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A Chilean-Jewish artist strives to capture the entire Torah in massive murals

(JTA) — As a child, Mauricio Avayu wasn’t allowed to pursue art — his father thought he should study something more practical, like math or engineering. Avayu grew up in the conservative Jewish community of Santiago, Chile, the capital city home to most of the country’s 18,000 Jews.

But by now, Avayu has seen his paintings — many of them Jewish-themed — shown in galleries around the globe, put on the walls in the homes of former presidents around the world and presented to Pope Francis.

Today he’s working on his most ambitious project yet: capturing the key moments of the Torah in 40 large murals.

“Forty is a sacred number in Judaism,” Avayu told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Forty years in the desert, 40 days and nights to receive the Torah.”

He has already finished the eight murals that comprise his depiction of Genesis, the Torah’s first book. The murals, two meters tall, were shipped two years ago to Taipei, where they will be permanently displayed at the Jeffrey D. Schwartz & Na Tang Jewish Taiwan Cultural Association.

Avayu, 55, explained that each book of the Torah takes him about two years to complete. So with four books to go, the project will be complete 8-10 years from now. He already has buyer interest for the entire set.

The majority of Chile’s Jews belong to the Masorti movement, but Avayu didn’t always know that much about Judaism, let alone the Torah. Several years ago he wanted an artistic challenge, and his lack of knowledge intrigued him.

“When I paint now, I always paint with a kippah,” he said. “But even though I come from a home where everyone is Jewish, I didn’t come from a religious family.”

Rather than be intimidated by the vastness of the text, Avayu said he was drawn to its many “hidden messages” and the variety of commentary available for every passage.

And when he looked at past master painters’ depictions of biblical scenes, he was struck by the inaccuracy. For example, in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo famously painted God as giving life to Adam by touching his finger. However, the verse in Genesis says God created man through his breath: “And the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul.”

Avayu gifted one of his Torah paintings to Pope Francis. (Courtesy of Mauricio Avayu)

Driven to be more accurate in his work, Avayu called the leader of Santiago’s Chabad-Lubavitch community and began intensively studying the Torah. He was drawn to Kabbalah too, and studied for about four years at a Kabbalah center in Chile.

“When we think we understand something about a certain passage of the Torah, it’s only at that level,” explained Avayu. “But then suddenly, at a different time, we are able to understand the same passage but at a completely different level.”

To illustrate this point, he gave the example of Moses at Mount Sinai. In Exodus 3:5, God tells Moses to take off his shoes because “the place upon which you stand is holy soil.”

Originally Avayu understood the passage to mean that the taking off of shoes symbolized leaving one’s current path, to pursue the path of God. But upon further study, he believed that taking off the shoes represents Moses leaving the physical body, which was necessary to do as, according to the Torah, Moses fasted for 40 days and nights. So in Avayu’s interpretation of the scene, Moses is barefoot and points towards the sky.

Before he sets out to paint a new work, Avayu not only consults his rabbi but also reads multiple biblical commentaries, from scholars such as Rashi and Maimonides, and chooses the one that resonates most deeply.

When he painted the tree in the Garden of Eden, for example, he consciously did not do what many other famous artists have done: depict the “forbidden fruit” as an apple. Some commentators posit that the fruit is an etrog, others a grape; Avayu prefers the interpretation that it was a fig.

“There’s not only one truth,” he said. “There are a lot of true interpretations.”

Upon seeing Avayu’s art for the first time, Gabriel Goldstein, chief curator at the Yeshiva University Museum, was reminded of the work of Archie Rand — a Jewish artist from Brooklyn who has also painted biblical murals in synagogues across the United States. Goldstein also places Avayu’s artwork in the historic tradition of artists painting “exhaustive series” of the bible.

“There have been for centuries illustrations done for biblical text,” Goldstein told JTA. “Both from very early periods in illumination to much later… in the 19th and 20th centuries.”

When asked if being from Chile has influenced his art, Avayu said that being a Jewish artist who paints Jewish themes from a small country like Chile made his career more difficult, seeing as there isn’t much of a market for his artwork in his native country. But Goldstein found aspects of Avayu’s art that he believes are influenced by his country of origin.

Avayu calls each of his works a self portrait of himself. (Courtesy of Avayu)

“At the museum, we’ve worked with Latin American artists frequently and have them in our collection,” Goldstein said. “I think that it’s a vibrant community with a vibrant artistic and cultural life. In [Latin American-Jewish art], there is a flavoring that comes from the local culture…as well as from traditional Jewish culture. And I think you can see that in his work — there’s a certain kind of vividness and palette and exuberance that may be more frequently found, but not exclusively found, in Latin American art.”

Since around 2012, Avayu has completed more than 120 paintings and has at least 30 more in the works. Not all of his art involves the Torah: He has also painted ketubahs, Jewish marriage certificates, and he has produced fantastical interpretations of mythological creatures, like the Greek Pegasus. Chilean businessman Tomas Munzer recently gave one of Avayu’s works to Argentina’s ambassador to the Holy See, who presented it to the pope.

Avayu doesn’t have a favorite painting — he calls each his “son” and described the pain he feels when he has to part with one of his children. But now Avayu is creating a different kind of “child,” by opening a studio in Florida where he now teaches aspiring painters. At the Mauricio Avayu Gallery and Fine Art Academy in Aventura, his classes incorporate lessons from the Torah and Kabbalah. And his students — mostly from the United States, but also from Russia, Argentina and Chile — don’t mind the mixing of Judaism and fine art, as almost all of them are Jewish.

“Regardless of my daily goal to be a better artist, to be as perfectionist as possible, I am never satisfied with a painting. I always try to see how I can make it a little better next time. The same always happens with the study of Kabbalah, where you learn something on a related topic, and over time, you realize you’ve learned a deeper level of that same topic,” he said.


The post A Chilean-Jewish artist strives to capture the entire Torah in massive murals appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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University of California Student Government Passes BDS Legislation

Graphic posted on a social media account administered by University of California-Davis chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine on February 17, 2024. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Davis (UC Davis) student government passed on Friday legislation adopting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions, (BDS) movement and falsely accusing Israel of genocide.

“This bill prohibits the purchase of products from corporations identified as profiting from the genocide and occupation of the Palestinian people by the BDS National Committee,” says the measure, titled Senate Bill (SB) #52. “This bill seeks to address the human rights violations of the nation-state and government of Israel and establish a guideline of ethical spending.”

Puma, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Airbnb, Disney, and Sabra are all named on SJP’s “BDS List.”

Powers enumerated in the bill include veto power over all vendor contracts, which SJP specifically applied to “purchase orders for custom t-shirts,” a provision that may affect pro-Israel groups on campus. Such policies will be guided by a “BDS List” of targeted companies curated by SJP. The language of the legislation gives ASUCD the right to add more.

“No ASUCD funds shall be committed to the purchases of products or services of any corporation identified by the BDS List as being complicit in the violation of the human rights guaranteed to Palestinian civilians,” the bill adds.

A notable provision of the bill regards the charter for the Special Committee on Ethical Standing. It says the committee must be “dissolved” in a year and its”responsibilities” absorbed by UC Davis’ Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission, a division of the student government that which describes itself as a special advocacy group for non-white students. The requirement makes BDS a permanent policy of the school and links it to the issue of racial justice, which, on a college campus, serves as a safeguard against any future attempt to pass legislation proscribing the adoption of BDS.

SJP praised the bill’s passing and signing by ASUCD’s president, Francisco Javier Ojeda.

“The bill that was passed prevents any of the $20 million in the ASUCD budget from being spent on companies complicit in the occupation and genocide of Palestinians, as specified by the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement,” the group said on social media. “From McDonald’s to Sabra to Chevron, none of our student feeds that fund ASUCD operations will be used to financially support 30+ companies that are complicit in Zionist violence.”

Students for Justice in Palestine at University of California-Davis is one of many SJP chapters that justified Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7. In a chilling statement posted after the world became aware of the terrorist group’s atrocities on that day, which included hundreds of civilian murders and sexual assaults, the group said “the responsibility for the current escalation of violence is entirely on the Israeli occupation.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters — which have said in their communications that Israeli civilians deserve to be murdered for being “settlers” — lead the way in promoting a campus environment hostile to Jewish and pro-Israel voices. Their aim, the civil rights group explained in an open letter published in December, is to “exclude and marginalize Jewish students,” whom they describe as “oppressors,” and encourage “confrontation” with them.

The ADL has urged colleges and universities to protect Jewish students from the group’s behavior, which, in many cases, has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post University of California Student Government Passes BDS Legislation first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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‘Horrifying and Heart Wrenching’: IDF Releases New Footage of Shiri Bibas and Her Young Sons in Gaza 

Ofri Bibas Levy, whose brother Yarden (34) was taken hostage with his wife Shiri (32) and 2 children Kfir (10 months) and Ariel (4), holds with her friend Tal Ulus pictures of them during an interview with Reuters, as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas continues, in Geneva, Switzerland, Nov. 13, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The IDF released “horrifying” new footage on Monday showing Israeli hostage Shiri Bibas and her two children flanked by gunmen in the Gaza Strip, filmed shortly after their abduction during the October 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel. 

Captured by surveillance cameras in Khan Younis, the footage shows Bibas wrapped in a sheet and clutching her red-haired sons, Ariel, aged 4, and Kfir, who was only 9 months old at the time of their abduction, and is the first proof of life since October 7. The children’s father, Yarden Bibas, was separately abducted and his condition remains unknown.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari expressed the military’s deep concerns over Shiri and her children’s fate. 

“Seeing this young mother clutching her babies surrounded by a group of armed terrorists is horrifying and heart wrenching,” he said at a press conference on Monday. 

“Those who have the audacity to question our need to operate in Gaza, but don’t have the basic decency and humanity to demand that Hamas release our hostages first of all, they all should take a good look at this terrified mother, Shiri, clutching her babies,” he said, adding that the IDF would “leave no stone unturned” in returning the hostages. 

The IDF, according to Hagari, lacks sufficient information to ascertain whether they are alive or dead but is “making every effort to obtain more information about their fate.” The footage was obtained from a Khan Younis military post belonging to the Mujahideen Brigades, a small armed group who are holding Bibas and her children. 

The Bibas family said in a statement that the videos “tore our hearts out.”

“Witnessing Shiri, Yarden, Ariel and Kfir, ripped away from their home in Nir Oz into this hellscape, feels unbearable and inhumane,” the family said.  “We’re issuing a desperate call to all the decision-makers in Israel and the world who are involved in the negotiations: Bring them home now. Make it clear to Hamas that kidnapping children is out of bounds.”

The family also called for Shiri and her children to be prioritized in any future hostage release deal with Hamas. 

Hamas had claimed in November that Shiri, Ariel, and Kfir were casualties of an IDF strike, a claim the IDF has contested as unverified and said at the time that the claim was part of the terror group’s “cruel and inhuman” psychological warfare. Hamas also released a video of a visibly distressed Yarden Bibas after he had been informed by his captors that his wife and children were killed by the IDF. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the footage as “heartbreaking” and said it “reminds us who we are dealing with — brutal baby kidnappers.”

“We will bring these kidnappers of babies and mothers to justice. They won’t get away with it,” Netanyahu said.

Irit Lahav, spokeswoman for the embattled community of Nir Oz, said that the video “reminds us that we are all held hostage until the return of all the hostages.”

A quarter of Nir Oz’s residents were either kidnapped or murdered on October 7. 

The post ‘Horrifying and Heart Wrenching’: IDF Releases New Footage of Shiri Bibas and Her Young Sons in Gaza  first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Antisemitism Accusations Lodged Against Middlebury College

Illustrative: Pro-Hamas demonstrators are detained by police officers in New York during a protest at the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Accusations of institutional antisemitism against Middlebury College in Vermont have been lodged in a civil rights complaint filed by StandWithUs (SWU), a nonprofit that promotes education about Israel.

The complaint, filed with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) argues that high level Middlebury College officials, by refusing to enforce anti-discrimination policies equally, have fostered a “pervasively hostile climate,” which prevents Jewish students from enjoying the full benefits of being a college student at a higher education receiving federal funds, according to the complaint.

A timeline of events laid out in documents provided by SWU begins after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, when the school issued a statement that did not acknowledge the deaths of Israelis, but instead only alluded to “violence happening now in Israel in Palestine.” The following week, the administration allegedly obstructed Jewish students’ efforts to publicly mourn Jews murdered on Oct. 7., denying them police protection for a vigil, forcing them to hold it outside, and demanding that the event avoid specifically mentioning Jewish suffering. In an email to one Jewish group that planned a vigil, Vice President and Dean of Students Derek Doucet said, “I wonder if such a public gather in such a charged moment might be more inclusive.”

A month later, the administration uncomplainingly accommodated Students for Justice in Palestine’s “Vigil for Palestine,” providing campus police, space on campus, and a speech from a high ranking official, a request which organizers of the Jewish vigil had been denied.

StandWithUs also noted that Middlebury allegedly ignored numerous complaints of antisemitic harassment committed by anti-Zionist groups. After a local Chabad rabbi  wrote to school officials reporting acts of “intimidation,” including preventing Jews from entering the cafeteria, during a “Day of Resistance” event organized by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the school’s associate vice president of safety warned him not to report the incidents to outside law enforcement, saying that doing so would be a “risk to individuals and to our community.” The official also denied being aware of any antisemitic incidents.

“The hostile environment at Middlebury College and the administration’s failure to act to correct it are unacceptable,” Carly Gammill, Director of Legal Strategy at SWU Center for Legal Justice, in a press release issued on Friday. “Too often, when Jewish students raise concerns about antisemitism, they are subjected to administrators who deflect the bigotry at play”

“Jewish students deserve the same level of respect, consideration and lawful response as all minority groups when they report cases of bigotry and discrimination,” Gammill added.

Middlebury also allegedly refused to punish anti-Zionist students for using their social media accounts to publish hate speech. Social media posts that cheered Hamas’ atrocities as “decolonization,” called Jews “colonizers” deserving of being victims of violence, and said “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” proliferated in the days and weeks after Oct. 7, but this day, Middlebury has never issued a statement condemning antisemitism.

The Algemeiner has asked Middlebury College to comment on SWU’s allegations.

“Middlebury college has failed egregiously to provide adequate protecting for Jewish students seeking to remedy persistent antisemitic bigotry on campus,” Yael Lerman, SWU director of the Center for Legal Justice said in Friday’s press release. “Middlebury administrators disregarded student allegations, attempted to silence them, neglected to enforce its own rules, and at times were complicit in discriminating against Jewish students. In doing so, the college has violated its obligations under Title VI and must be held accountable.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post Antisemitism Accusations Lodged Against Middlebury College first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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