Girl Prays, Concentrating – Watercolor Sketch

girl prays with concentration
I painted this watercolor sketch of a girl praying with concentration in late December. There was a poster on the wall, and it inspired me to paint. The “concentration” refers to the concept of kavanah – כַּוָּנָה. At least to me, she does look like she is praying with intent, with feeling and emotion. Of course, we have no way of knowing for sure. But that is part of art – looking at a scene, and interpreting it in our own way.

I was pleased with the way all the white works in this watercolor sketch. I am trying to resist commenting on any piece of this watercolor sketch that I see as less than perfect.

Looking forward to doing more painting. Thank you for looking and for reading – and it is always a pleasure to get a kind comment or two.

Jerusalem Pots with Plants – Watercolor

Pot of Flowers in Jerusalem
When walking around the neighborhoods of Jerusalem, one can often see flowers in a pot outside of quaint older buildings. I enjoyed converting this scene of pots with plants on a wall into a watercolor sketch.

In depicting a scene with watercolor, the artist must ask: how much do I show? What are the colors I should choose? Do I work to extend the contrasts of lights to darks or do I keep the range to lighter tones?

Jerusalem pot detail
Update: I added detail of the potted plant.

Yemin Moshe Watercolor Sketches

Jerusalem watercolor
Finally, I am getting back the main reason for this blog: posting sketches of my art. Above is a scene from a neighborhood of Jerusalem called Yemin Moshe – it overlooks the Old City. I purposely chose a limited palette for this watercolor. The composition and the drawing are about where I want them to be. I will probably return to this subject and depict it again. I left the areas white that I might in the future make into a very pale gold.

Yemin Moshe walk by houses
Yemin Moshe was built at time before cars. There are now places to park behind the houses, but one mostly walks up and down stairs to tour the neighborhood. We visited Yemin Moshe in 2016. It is quite picturesque (and pricey as well).

When I post these watercolors, I think of the first words of the famous Naomi Shemer song:

“The mountain air is clear as wine
And the scent of pines …”

Looking forward to doing more watercolors, landscapes or portraits. Have you ever painted or drawn? What are some of your favorite subjects to depict?

Book Review with Sleep, Names, and Separation

A book review of The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping by Aharon Appelfeld

The Man Who Never Stopped SleepingThis review explores important themes of the book, such as sleep, names, separation, literary explorations within a book, connections to the past, and healing.

Basic plot: The main character along with a group of teenage boys is a Holocaust survivor. He and this group have lost their parents and presumably their entire extended families, murdered in the Holocaust. The book follows the main character as he first joins the group in Naples and later they travel as a group by boat to the land of Israel (it was not yet the State of Israel). He works in the fields, and then when the fighting starts, he is almost immediately wounded. The story weaves from the realities the young man faces to his dreams and subconscious connections to his parents and other people of his childhood. The book also gives a glimpses of how the other boys cope (or not) as well.

Sleep: In Appelfeld’s book, why does the title imply that the main character never stops sleeping? In the beginning of the book, fellow refugees must carry him fast asleep from place to place. A few chapters into the book, he seems quite awake. Perhaps the reference is to character’s emotional world. He seems to prefer to connect to the world of his childhood. By the end of the book, he is spending more time in his dreams and his mind than he is interacting with people that are really alive in his world. By the end of the book, his dead mother seems more real in his dreams than the people of Tel Aviv, where he then lives.

What’s in a name? An important theme in the book is a name. The boys indeed many of the Holocaust survivors are urged to change their European names, the names their (now dead) parents had given them, to Hebrew names. Ephraim, their leader, didn’t have to change his. He was born in the Land with a Hebrew name. One nurse that he meets emphatically did *not* give up her name, and the main character regrets that he did not have her strength. There is one boy in their group who does not give up his name – tragically, he has way too much pain in general; he makes a deadly choice.

Some of the best parts of the book are references to literary text and text of the Bible. As a patient convalescing, the author is introduced to Agnon. He talks about a connection to Kafka through his father; he remembers his father bringing home short stories by a little known author named Kafka. It makes sense that he connects to Agnon in his real and present world, the land where Agnon wrote his stories. And Kafka is part of the tragic Jewish European experience, a foreboding of the crazy, evil world of the Holocaust. He learns Bible through a character named Slobotsky, described as a genius when he lived in Berlin. Slobotsky gives a lesson on prayer: voiced prayer and the voiceless prayer of Hannah. The reaction of one of the boys: Why are we studying the Bible and not biology?

Separation: in the normal course of life, a child is supposed to eventually separate from his parents. But if a child is emotionally very attached to parents and the parents are “yanked” away (murdered brutally), it can be hard for the child, even as an adult, to ever separate.

“Where have you been, father?” I asked, struggling to breathe. “Here,” he said, in a voice I knew in all its timbres.” “But they drove us out and scattered us.” “You’re mistaken, my dear. We were together, we were always together, even when we momentarily parted. The camps existed and then disappeared, but we remained together.” That was Father. Time had not stained his face. p. 61-62

Connection to the past: there is a character who shows up off and on in the book, Dr. Weingarten. Dr. Weingarten is the only person who is familiar with his family, the only connection to his past who is still alive. We learn about the main character’s parents through Dr. Weingarten. There is another older character who seemed to know of his grandfather. It is a struggle to connect to his childhood. He often fears losing his childhood language, while at the same time he struggles to improve his Hebrew by copying biblical texts (and Agnon text as well).

Healing, Doctors and Names: Why is the doctor who operates on him called Dr. Winter? What is the symbolism of the name? The other doctors are discouraging. Only Dr. Winter brings tempered hope. Maybe he only can offer physical healing. The emotional fractures remain. Maybe the emotional part must treated by the main character himself, as he struggles to become the writer his dead father wanted to be.

You can read more about Aharon Appelfeld.

Jewish Newport, Rhode Island: Colonial and Modern

Touro synagogue detail Newport, RI
The oldest standing synagogue building in the United States is the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. I was surprised to learn the building was used in Colonial times for only a few years. Then the War of Independence began, the British came into Newport, and soon after the Jews left the city. Some families came back when the war was over; however, Newport did not regain its stature, so the Jewish community never flourished again in the same way.

Judah Touro grave, Newport, Rhode Island
If you walk up the hill a few blocks (we did), you will find the old Jewish cemetery. Among others, buried here is Judah Touro, son of Isaac Touro. Because of his funding and efforts, the building was kept going.

colonial Jewish cemetery Newport RI

The congregation was a Sephardi one, meaning its members’ ancestors were originally from Spain, and the prayers are in a Sephardi manner. There is a Torah scroll behind a glass case in the sanctuary. My son noticed it is an Ashkenazi Torah scroll, not a Sephardi one (how did he know? Sephardi Torah scrolls are stood upright while the Torah is read, whereas Ashkenazi ones lie flat). Our guide pointed out that the Torah scroll was already two hundred years old when it was donated by the Amsterdam Jewish Community to the Newport Jewish community. Perhaps this was one that was not needed, so it allowed to take the long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean?

Several people asked us: did the tour guide show us the trap door underneath the bimah? No, she did not. It seems that the synagogue was a hiding place in the underground railroad in the 19th century. There was a movie about the history of Jewish Newport in the building in front of the synagogue, but we did not get a chance to view it.

One interesting note: the synagogue is built at an angle. This was in order that the sanctuary face Mizrah (face to the east, where Jerusalem is – standard procedure for a synagogue).

Touro Synagogue window
Above is a view out a window of the second floor of the Touro Synagogue at sunset, between Minha and Maariv (afternoon and evening prayers). My husband and son attended services both in the morning and in the afternoon during our three day trip. My daughter and I came once to Minha-Maariv and sat with other women and girls in the balcony section. The rabbi was so pleased that so many young women were in attendance (he gave a short talk, and at one point he looked up at the girls as he discussed whether women are obligated in fixed-time mitzvot).

raw power juice bar wall fundraiser
One of the best parts of the trip was when we learned that the rabbi gave hashgacha (kosher supervision) to a wonderful little vegan restaurant called Raw Power Juice Bar on Broadway. We went twice: we ordered bean rice burgers, a variety of smoothies and a few salads. We hope they stay in existence!

raw power juice bar painting
Pictured is one of a series of paintings inside the restaurant.

Nasturtium – Water Drop

We have had plenty of rain in recent weeks. My neighbor who has a rain gauge said hers read four inches in just a few days. It has not been constant, so I am fine with having lots of rain water for my garden.

I took the photo of the nasturtium (an edible plant with round leaves and orange or yellow flowers) back in the spring with a macro lens on my camera. It is one of the last edible items that I grow – the deer even eat flowers and leaves. A list of animals spotted in our area recently: deer, ground hogs, foxes, squirrels, rabbits and a coyote. My rosemary plants don’t get touched – I can still grow those. And sage. I have lots of sage.

For more nature notes:
Nature Notes