Excerpts from my thesis: My Shtreimel

April 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

My Shtreimel is a video blog that features my fiancée Loren, who is a reoccurring character in my work. Sitting in a dimly lit room, Loren shares a personal Sabbath ritual. Behind him is the large painting of the Rebbe that appears in  Obsessed with Frida Kahlo video. Although Loren is alone, he addresses the camera as if he were speaking directly with his eventual audience.

My Shtreimel, YouTube Video, 2006.

“I think it is very important for each of us to have an enjoyable Shabbos experience. And to be able to in some ways personally define what that Shabbos experience entails. There’s a lot of different minhags that I think a lot different people have that not every one has. And there are certain things that we develop not necessarily because they are passed down from our father, or our mother, or your mother’s father, just because it is something that makes your Shabbos experience a little bit more enjoyable a lot these personal minhags that we all have…”

Casually citing the Chofetz Hayim and the Talmud Yerushalmi, he acknowledges both his relationship to, and awareness of traditional Jewish texts; thereby, indirectly aligning himself with a more observant Jewish community. Using humor, he offsets the implied exclusivity of those ties, by adding that he is actually wearing a woman’s hat that was purchased at a thrift store.

eruv stl is “posted as a response” to My Shtreimel. eruv stl is intended to link Berlin’s Eruv to St. Louis. In this low quality thus “authentic video blog” Loren and I drive around the Washington University in St. Louis area, with a map in hand, trying to locate St. Louis’s eruv. In the background you can hear Guns and Roses famous song Welcome to the Jungle. Loren assumes a role similar to the one of Matisyahu, a halakically informed Jew, who does not the traditional model for the other and is thereby able to communicate with the secular world.

eruv stl, YouTube Video, 2009.

I ask Loren why he thinks the eruv extends as far as it does and if he thinks that there area lot of Orthodox Jewish families living in the area. Loren tell me that the eruv has extended this far because of the Hillel on campus, and that while there are not many Orthodox families living on the streets that we are driving, that the presence of the Hillel on campus is enough to create an eruv-worthy Jewish community.

Not only does it become clear that Loren familiar with Orthodox Jewish practices and the neighboring streets, but also he is still not sure exactly where the eruv is located. Meaning that even though the eruv is present, Loren is either a) so religious that he doesn’t abide by it, OR b) he doesn’t lead a Jewish life that would involve abiding by an eruv. As the conversation continues Loren continues to distance himself from vocabulary that you would expect to come from a more observant Jew, as he casually engages in humorous banter with me surrounding the eruv.

I ask him how it felt to finally “find” the eruv, he responds that he “feels pretty good” but he didn’t feel like “it was an actual wall” – which it isn’t, so this statement is made in jest. He continues, “its like finding Waldo, Waldo had curly hair and glasses, he might have been a frum Jew [...] maybe it is a statement about jews begin such a small percentage of the population…


The Rebbe, Acrylic on Canvas, 2004.

more thesis excerpts coming soon…

Fractured Jewishness

April 18, 2012 § 1 Comment

Is being half-Jewish, like being half-pregnant? Yes.

Intrigued? Want to hear more?

I have the honor of being the keynote speaker at the Half Jewish?” The Heirs of Intermarriage conference at Northwestern University, which runs from 4/20-4/22. My Friday night talk will center around the construction and the perpetuation of fractured cultural identities. On Saturday my dear friend Yoni Sarason, aka The St. Lou Jew, aka Midwest Director of Birthright Next, will be speaking on a panel with Dan Libenson, moderated by Denise Handlarski.  Come check out the conference.  Meet some lefty Jews.  Learn and mingle.

Register here.

 

Schachter’s Pocket Tzedek

March 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

ATTN: transient digital native Jews, the ever so talented Ben Schachter has come up with another brilliant Jewish pop culture piece, Pocket Tzedek

Ben Schachter has entered a competition that asks, “Where do you give?”  Sponsored by the American Jewish World Service whose mission is “to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.”  Support his design by voting for him here:  www.wheredoyougive.org

Charity and Philanthopy are major parts of many religions.  Judaism gives it a unique character.  As the contest describes, “The word tzedakah (Hebrew: צדקה) comes from the Hebrew word tzedek, meaning righteousness or justice. It refers to the Jewish practice of giving money in order to help those less fortunate—using our financial resources to create a more just and righteous world.”

Schachter’s design, “Pocket Tzedek,” combines wireless technology – a debit card reader – and a traditional “pushke,” or piggy bank. Instead of dropping in coins, the donor dips his card.

Find Schachter’s design under the web interactive category on the third page at www.wheredoyougive.org/voting and vote for him every day until April 1.

 

Andria, The Fat Free Elotera, and I are featured in JEWCY

February 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Maya Escobar in Jewcy
Jewcy Art: Maya Escobar
by Margarita Korol, February 24, 2011

In 2007 we dubbed her the Anti-Feminist Feminist Jewish Latina. We stumbled upon performance artist/ Internet curator/ editor Maya Escobar again at the GA in New Orleans where her video installations were making a Marina Abramovich-style scene near Jewcy’s booth. She uses the web as a platform for engaging in critical community dialogues that concern processes by which identities are socially and culturally constructed. She performs multiple identities, sampling widely from online representations of existing cultural discourses.

click here for full text

yer boy matis is back, and this time he’s wearing a santa suit

December 1, 2010 § Leave a comment


Matisyahu also ice skates and dances in a Shakira Loba cage.

Happy Hanukkah, Channukah, Hannukah, Chanukah, Feliz Janukah…
(or all of the above)

Ultimate Promo Model for Jewish Identity

October 14, 2010 § 2 Comments

have you been kiruv‘d lately?

Maya Escobar Ultimate Promo Model for Jewish Identity

Blurring Boundaries Between Jewish Denominations

July 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Excerpt from the Tzit Tzit: Fiber Art and Jewish Identity Exhibition Catalog, by curator Ben Schacter.

Maya Escobar is a Latina Jew who relishes her ability to blur the boundaries not only between cultures but Jewish denominations. Her Shomer Negiah Panites is an extreme example. The expression shomer negiah refers to the law that limits sexual relations. While a women is menstruating and for several days after, she is not allowed to touch her husband. At the end of this time, she takes a ritual bath called a mikvah.  This monthly ritual balances abstinence, cleanliness and intimacy.  It is said by those who follow this tradition that time together is made even more precious.

Shomer Negiah Panties
Shomer Negiah Panties, 2005

Escobar’s work seems to turn this custom on its ear.  First, sexuality in the Orthodox community is not publicly displayed.  Underwear or anything remotely like it would not be shown in public.  Second, part of the function of shomer negiah is one of modesty, not one to tease.  But in a twist of modernity, the “tease” can be a way of female control.  To exclaim, “Hands Off!” at precisely the moment of greatest vulnerability is exactly what Escobar’s underwear does.

Heckshered Tallis presents an air of transgression without doing so.  A hecksher is a stamp placed on food to certify that its ingredients and method of processing follows the dietary rules observed by many Jews, called Kashrut.  The symbols themselves have nothing to do with prayer and do not belong on a tallis, or prayer shawl, but the obsessive imprimatur suggests an over compensation on the part of the wearer. Women are not required to wear such garments but some congregants of more liberal egalitarian congregations do.  Is Escobar suggesting women’s insecurity by obsessively certifying this tallis as “Kosher?”

Maya Escobar Heckshered Tallis
Kosher Davening, 2006

The pattern of heckshers also creates a fashion akin to a Louis Vuitton print where the fabric is paradigmatic of luxury.  Hechshered Tallis brings high fashion and religion together in a satisfyingly truthful and critical way.  Even more interesting is the way Escobar’s work comments on different traditions and laws through fashion.  Escobar’s oeuvre highlights denominational fragmentation by drawing attention to certain details of Jewish life.  The traditional woman who follows shomer negiah would most likely not wear a tallis.  Identity is rarely mixed in this way.  For an artist to be able to make cross-denominational commentary such as found in Shomer Negiah Panties and Heckshered Tallis takes keen observation. Escobar does not exempt her own experience from such examination.

As she shared with me, her family chided her to make napkins for her future, now husband.  This traditional role, that is to make the home, chaffed her mildly.  She was resistant to such commonplace assumptions about gender so to exaggerate the request, she embroidered “napkin for my husband” across hand woven fabric.  Her actions as a wife would thus never be taken for granted.

Napkin For My Husband
Napkin For My Husband, 2007

Napkin has been given an additional function, as a challah cover.  One covers the challah, or bread made specifically to honor the Sabbath, before the blessing is said and the bread is cut.  To embellish a cover heightens the ritual by making the objects beautiful.  Napkin tethers together Jewish practice and the work of a relationship.  Through her demonstrated knowledge of Jewish custom in her work, one wonders if she also knows Eishet Hayil, a song sung in  praise of one’s wife.  “A good wife, who can find?  She is precious far beyond rubies.” Perhaps Escobar is not so passive aggressively demanding to be serenaded.

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