughs* - [I] take the good things and umm, and… wait what was the other half of the question?
T: Well, basically, how do you approach your Jewishness?
E: Oh how do I approach it? For me, I think my Jewishness is something that really drives everything I do and it's very important to me, even in my Artistic work. Again, I see the Art as a vehicle; it's not a, it's not an end, it's a means and I've experienced and seen the power of the Arts - all the different - interdisciplinary, like you said, - but all the different disciplines, and for all the different denominations. Umm, through Art, you can address your Jewishness or grapple with Jewish issues, or explore Jewish text, or umm, decipher Jewish values, through the Arts in ways that you can't always do - or not everyone can do - without the Arts. It's um - it allows you to -, in a very non-threatening and creative way, to really get down to these core issues of "what does it mean to me to be Jewish?", and "what are my values?" and "what do I - how do I handle them?" And "how does it change my life or effect my life?", and I think that's a very powerful thing.
T: I think that's powerful, too. Yeah, I love what you said, that's a very, umm… You speak very well, but I think you have a good grasp on what Art is to you and though you're interdisciplinary, and you have all these goals, and everything - but it's very concise, and it's rooted in something. Umm, and I love how you express that.
E: Thank you.
Elyssa explaining art work
T: Yeah, yeah. How does - I mean you already answered this - but how does your Jewish background influence your Art?
E: [pause] Yeah, I sorta put that into the [beginning].
E: I could go on and on about it, but I think…
T: …Do you have anything you had to add? Or are you…
E: …umm. No.
T: No. OK, 'Cuz you seem spot on to me, you know.
E: Yeah, sorry.
(Note: Again, it's the wee hours of the Jerusalem morning. We're hanging in there!)
T: How important is it to you to create Art that pushes the envelope and do you create that form of Art?
E: So it's interesting because we have - there are four partners in Kol HaOt, in our organization. And one of them, Yair, the, the hardcore Israeli, umm, he always says, "After people go through our programs, or go through an event we do or an exhibit we do, I want them to be bothered." That's what he calls it. He says, "I don't - I want them to walk out different than the way they walked in." And I think that that's very important because I might not use the word 'bothered', I would use… but to have some reaction, or to be transformed, or tickled in some way it could be a positive. It could be negative, it could be confused, but, but I would like to hope that any - anything we do - really causes people to react and gets them sort of out of that, like, nonchalantness, about daily life, umm… I think that's one of the purposes of our - of what we're doing.
T: OK, and can you just elaborate a little bit more about your project and what you're doing?
E: Yeah, sure. The project is called Kol HaOt, the - "Illuminating Jewish Life Through Art" - and we're currently on our first phase which basically is - creates - educational experiences for North American tourists visiting Israel, where we explore during these hour and a half long programs a certain Jewish theme or value or text using the Arts. So we use them in different ways: we both expose the participant to existing works of Art in, you know, an orchestrated way, and then also, there's always a hands-on component which allows them to then grapple with the issues themselves and create something themselves. So they're going through the Artistic process. And after being inspired, and seeing what other people have done, they can go through it and have, have the process and have something to take away from that experience. So, that's been - we have a whole menu of different programs that we offer. We're working with missions and synagogue tours and Bar and Bat Mitzvah tours, and family tours and senior tours and mostly adults, but also intergenerational… umm, some youth groups, some, you know, "gap year" programs while they're in Israel, so it's really, pretty varied.
And that's been our first stage. We're focusing on developing these programs and executing them. And we're now, hopefully, G-d Willing, in the process of moving to our next stage, which is to create a home for Kol HaOt, which will be a physical… hub in Jerusalem, which will allow us to continue our educational activities, but also have alternating exhibits and a visual Beit Midrash. Hopefully, a Caberet - a Jewish Caberet -, where there will be Performing Arts in the evening, all - all throughout, umm, the different projects, conveying Jewish ideas and values through these Arts. And we hope for it to become really a magnet for Artists, for lay-people, for educators, for tourists, who want - who are really looking to be touched, or bothered, or… tickled, while they're here in Jerusalem, by some Artistic Jewish experience.
T: Great. Great. Sounds just like GenToGen, huh?
E: Yeah. There's a lot of commonality.
Students - Jewish Community High School of the Bay
T: I love that. I love that. What are your biggest concerns for the world and how does Art help repair those concerns?
E: I think I'm gunna, like, limit it a little bit to the Jewish world. Because that's one of my, you know, biggest concerns right now from the point I'm in and I think one of the biggest concerns, to me in the Jewish world, is that we're getting to be very denominational, and very separated, and um, there's a lot of conflict from within. And I think, um, I think also… that we're losing people. And we're not just losing people in number - like I'm not talking about assimilation -, I'm talking about in terms of Jewish identity and identification and values and, and I think to address all of those issues, both the common denominators, and unity, I think Art is a great vehicle for that because it sort of equalizes people. You don't need to have a lot of text background, you don't need to have sat in Yeshiva for a million years in order to, to relate to these issues, if you have the doorway of the Art.
I'm not saying it's not great if you have the opportunity to learn and delve into text, but I think, in a way, Art sort of equalizes people and lets a lot of people come into the conversation at the same level. A. So that's the unity thing. And I think the other thing is, umm, in terms of the identity crisis, or the issue of losing people. I think it's also a way to, to connect, to relate, to, to trigger a - I mean, Art is culture, right? And culture is what keeps us going. From Generation to Generation. As you…
T: *laughs* Nice plug.
E: …as you [put it]. So I think, I think - I think it's traditionally it's been one of the purposes of Art is to help pass on culture and traditions, and so let's, let's hone in on that. Let's use that for - what - this challenge that we're facing of, like, losing people, of losing Jewish identity - losing the core Jewish values.
T: Wow. And where do you live?
E: I live here in Jerusalem, the Holy City!
T: Nice! *laughs*
E: I'm very privileged.
T: *laughs* So what age group are you in? Are you The Golden Age (45+)? Are you the In-Between Generation (33-45)? Are you Next Gen (21-32), or are you Youth (under 20)?
E: Umm, according to those definitions I'm the "In-Between Generation". E/T: *laughs*
T: Got it. OK, and so…
E: …although I don't really think of myself as between generations...
T: Wh- What do you -
E: …I'm at the HEIGHT Generation!
T: The "Height Generation".
E: No, it just keeps on getting better.
T: Awesome! I love that. I love that.
E: I actually - yeah, I really believe that I'm - I… you know, some people sort of look back fondly of "oh when we were young and everything was possible" and I just sort of feel like, like I loved that time, but now I'm in such a better place and I, like, just excited and looking forward to see where I'm gunna be in the future. So I do think it just keeps on getting better.
T: So it's the "Getting Better Age"? *laughs*
E: No, I'm saying at every age, it just gets better than it was before. So hopefully it will continue that way.
Adults - creating projects
T: It will. *laughs* Umm, and how does your Art connect the different generations?
E: Umm, well, first of all, in a very tangible way. When we do our programs, we work a lot with family groups because, like I said before, it's an equalizer, the Art is an entry level where you don't need a lot of pre-knowledge. So - at least the way we use it - what we call "teachable art". So, we can have a piece of Artwork that will elicit conversation betw- that will allow a parent and a child to discuss the meaning of [a] blessing for them, or the meaning of charity for them, through, you know, which is not an easy conversation to just sort of start in your daily life. But, by having the tool of the Art to discuss it - "What do you see here?" "How do you understand it?" "Why did the Artist choose to do this?" "Why did - what, you know, what… How do you interpret that?" - it's, it's a very easy entry-point and way to allow people from different generations to have discussions. And then, of course, once they've gotten there, they each bring from their richness and their experience and connect to each other so… really, it's just the trigger, I think, to allow them that space.
T: Why do you feel it is important to stay connected to all the generations?
E: First of all, for continuity. And second of all, I think there's a misnah in Avod that says "You should know where you come from and where you're going… And who stands - and who's going to give you judgement." That's the end. But, but I think it's very important for any person to, to know their past, and their future is rooted in their past. And so, the way we accomplish that is by having connections between generations. And, it's very basic to me.
We used to - I lived for a little while in a small community and it was like a new community, so it was a lot of young families - or, young couples - this was before I had kids, umm, and it really bothered - we left there *laughs* - and it really bothered me that, I - I thought, "I can't bring up my kids in a place where everyone is the same age." Like, I want them to meet old people, I want them to meet young people, I want, I want the old people to meet them. Umm, I want to have friends of different ages. I don't want to be like an ageist and only be within a circle of people my age, and I want to pass that on. I think there's a lot to learn from everyone at every stage and age, so…