Art Exhibit Celebrates Jewish Culture, History

For an artist, a blank wall represents myriad possibilities.

And for a Jewish artist, preparing for her bat mitzvah at age 62, such a wall cries out for a rich tapestry that marries history and culture.

During today’s Friday Shabbat service at Temple Beth Israel in Redding, 17 original collages – in a stunning splash of blues, reds, greens and browns – will be unveiled on the formerly white wall at the back of the main room. (The public is always welcome to attend the monthly 7 p.m. Friday services at the Placer Road temple.)

The exhibit is a thoughtful labor of love for Barbara Enochian, Redding artist and longtime member of Temple Beth Israel. As a mitzvah project (a “mitzvah” is a good deed), she invited the congregation to participate in one or two weekends of collage-making at her home studio.

Sixteen people, representing an age span of at least 50 years, accepted her offer and embarked on an exploration of storytelling through art. At least half of them had never done real artwork before, Enochian said.

Barbara Enochian

“I told them to bring anything that represented Judaism to them – old photos, documents, passports, things their family left them, old prayer books, newspapers,” she said.

She provided materials such as canvas and paint and offered gentle instruction.

“I told them, ‘See what comes up for you,’” she said. “I felt that they had a lot of joy in the process, even with some struggles along the way.”

Joy and struggles – an apt description of the human experience; and the stories represented by the collages are heavy with both.

“Almost every single person had grandparents who escaped because of persecution,” said Enochian, whose own grandparents were Russian Jewish emigrants in the early 1900s.

The result? Beautiful patchworks of intricate detail, with titles such as “The Immigrant Experience” (which contains original family documents from Lithuania), “The Course of Life” (which honors the artist’s husband), “Exodus” (by a woman from Morocco), “The Family Table,” “Peace,” “Shelter Us Beneath Thy Wings,” “Beginnings,” “Celebrating Judaism” (by the group’s youngest artist, an 8-year-old boy), and “Stars of the Torah” (highlighting a joint mother/daughter b’not mitzvah).

The Family Table

As the group worked, members shared stories about their pieces.

The Immigrant Experience

“I felt a great connection with people I didn’t know very well, and now I do,” Enochian said.

Enochian’s collage, titled “Tree of Life,” is in haunting shades of brown, tan and a reddish-tinged backdrop reminiscent of burnt umber. She included a piece of the Torah (in Hebrew) that she will read aloud Saturday in her bat mitzvah ceremony. The faces of Holocaust survivors are faintly visible in open archways.

Tree of Life

A trip to Israel in 2001 inspired her choice of colors. “The whole country was tan, brown, and khaki,” she said. (Enochian’s trip was to watch her son compete on the U.S. rugby team in the Maccabiah Games – the Jewish Olympics – held every four years in Israel.)

Enochian, who describes herself as a reformed Jew (rather than orthodox or conservative), is one of six people who will participate in a b’nai mitzvah (b’nai is plural) ceremony Saturday at Pilgrim Congregational Church. According to Jewish tradition, a bar (son) or bat (daughter) mitzvah is celebrated as a coming-of-age ritual, usually at age 12 or 13.

When Enochian was 13, growing up in Southern California, the bat mitzvah wasn’t an option for her yet, she said.

Her motivation to undergo the ceremony now was driven largely by her desire to learn Hebrew, she admits. “I was motivated by age,” she said. “I figured I’d better get going on it.”

As part of the ceremony, the six will take turns reading from the book of Leviticus (chapter 26, verses 3 through 20) in Hebrew. They will also lead prayers and give speeches.

The circled section is the portion of the Torah that Enochian will read during her bat mitzvah.

For Enochian, a UC Berkeley art graduate who moved to Redding in 1979, merging her art with the ritual and tradition of her Jewish heritage – and opening that world to others – was immensely rewarding.

“There was that community feeling,” she said. “It’s just what I was hoping for.”

View the exhibit at the unveiling ceremony today at 7 p.m. at Temple Beth Israel on Placer Road in Redding, or check for future temple services at www.tbiredding.org.

Candace L. Brown has been a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor since 1992, including eight years at the Redding Record Searchlight. She lives in Redding and can be reached at candace.freelance@gmail.com.

Candace L. Brown
Candace L. Brown has been a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor since 1992, including eight years at the Redding Record Searchlight. She lives in Redding and can be reached at candace.freelance@gmail.com.
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18 Responses

  1. Mazel Tov, Barbara! The collages looks stunning — what a brilliant way to celebrate heritage.

    • Avatar Terry Rust says:

      Barb. I am very sorry I can't be there. You are a special and talented lady in many ways.

  2. Avatar amber asar says:

    Beautiful works! What a great project.

  3. Avatar kirsten plate says:

    Barbara!

    What a wonderful surprise! But why have we not heard about it before?? Cannot wait to see the exhibit!

    Kirsten

  4. Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

    Barb – Amazing! Collage is such an expressive medium. Many thanks!

  5. Avatar Julie says:

    Barb, thank you for the opportunity for our family to explore Jewish art together! You are such an inspiration to our family! Trasen & Levi are so excited to see their art displayed! Thank you for letting the young ones do it too!!!

    Much love,

    Jewlz & Jor

  6. Avatar Lorie burch says:

    Beautiful. I am so proud of u! Lorie

  7. Avatar Barbara Zlotowski says:

    It is a truly inspiring exhibition which gave those of us who participated as awesome opportunity to express ourselves in a whole new way! Thak you!

  8. Avatar Lyn Brophy says:

    Dear Barbara, My granddaughter, Liah, and I had such a great time learning with you. It was such an inspiring day and a great bonding for us. Thanks for your time, knowledge, and home. Hugs, Lyn and Liah

  9. Avatar Victoria Bernet says:

    Barbara,

    What a great idea. I love your Saturday collage workshops, it's truly a time for bonding. Looking forward to seeing this beautiful exhibit. Maybe we can have a "theme" collage class about displaying our heritage. It would be fun to dig through the attic boxes, and share it with the class.

  10. Avatar D. Nethery says:

    Kudos to all, for a hauntingly beautiful exhibit.

  11. Avatar Bev Rust says:

    Barbara, I'm so sorry to miss your bat mitzvah and I certainly hope I'll be able to see your exhibit when I'm back in Redding. It's so nice that you share your wonderful talent with others. Bev

  12. Avatar Patrish says:

    It's true, the' sixties are the golden years'; As I observe Barbara help others to realize their creativity through her sense of wonder in art, I also see her as a passion flower blossoming from the nourishment of her rooted heritage. She has a talent for inviting others to share her journey.

  13. Avatar Louse Cogan says:

    Dearest Barbara,

    You have brought such joy to the lives of so many people, including me. I never knew that I could produce artwork that I would be proud of but you taught me to just get out of my head and create. It was such a wonderful experience to have a day withTemple Members pulling out their family history and sharing stories as they created their own works of art. Mazel Tov on your special day may God's blessings be with you all the days of your life.

  14. Avatar Barbara Cross says:

    Barbara,

    You are Soooooo talented— what a gift you have and our community is fortunate to have you share your talent— like a gift to all of us. Thank you for sharing your spiritual journey — It must have been a special experience for all those whom you guided on the collage project.

    We hope to see the display soon… Blessings on you.

    Barbara Cross

  15. Avatar Sally says:

    Barbara – I had been invited to the festivities and was so sorry there were many conflicts making it impossible. My high school had a very large population of Jewish decendants with many stories to tell. There is such a richness to your history and still a longing for peace and a world acceptance of your own country. It will come. Knowing the sometimes rough journey of your life, this new chapter seems to be just where you should be. With wishes for further and continued blessings!

  16. Avatar sandi says:

    Barbara,

    I am sorry that I was unable to attend the original viewing, but I would love to see the display at the Temple. Will there be another opportunity to get a glimpse of your incredible collages? Your work is beautiful and so inspirational. I hope to be able to it soon. Thank you for sharing and inspiring others.

    Sandi Thompson

  17. Avatar Debbie Diestler says:

    Dear Barb,

    Congratulations on your recent Bat Mitzvah!!!

    What a wonderful community project! I'm sure everyone involved felt tremendous pride in their heritage as well as their creative accomplishments! You always provide a comfortable, nurturing and inspirational environment, which allows everyone to find some of those deep and meaningful feelings that bring about soulful and creative expression at its best!

    You have a beautiful way of encouraging and bringing out the gifts and talents in everyone you work with. I feel so blessed to be able to learn so much from you as well as enjoy our special friendship.

    Much love and continued blessings,

    Debbie Diestler