Arrivals - How one artist is inspired to do good

“My art is about emotion. It doesn’t matter what the painting is of – it can be about Jerusalem, about the Torah – whatever it is, it is really about what I’m feeling."

JORDANA KLEIN, 55, NEW YORK TO BEIT SHEMESH (photo credit: KAREN FELDMAN)
JORDANA KLEIN, 55, NEW YORK TO BEIT SHEMESH
(photo credit: KAREN FELDMAN)
Renowned for artwork and Judaica that is poetic, graceful, boldly colored and bursting with life, Jordana Klein has exhibited her work in the United States, Israel, Canada and South Africa. Her work has recently been featured in Heichal Shlomo and will soon be on display in the Knesset.
Klein is the daughter of Benjamin Blech, one of the best-known and most influential rabbis in the world – a professor at Yeshiva University since 1966, the rabbi of Young Israel of Oceanside for 37 years, an author whose books have sold more than a half-million copies and a popular contributor on the Aish HaTorah website.
One Blech book title asks If God Is Good, Why Is the World So Bad? – a relevant question for an artist suffering from a range of physical disabilities that have made a wheelchair an essential element of her life. By the end of our interview, I learned that her life exemplifies at least a partial answer to that question.
ART HAS been a passion of hers from early childhood, and Klein relates that this sometimes caused problems. In high school, for example, she had a rabbi who during class on the day of parent conferences confiscated her notebook – replete with drawings – to show to her parents. That night, when her parents came, he presented it to them, saying, “Look what your daughter is doing in my class!”
Her mother asked, “Well, what kind of grade is she getting?”
“Umm, she’s getting A’s.”
“Is she bothering anybody by doing this?”
“No.”
Her mother then concluded, “So, those are very pretty pictures!” and that terminated discussion on that topic.
Klein’s parents always encouraged her artistic endeavors (her mother and maternal grandmother were also artistically gifted), but Klein’s interests and abilities far transcend the right-brain realms of creativity and art.
The left side of the brain, associated with logic, science and mathematics, manifested its strength in her academic interests and university degrees – including a master’s in international banking and finance. Her proficiency in this field propelled her to the position of bank vice president in the United States.
What did she do with her creative talent in those days while she was immersed in corporate finance?
“I always kept my artistic creativity and production on the side. I didn‘t want to work in the art industry, like graphic design, because then you have to create what they want you to create. My art comes from a different place. I wanted to keep my art mine. It’s not that I’m wholly non-commercial – I don’t mind selling it, it’s just that I have to sell what I created.”
Klein met Aryeh, her future husband, in college (she was at Stern, he was at Yeshiva University). He noticed her in a lobby and asked a friend to “set them up.” Her expectations were low; she was forewarned that he never asked a girl out for a second date.
He did call her back, though, and they were married not long after. Beyond falling in love, a key criterion for marriage for each of them was that the other wanted to immigrate to Israel, and that is what they did when the oldest of their three children finished first grade.
Klein worked a variety of part-time jobs in her new country, including three inspirational and spiritual years in an art studio in Jerusalem’s Old City. When a fellow artist at the Israel Museum asked her why she was not selling her art, she started promoting her paintings and discovered there was an audience for them. The Internet was still a novelty, so the first wave of sales came from exhibits.
Unfortunately, Klein’s life was impacted by significant health issues and complications starting in 2009. She was no longer able to travel to exhibit her work and has been first partially, then entirely housebound ever since.
“I’m very lucky to have a hobby/profession that I can do from home.”
Her lack of mobility has made her more free in a sense to create and produce, and finds she finds inspiration all around her.
“My art is about emotion. It doesn’t matter what the painting is of – it can be about Jerusalem, about the Torah – whatever it is, it is really about what I’m feeling and how it is expressed through art. A lot of it has to do with spirituality. It might be Shabbat candles, which are incredibly spiritual, and I have a whole series about tallitot and tefillin. They personify the soul’s connection with God. With the tallit (prayer shawl), you see the stripes dancing along with the davening (praying). These items help provide a spiritual connection on a physical level.”
AT SOME point, Klein’s art jumped off the canvas.
“I had been looking into doing Judaica for a while – art that you don’t just hang on a wall, but actively use every day. I had painted scenes about Shabbat and standing under the huppah and the holidays, but what really excited me was bringing my art into the things that I was painting about. Now instead of just painting a Shabbat table, my art is a part of the Shabbat table, for example a challa tray and challa cover. It becomes part of the Shabbat experience.”
She also has powerful, compelling Seder and matzah plates, tallit bags, ketubot and more – all unlike anything you have seen in stores.
AND THEN the coronavirus crisis hit. Bad things happen, but good can come from them. Just like Klein’s disability led to a new phase in the development of (and demand for) her art, COVID-19 can have a silver lining. Klein released a line of popular artistic masks, and experienced new record levels of (homebound) visitors and purchasers to her website.
What made this American girl want to make aliyah from an early age?
“Growing up, my father was a rabbi – the epitome of Modern Orthodox Judaism as it should be, about all the beautiful parts of our religion, not just rules and laws. Every Shabbat, his speech to his synagogue would include current events and the parasha (weekly Torah portion) and what we can learn from it together. Making aliyah was just part of the message. It was basically what was supposed to happen if you are religious.”
Klein and her sister didn’t think they could afford to buy a house in Israel, but about 25 years ago, both sisters discovered that they were able to purchase homes with yards near each other in the Sheinfeld neighborhood of Beit Shemesh, and have been living there happily ever since.
With the physical disabilities, pandemics and more that we all face to some degree, we encounter bad things, but Klein finds good in the challenges she faces and continues to rack up accomplishments.
“Every time I paint or create something, I feel like I am adding something to this world. It gives me a lot of satisfaction and purpose and meaning to life – in addition to raising the children.”
And she is gratified with the response to her work as reflected by robust sales from her website, jordanaklein.com.