Nothing can be called an adequate response to what the Nazis did to the Jews. But that doesn't mean that responses aren't worthwhile. We must keep trying to fathom what happened, even if we are doomed to fail.
"Jews in Peril," a show of photographer Alan Rutberg's computer-produced imagery at the Jewish Community Center, represents one artist's response not on ly to World War II but to what has happened to the Jews over and over throughout their long history. The sincerity of the artist's intent, and his commitment to communicate, cannot be questioned, even if the exhibit itself is not entirely successful.
In his artist's statement, Rutberg stresses the importance to Jews of the written word, and explains how as a second-generation American Jew he grew up with exposure to both Hebrew and English books: the Torah and Talmud, along with works of Poe, Melville and Whitman.
Accordingly, most of the exhibit consists of multiple images in which three elements mix: Hebrew letters and words, burned pages (resembling tombstones) from Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," and pictures. The pictures relate to what Jews have had to suffer time and again: diaspora, confinement, death -- a walking boy, a bird in a cage, a child huddled on the ground, the hands of Hitler.
The show's basic problem is that it lets you know what it intends to do, but its images don't really carry out that intent.
We get the point about the fate of the Jews, but we're not really moved by most of what we see.
Rutberg's statement, for instance, notes that he includes passages from "Leaves of Grass" to suggest "Whitman's concept of the 'Everyman' and his celebration in song of all the peoples of the world."
That's a fine concept, but unless we already know Whitman's poetry we get no adequate sense of it from these excerpts, even if we struggle to read them through these multiple images.
Similarly, if we don't know Hebrew, Hebrew letters and words mean nothing.
The viewer does not know if they're included for visual effect, or to symbolize the importance of the word, or whether they have a meaning that's pertinent to the image as a whole -- or whether sometimes it's one thing and sometimes another.
Some of the pictures are obvious to the point of cliche (the caged bird) and some mean more to the artist than they can to the viewer (acrobats or the figure of a king).
The best section of the show is a group of old photographs of the children of World War II, Rutberg's point being that children are the innocent victims of wars made by adults. These pictures of real human beings are images we can connect with.
If this show doesn't do all it meant to do, it does succeed in reminding us of the events to which it is a response.
'Jews in Peril: Alan Rutberg'
Where: Jewish Community Center, 5700 Park Heights Ave.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays the Tuesdays, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays, 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays