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A brand-new Jewish ritual object inspires an innovative art exhibit

(New York Jewish Week) — When Andrew Mandel dreamt up a new Jewish ritual object known as a “tzedek box,” he was admittedly most interested in the “tzedek” — the social justice — aspect, and less so the “box” part.

Mandel, a fifth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College in New York, envisioned a new Jewish holiday, Yom HaTzedek (Day of Justice) back in 2018 as a way to make acts of social justice an integral part of religious life. To reinforce the themes of the holiday, Jews would write reflections on each effort made to help the world throughout the year, and save them in a box. “This action is not meant to self-congratulate or to rack up a record of good deeds,” Kveller, the New York Jewish Week’s partner site, wrote in 2021. “Rather, it provides a moment to reflect on the work and develop accountability around consistently being ‘shomer tzedek,’ a guardian of justice.”

When he first conceived of the holiday, the box itself was an afterthought. “I have to confess, at first, the actual box wasn’t particularly relevant to me,” Mandel, 44, told the New York Jewish Week. “It’s like — find a shoe box, find a jar. It was shortsighted, but that’s where I was.”

But as Yom HaTzedek shifted from concept to reality — the day is now officially commemorated on Pesach Sheni, or the Second Passover, observed on the 14th day of Iyar (this year May 5) — so too did Mandel’s thinking on the box itself. Conversations with renowned Jewish artist Tobi Kahn and Jean Bloch Rosensaft, director of the Dr. Bernard Heller Museum at HUC, led Mandel to believe the aesthetics of the box could help enhance the users’ spiritual exploration of justice.

And now, these conversations have inspired a new exhibit, “Tzedek Boxes: Justice Shall You Pursue,” which will open at the Heller Museum on Thursday. The exhibit features 29 tzedek boxes created by contemporary Jewish artists. They include one of Kahn’s series of seven wooden tzedek boxes, “Zahryz III,” and Eli Kaplan-Wildmann’s customizable cardboard “Pop-up Tzedek Box,” which has been massed-produced for 8,300 participants and two dozen synagogues that have all participated in the new holiday.

The exhibit’s aim, said Rosensaft, echoes the museum’s mission “to encourage the interpretation and renewal of Jewish values, tradition, and practice through the creativity of contemporary artists in works that will advance justice in our world.”

If the tzedek box sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard of its cousin — or version 1.0, if you will: the tzedakah box, a receptacle for collecting coins to be donated to charity. The words “tzedek” and “tzedakah” have the same Hebrew root: justice.

“It’s not just that we don’t really use coins anymore,” Mandel said. “There’s more ways of making change than [just] philanthropy — whether it’s advocacy, whether that’s direct service and volunteer work, whether that’s just listening and learning. A tzedek box creates an umbrella for all those different actions so we can all live out our values together to improve the world.”

In the exhibit, the artists’ tzedek boxes capture different facets of social justice: in Jewish tradition (images of doves, or flowing rivers); motivation for social action (references to heroes and past injustices such as the Holocaust); the causes people care about (the environment, food insecurity) and symbols of generous behavior (an open heart, an open mind).

“I’m not an artist myself,” Mandel said. “But now I have seen these contributions of wildly diverse, often quite moving representations of justice and righteousness, it really opens things up to how multifaceted this process [of tzedek] is. Your box really matters.”

Reva Jane Solomon’s tzedek box, “Mommy’s Justice,” is a homage to her mother’s love. (Courtesy the Heller Museum)

In Reva Jane Solomon’s “Mommy’s Justice,” the tzedek box takes the form of a purple jewelry box, an homage to her mother’s love meant to encourage small acts of compassion and justice. Holly Berger Markhoff’s “Justice Knows No Other” is a wooden box featuring an interactive scroll on which to record one’s deeds, creating a continuous chronicle of righteousness.

Kahn, whose cityscape-inspired tzedek box evokes the Jewish obligation to care for humankind, said he hoped the exhibit would inspire all Jews to adopt the ritual. “If you believe in something you should actually do it,” he said. “I’m thrilled that many people are making their own because that’s how ritual starts.”

This isn’t the first new Jewish ritual object that the Heller Museum launched into the mainstream. In 1997, it featured an exhibit of Miriam’s cups — a goblet filled with water that’s placed alongside Elijah’s cup at Passover as a call to include women and their stories in the seder. The exhibit helped introduce the now widespread practice to Jews around the world.

Rosensaft sees the tzedek box exhibition as a similar call to action. “One of the pillars of Judaism is the notion that we, as a people, have been affiliated by horrific episodes of injustice, intolerance and genocide,” she said. “We cry ‘never again,’ but we know we cannot say that if we are not prepared to work towards the causes of human rights and freedom in our own time.”

To this end, Rosensaft paired the tzedek boxes with a concurrent exhibit, “One Nation,” in which artists of all backgrounds were invited to create works that comment on the state of America past, present and future.

“A lot of that hope for the future hinges on individuals taking action to solve the problems afflicting American society,” Rosensaft said.

“Tzedek Boxes” and “One Nation” are on view at the Dr. Bernard Heller Museum, (1 West 4th St.), from Jan. 26 through May 18. Or you can download the free Bloomberg Connects App and visit the Heller Museum page to virtually visit all the museum’s exhibitions, including “Tzedek Boxes” and “One Nation.”


The post A brand-new Jewish ritual object inspires an innovative art exhibit appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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Ben Carr

Click here to watch Ben Carr’s remarks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crfREGNRKfg

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