The Unbroken Thread

The Unbroken Thread

Curator: Dvora Liss

Contemporary Art meets Judaica Collection

March 2022- March 2023

Stolen by Nazis, rescued in Israel | Worled Today News


The exhibition presents synagogue textiles of late nineteenth-century Jewish communities in Europe, in dialogue with works by Israeli artists of today. Uncovering layers of memory, it also reveals how the past seeps into the present. The synagogue is the focal point in Jewish life, a place of religious and social congregation – and its centerpiece is the Torah scroll, wrapped in a mantle and housed in an ark covered with a curtain. Traditionally, these holy objects have been dressed with luscious, colorful textiles embellished with regal silver adornments.The Torah curtain – parochet – harks back to the curtain that covered the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 40:21), the portable tabernacle that traveled with the Children of Israel in the desert. As the largest and most conspicuous of the synagogue’s textile furnishings, the parochet is hung in front of, or sometimes inside, the Torah ark. It not only separates the holy from the mundane, but is also a conveyor of history and meaning. It incorporates the history of the congregation it serves, the artisan who made it, and the family that donated it to the community. The Torah mantle dresses the holy scroll of the Torah when not in use. In Italian, Sephardi, and Ashkenazi communities it was customary to cover the scroll with a fabric mantle. In Eastern communities and those from the Eastern Mediterranean basin, as well as in the Moroccan communities in Israel, it is enclosed in a rigid wooden case, often embellished in silver. The scrolls, containing the Five Books of Moses, are wound on rollers called the Trees of Life. In a large synagogue there may be several wrapped Torah scrolls in the ark. During the service, the Torah scroll is brought out of the ark and passed through the congregants, who kiss it as it passes (in Orthodox congregations, the women throw a kiss from behind their partition). The Torah mantles and curtains in this exhibition come from communities that were destroyed during the Holocaust. They were brought to the museum after the war, often through the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRSO) or the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Organization, that were created to distribute heirless and unclaimed property that had been plundered by the Nazis. These objects allow us to gain a better appreciation of the lives of the people who interacted with them, and provide insight into Jewish heritage, tradition, and identity. In the contemporary works on view, the thread of storytelling through textiles continues unbroken to the present day.

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