Have you ever discovered something beautiful inside of yourself that you didn’t know was there – especially when you tried something new? Do you think at the end of people’s lives they are more upset about what they tried and failed, or what they didn’t have the courage to try? If you don’t try you’ll never know the story’s ending. Over the last few years, I’ve grown to believe life is not about finding ourselves, it’s about creating ourselves.
I noticed that our synagogue had been evolving – or maybe it was me, and I hadn’t seen the programs they offered clearly before. Timing happens in accordance with a Divine clock that we’re not always privy to predict, nor control.
Recently, our synagogue held several weeks of creative classes, culminated by sharing our works of art and theatre performances at the B’tzalel Arts Festival Showcase. From seeds their flowers had grown to full bloom. Students had explored art, photography, ceramics, dance, cooking, performance – and music was the pied piper playing sweetly in the background.
All sorts of innovative outlets were offered while we played with old friends, and collaborated with new ones. Opportunities to break out of our restrictive can’ts, don’ts and but I never haves — to something expansive and inspiring.
The B’tzalel Arts Festival was the dream of our beloved Cantor Natalie Young. She had been fantasizing about making this festival a reality for seven years, and it took a year to plan. Cantor Young wanted to bring all of our community together through the arts, and celebrate their authentic natures – whether kid, teen or adult. Expanding our members’ connection from religion, to a cultural manifestation of being Jewish. No wonder it spoke to me. Gathering together peoples’ souls and sharing creations from their hearts. She longed for our mispachah’s (family’s) members to “lift the veil of self-doubt from their eyes and show their inner light” to the world – maybe even to themselves. The result — you could see the success of her vision on the joyful smiles of the participants’ faces.
In life — you get what you give. An added link in the collective necklace she was making was providing the opportunity for talented temple volunteers to share their gifts and passions, and through their generosity, help others discover theirs. The combination of love and creativity put into their efforts made me proud to be part of our temple.
Finally, she dissolved the boundaries of our community to include a much broader definition. She didn’t want us to be “siloed within our own congregation.” She reached out to congregations from Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, San Pedro, and Long Beach.
The festival was named after B’tzalel, who was charged in ancient times with building the Ark of the Covenant, the wooden cabinet and home where the Torah lives, as it does within the hearts of the Jewish people. He was highly skilled, with teaching abilities beyond the scope of the craft. He was able to inspire his apprentices through his intelligence and reverence for God.
All of our clergy participated whether baking with Rabbi Kort, or appreciating Rabbi Wieder’s musical talents. Even our treasured Shula (former temple cantor) and Sherri (wife of our cherished previous rabbi – and so much more) added a pinch of heart to our Challah bake. Cantor Young’s spirit could be felt lightly dancing amongst our activities, and never sweeter than when she sang with our jubilant choir.
I wanted to participate in more classes, after all I loved exploring my creativity – but deadlines and life kept getting in the way. The theme for the inaugural festival was Gesher Shalom: Bridge of Peace. How could I resist?
Besides decorating my mask from the Women’s Retreat, I was able to squeak out one amazing art class with none other than Cantor Natalie’s mom, Diane. She’s an accomplished artist who brings out the muse within her students’ souls – carrying on B’tzalel’s vocation. Deadlines be damned, I squeezed out one art-filled, soul expanding day to participate in Diane’s class, Art of Inner Expression.
I was excited. I had enjoyed participating in a few Paint Nites before, but these were initiated by one of my good friend’s desires for her birthday celebrations. Having been on the Women’s Retreat with Diane, and luxuriating in the love she spreads wherever she goes, I knew she would take me on a fun, colorful and powerful journey.
Diane’s unique teaching method encourages the creativity inside you to reach the canvas in colors, shapes, forms and textures – expressing yourself without any preconceived notions.
Here’s how my first painting excursion developed. First we donned on white gloves. Hmm, this was unexpected — my curiosity was sparked. We spread turpentine on our canvas. Next we were instructed to find the darkest color (I choose dark green since it’s supposed to be my color), and smoosh it on the canvas with our glove-protected hands. Then other colors, and finally shapes we discovered by using our gloved fingers.
I saw many shapes calling to me. Being female, I saw mostly rounded forms. As I worked, more than shapes began to appear in the paint – from where I didn’t know, but I saw silhouettes in the paint. First there was what seemed like a blissful, female Israeli dancer on the left with her hand raised along her body to above her head. Then a face.
Now egg shapes appeared along the bottom. Diane showed me how to use a brush and make outlines. I thought they needed to glide gently along a river so I added some tenderly curving blue. I mixed around the paint within the egg shapes and multiple colors broke out of the darkness. They symbolized to me the wonderful new experiences I had been having — writing my book Blasted from Complacency, my blog, my writer’s support group, Writers4Writers, the list goes on – so many wonderful adventures.
A Tree of Life established strong roots and Diane showed me how to make the leaves. Many faces appeared — an angel within the tree, and then another woman. She was standing and I could see her head tilted to the right side and her hair flowing. I gave her an outline. Her legs were slightly opened and just below her I saw a vertically placed egg — born from her body. I smooshed it with my glove and was shocked. The colors spread into the hues of a rainbow. In my family, whenever rainbows appear, Grammie Cille, my deceased mother-in-law, is saying hello.
When I looked again at the eggs, I saw a few that were a faint, light white — peeking through. I kept them with an unfinished look because I felt deep within, that there’s going to be lots more opportunities to explore. I would let the flow of the Universe determine them — unknown to me for now. They would step forth sometime in the future when timing and opportunity aligned. I called my painting Birthing.
The showcase was a time to share with our community our unique passions and new discoveries. Our art, photography and ceramics were displayed for everyone to enjoy. Songs of various styles were performed, as well as a theatre presentation of dance and music with the theme of Peace. The tunes played and sung throughout the afternoon were performed by congregants, as well as our invited guests from many different synagogues up the coast. One cantor’s ten-year-old daughter sang with a voice of an angel.
Many surprises awaited me around every corner. I knew religious Jews wrap tefilin, but come on — here was Rabbi Wieder teaming up with Kim our gifted temple songstress, wrapping to the beat! I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it.
Seeing my painting and mask exhibited gave me a great sense of accomplishment. I had never done anything like that before. A friend asked me if I had made any art, and I showed her my two pieces and explained their significance. Later, while we were enjoying listening to the music, her husband showed up and she introduced me to him. It was a beautiful sunny day and I savored the sunlight.
Several days later I was at a NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) meeting, searching for freelance writing gigs, and received a text from my friend: “OMG! My husband ordered pictures at Costco and I went to pick them up for him – look what I found!” It was a picture of my painting. She told me, “He saw it at the art festival, and fell in love with it. He tried to blow up the picture he took of it, but it didn’t come out as well as he had hoped. When I asked what he was doing with a picture of your painting, he told me he loved it, and wanted to buy it!“
“Really?” I asked feeling dumbfounded, and flattered. “What would he do with it?” I inquired further. “He wants it for his office. Will you sell it to me so I can give it to him for Father’s Day?” What?
I told her I had to think about it – this was my first painting. Apparently painting, similar to writing, comes so much from your heart — it felt to me as if I would be giving away my first born.
I remembered he was an obstetrician. When I looked at the painting through what I assumed were his eyes, I could understand the fertility represented by the eggs and gathering of women that might be attractive. When I looked at a large face I had depicted in the painting, there were some drops of yellow paint I hadn’t remembered being there. They looked like tears.
It brought me back to an anguished time in my past when we spent many years trying to have our baby.
I’m happy to say he is now sixteen. I thought to myself, I could frame it and enjoy it at home, or it would
hang in his office and maybe provide inspiration both to him, and potentially to the longing families entering his refuge for help. Maybe even bring them good luck.
So that’s what I did – I sold my first painting to my friend for her husband. She was so excited, she couldn’t wait until Father’s Day. She surprised him at the office and with their midwife videoing the delivery, he exclaimed “I love it!” I was a proud mama and it’s already hanging in its new home. May it fill his office with love and life.
Why did I tell you this? I hope next time you’re confronted with a new possibility you’ve never considered trying before — take the leap. Who knows? Maybe it will twist your path on a new, wondrous adventure.
As always, I invite you to Join Me On My Journey…