The writing on the synagogue wall

A shul plays host to a calligraphy exhibition in Hebrew, English, Chinese and Arabic - including Koranic quotations.

borshevsky aaronic blessing 248 (photo credit: )
borshevsky aaronic blessing 248
(photo credit: )
In few places do verses from the Koran and Chinese poetry grace the entrance of a synagogue. But in Baka, Kehilat Yedidya has brought together three generations of artists from diverse backgrounds to celebrate the calligraphic letter in its place of worship. The exhibition, entitled "In Four Languages: Contemporary Calligraphy at Kehilat Yedidya," was the initiative of Mordechai Beck, one of the participating calligraphy artists and a member of Yedidya's arts committee. The idea, he says, was to create an event that would unite people through the tradition of calligraphy. "It's more than just writing on the wall. It's a celebration of literacy and a bond of traditions over the centuries," says Beck. As part of the show, a giant Chinese poem about friendship hangs beside the Koranic verse "Glorify the name of your Lord, the Most High," while inside the synagogue, Torah scripture and an enormous giclée print of Hebrew calligraphy swallowed in blue and white swirls curls around one wall. Across the room is a photograph of a segment of the largest mezuza in the world, according to The Guinness Book of World Records 2009, created by Avraham-Hersh Borshevsky. The scroll and container measure more than a meter long. Borshevsky is just one of eight Jerusalem-based artists exhibiting in the bright and modern Yedidya community center. The building's halls and synagogue walls have been lined with these diverse works of calligraphy since September. Although the artists do share a hometown, they are hardly united in their backgrounds, hailing from six different countries and creating works that borrow from their own and many other cultures. The exhibition follows the evolution of the calligraphic word, presenting styles of letters written thousands of years ago to modern works by a Brooklyn-born Israeli who produces abstract Hebrew calligraphy, resembling at first glance brush strokes from the Far East. The artist, Izzy Pludwinski, started his career using traditional forms but then extended his reach to more abstract styles, switching his focus to the "unsquaring" of Hebrew script. This act he considers his "main calligraphic challenge." Not bowing to modernization in the exhibit, however, is 86-year-old Naim Mottehadeh, a folk artist and descendant of a family of scribes from Iran. Mottehadeh's calligraphy sticks to the ornate, traditional designs relatable to Arabic calligraphy from many centuries ago when his family, like many Jews living among Arab cultures at that time, was heavily influenced. Mottehadeh's work isn't too far removed from that of Jerusalemite Ahmed Shweiki, a master of the seven formally recognized Arabic calligraphy styles and a teacher at the Paley Center in east Jerusalem. Shweiki's displayed works include eight verses from the Koran that decorate the wall outside Yedidya's main synagogue. The exhibition gave Shweiki, who is unaccustomed to displaying his art, an unusual opportunity to show his calligraphy, Beck explains. "With all these people looking at his work, he was in shock, but it was a nice shock for him." Little concern over having Koranic verses in the building arose. As long as they "were acceptable in the context of a shul," says Beck, nobody had a problem. Shweiki was joined by Elsa Pui-yin, a native Chinese, as the two representatives of non-Hebrew calligraphers. Pui-yin has been studying Shu-Fa Chinese calligraphy since the age of four. Her father taught and directed her in this 4,500-year-old tradition that paints with ink on rice paper. In a description of her work, Pui-yin describes the process as "a work of mind, body and soul together." Calligraphy requires a great amount of patience to handle the intricate and lengthy methods employed to complete the masterpieces. Like surgeons performing an operation, calligraphers rely on special tools to accomplish their work. American-Israeli David Moss, another artist from the exhibition, proudly praises his turkey feathers, crow quills, scalpels and a bamboo tomato stake, along with the traditional tools - brushes, pencils, inks and paints - as "partners" in his work. The meshing of calligraphic expression at Yedidya especially appealed to Coollet Ziv, a calligraphy instructor from Emuna College in Jerusalem. Amid exclamations of "Cool" and "Wow, amazing!" coming from her students touring the gallery, Ziv said it was wonderful for them to have in one building, access to calligraphy representing styles from around the world. "They learn about every single detail of every single letter. You know how it is with the Jews and the letter. So this [exhibition], it's a way for them to connect between their studies and the results." The Four Languages exhibition is expected to run through the first week of December. Visiting hours are Monday and Wednesday, 9 a.m - 12 p.m. It is recommended to call ahead before visiting and to inquire about tours and upcoming artist workshops. Kehilat Yedidya: 679-0540.