From a tradition of charity comes unique artwork


September 28, 2004|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AN ART gallery and a synagogue have joined forces to create an exhibition based on charity.

Small Change: Art of the Tzedakah Box, sponsored by the Columbia Art Center and Columbia Jewish Congregation (CJC), will feature Jewish charity boxes made by 15 artists from the United States and elsewhere.

A tzedakah box is a container with a slot for change at the top. Family members customarily drop change and paper money into the box each day, before lighting Sabbath candles, and on holidays and other special occasions.

When the box is full, the money is sent to a charity or to a synagogue's tzedakah fund to be distributed to people in need, said Suzanne Waller, chair of CJC's Ed Padow Cultural Arts Committee. Waller is coordinating the show.

"The giving of tzedakah comes from the word `justice,' " said Rabbi Martin Siegel, CJC's rabbi emeritus, who was a judge for the juried exhibition. The purpose of tzedakah, he said, "is to rebalance the world by giving to others."

The tradition, Siegel said, is for everyone in the house to give an amount every day. The box could be anything, even a jar. "In my parents' generation, they were little metal boxes. Those have fallen into disuse," he said. "By enhancing the box, we can enhance the practice of doing."

The show's judges received about 75 entries from around the world, Waller said. The art center invited artists to make inventive tzedakah boxes for the show, but while researching the custom Waller found that many creative boxes already existed.

"It is really astounding to see the wealth of artists making beautiful tzedakah boxes," she said.

The boxes chosen for the exhibition are a good representation of the genre, Waller said. They are made of mosaic, wood, clay or metal, and their styles range from whimsical to serious.

Long Reach resident Roslyn Zinner contributed a triangular mosaic box that shows a downtrodden human figure on one side. On the next side, the figure is almost upright and on the third side, it is lifted up by tzedakah and dancing in joy, said Zinner, a past president of the Columbia Jewish Congregation.

"I love working in mosaics; it's like a puzzle. The pieces are tiny and insignificant on their own but when put together, [they] can become beautiful," she said. "I love the idea that our synagogue would bring Jewish art to Columbia and challenge artists to stretch themselves in Judaica."

"The Tzedakah Fund in our congregation is used as a last-resort fund for people who can't get help," she said. "If they need a month's rent or emergency surgery and they can't pay for it another way, they can use the fund. It is open to everyone."

Oakland Mills resident Hans Plugge said he likes the idea of having people see things in two ways. "When you look at one side of my tzedakah box, it looks like a replica of a full-sized hardcover book," said Plugge, who builds furniture and said he used wood, concrete and gold leaf to create his box. "The other side looks like a Middle Eastern house. The idea is that you learn how to give from a book, but when you give you are building on community spirit."

Edwin Gould, a retired scientist who lives in Allview Estates, makes and sells ceramic Judaic pieces as a hobby, but he said he never thought of making a tzedakah box.

"One day, a friend pointed to one of my coil pots and said that it would make a great tzedakah box for his son and future daughter-in-law," Gould said. "Shortly after that, I got the notice for the show. I made two coil pots - one large, one small. The coils have a texture that looks like rope. In that, I embedded the Hebrew letters for tzedakah."

"I love art because you make it out of your heart," he added. "It is a sea of opportunity."

A box made by Israeli artist Avi Biran looks like a chicken, and a carved wooden piece by Gabriel Bass of Washington state is rectangular, topped by a dome, Waller said.

"Mr. Bass studied with Indians and Eskimos. It is interesting to see that style of hand-carved wood in something that is Judaic," Waller said.

This is not the first time that CJC and the Columbia Art Center have collaborated on a show. Two years ago, the art center presented another joint exhibit, The Art of the Torah.

Waller was inspired to initiate the shows after a visit to the campus of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, she said.

"I visited the art building," she said. They had an exhibit that showed the art of the Bible. At the time, I was deep into the study of the Torah, and I used to own an art gallery. From there, we had the idea to have an exhibit on the art of the Torah. It was a huge success."

The 2002 exhibition focused on artwork that featured the image of the Torah scrolls or illustrated a story from the Torah.

The exhibit will feature a functioning tzedakah box, where visitors can leave donations. The money will be distributed to four charities: Columbia Jewish Congregation's tzedakah fund; Coalition for Compassion, a Columbia interfaith group that coordinates the religious community's response to emergency needs; Columbia Foundation; and Mazon, a Jewish nonprofit organization that feeds the hungry all over the world, Waller said.

"This is a nudge to remind people that this is a time of giving," she said.

The show will run from Oct. 14 through Nov. 14, with a public reception from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Oct. 23. The Columbia Art Center Gallery is at 6100 Foreland Garth. Information: 410-730- 0075. Columbia Jewish Congregation: 410-730-6044.

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