Grapevine: Singing God’s praises

At the start of each Hebrew month, Maureen Kushner hosts an all women minyan at her Jerusalem apartment.

Women of the Wall 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Women of the Wall 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
ON THE eve or first day of every new Hebrew month, former New Yorker Maureen Kushner hosts what is usually a women’s minyan in her penthouse studio apartment overlooking Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market. When the weather is good, she takes her guests up to her roof garden to sing Hallel. When this happens, she can also invite men, because the way in which the roof is built allows separation between the two groups. It also attracts interest from passersby in the street below.
Last Friday, the weather looked overcast, so Kushner had everyone crowd into her kitchen-cum-dining room-cum-living room, with some of her guests sitting on the staircase that leads to the roof. Leading the singing was the amazing Rachel Rubin, a young, untrained singer with a voice reminiscent of Joan Baez’s but with a wider vocal range. Rubin sings in the Carlebach genre, and like the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, she takes brief pauses in her singing to utter prayers in English for all to understand.
Kushner handed out tambourines and maracas, but the real musical accompaniment came from the blue violin of Dr. Gila Carcas, the principal of the English Music Academy in Israel.
An innovative teacher, Kushner spent 12 years working in the country on a project called The Art and Soul of Peace Through Humor. At the invitation of the Education Ministry, she traveled all over the country working with Jewish, Arab, Beduin and Druse children, as well as Ethiopian and Russian immigrants, to create murals and paintings on the theme of war and peace, using humor to break down barriers and create environments of trust. The Peace Through Humor exhibition was shown in the Knesset, as well as in many parts of the US and Canada and in more than a dozen countries in Europe and South America.
EIGHTEEN DIFFERENT tours within the Israel Museum, led by both prominent personalities and museum curators, were the highlight of the Israel Friends of the Israel Museum’s annual gala, which took place this week. According to Yitzhak Molcho, chairman of the museum’s board of directors, the event was originally scheduled for just after mid-November, but with Operation Pillar of Defense in full swing, it was considered inappropriate for people in Jerusalem to make merry while the citizens of the South were suffering. So 540 people rearranged their schedules to come in mid-December instead.
One of the celebrities leading tours was Channel 2 anchorwoman, moderator and reporter Dana Weiss, who explained in the gallery of grand masters why she was constantly moved by Rembrandt’s painting St. Peter in Prison.
Weiss, who grew up on Jerusalem’s Ethiopia Street, has been familiar with Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer and other Dutch masters since her earliest childhood. Her mother, who was born in Holland, was both an artist and an art teacher; reproductions of the Dutch masters were all over the house, and there were numerous books about them. It was as if they were friends of the family, said Weiss. Not only that, but whenever Weiss visited Holland – even though her relatives live in Leiden, where Rembrandt created some of his most memorable works – it was almost a duty for her to visit the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and view the Rembrandt collection. Her mother always made a point of asking her about it.
Weiss – who, like her mother, once worked at the Israel Museum – never fails to be amazed when she looks at St. Peter, which Rembrandt painted when he was only 25. Judy and Michael Steinhardt, who paid somewhere in the range of $20 million for it, donated it to the museum in 2001 during the second intifada to help boost the sagging attendance. The painting was the first Rembrandt to be shown in Israel.
Weiss observed that Rembrandt’s paintings continued to magnetize people more than 300 years after their completion. “Who will remember [pop singer] Lady Gaga in 300 years’ time?” she asked dismissively.
The event, which was a feast for both the eyes and the stomach, was a fusion of the offerings of both the Israel Museum and the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk, and was therefore called “Artishuk.”