|Address:||Museum of Art, Ein Harod 18965 Israel|
These paper cuts were created by the great and vibrant Jewish community of Ostrow Mazobeichek in Poland. Among the families that lived in this community was the family of Eliyahu and Golda Freidkass, the parents of David Simhoni. A liberal atmosphere of enlightenment and Zionism pervaded the Freidkass home.
In addition to Torah the family’s eleven children studied languages, sciences and Hebrew and were tutored by “ Melamedim”(lay teachers) who were brought to the house. The family’s livelihood was derived from their store which supplied the material requirements of the villagers in the area. They also cut and supplied timber for building and firewood for the Russian army camps in the area.
David, the eldest son of the Freidkass family became exposed to Zionist ideas when he worked in a textile factory in Lodz. In 1913 at the age of 20 he left for Palestine arriving illegally at the port of Jaffa. When David’s parents arrived in Palestine in 1935 they brought with them a number of Jewish artifacts: a Babylonian Talmud written in 1886 and a number of most intricate and beautiful paper-cuts. Among the paper-cuts was this particular work which was given to David by the community’s rabbi before he left Poland.
David Simhoni donated these articles to the Mishkan Le’Omanut ‘s collection.
After arriving in Palestine David worked at first in the winery of the Biluim in Rishon L’zion and in the citrus groves of the Moshavot. Later he joined the “Ahvah group” and worked transporting wood used by the Turkish army for making sleepers for the railroad that was being built on the Beer Sheva-Rafiah- Suez line .
Following the British occupation, David together with most of the Ahvah group joined the “Jewish Brigade” of the British army. During the First World War he was wounded in action and lost a leg.
David was numbered among the founders of the Histadrut.
In 1922 after studying leatherworking David joined Kibbutz Ein Harod soon after it was founded at Ma’ayan Harod by the foot of Mt Gilboa.
He lived in the kibbutz till the end of his life imbued with a sense of mission and purpose in the fulfillment of Zionism by means of the establishment of a kibbutz society. David was active in building Ein Harod as well as other kibbutz settlements – Yagur, Givat Hayim and others.
As Ein Harod’s building manager he was involved in the construction work on the permanent site of the kibbutz when it was moved to the “Kumi” hill. He was also one of the initiators of the building of the Mishkan Le’Omanut , active in the financial administration and managing the planning and building of the museum over a period of seven years from 1947 onwards.
David maintained a life-long connection with the museum regarding it as the spiritual centre of the kibbutz.
Apparently the origins of the art of paper-cuts lie in the far east. In China it has been recognised as an art form for many generations and probably dates back to the invention of paper around 100 A.D.
The art of paper-cuts developed in different directions during medieval times and spread westward through to Persia, Turkey and on to North Africa.
Paper-cuts were widespread throughout the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century among the Jews of Poland and Russia. This art form continued among the Jews of these countries right up till the outbreak of World War II when the great Jewish centres in Europe were destroyed. With the advent of the Holocaust every trace of this creative folk-art was completely wiped out.
The motifs decorating the paper-cuts are typical of all branches of Jewish crafts and applied arts ( wood crafts, metalwork, embroidery and paper work). In most cases a seven-stemmed Menorah, the Tablets of the Law or a scroll of the Law , decorated with a Torah crown, Star of David or an eagle appear in the centre of the paper-cut. The periphery is decorated with fauna and flora motifs or geometrical forms.
The most common animal forms are the lion, deer, leopard and eagle as illustrations to Rabbi Yehuda Ben Tima’s injunction – “ Be as strong as the leopard, fleet as the eagle, swift as the deer and as courageous as the lion in doing the will of your Father who is in Heaven”. The lion is mentioned in the Bible as the symbol of the tribe of Judah and is synonymous with strength and courage. The eagle was the symbol of majesty and it is likely that in the Jewish folk-art it was intended to symbolize strength and benefaction:
“ As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over young,.” Deuteronomy 32:11.
The two-headed eagle which appears in east European paper-cuts reflects the influence of the peoples of that region.
Hares, squirrels, elephants, bears , camels, and various birds also feature in the paper-cuts. Sometimes mythological animals such as winged griffins, cherubs and sea monsters appear as motifs. The tree of life, an ancient motif, is very common in the paper-cuts . Many different designs of this motif are found.
The twelve signs of the zodiac are commonly found .Architectonic details symbolizing Jerusalem and the Temple, such as houses, domes and pillars , are frequently used.
The paper-cut most noted for its splendour , elaborate form and large dimensions as well as the richness of its composition and crafting is “Hamizrach”. It was hung on the east wall in homes, synagogues and Jewish seminaries, for the purpose of guiding the prayer to the direction of Jerusalem the holy city. The “mizrach” which adorned the walls of the synagogue is called “Shaviti” (likened) taken from the passage in Psalms 16:8–“ I have set the LORD always before me..” A passage frequently written on the paper-cut. Other inscriptions which often appeared on the “Mizrach” and “Shiviti” paper-cuts -
- “ Know before whom you stand” (Blessings 28:2),
- passages emphasizing the importance of Jerusalem
- passages dealing with the vanities of life on earth and the importance of the veneration of the Lord and good deeds.
- Mystical and Cabalistic passages serving as a talisman against the evil eye, demons and other diabolical influences.
“Mizrach “ and “Shiviti” paper-cuts were usually crafted from white paper and were painted with water colours. They were placed over a background made of coloured paper. The most popular colour was blue which may indicate an eastern influence.
As far as we know the people engaged in making the paper-cuts were men, many of them Yeshiva students, Melameds (lay teachers) and others who helped them. They worked on the paper-cuts during their leisure time and regarded this art-form as a sacred task.
Half of the design was drawn on a sheet of paper folded in two. The folded sheet was placed on a wooden board and the design was cut with the aid of a sharp knife. When the sheet was unfolded it revealed the full symmetrical composition.
The traditional paper-cut is a distinct folk-art. It fulfilled known and fixed functions in the life of the individual and the community . Most of the artists did not sign their works.