Like so many Jews around the world, Sherry Kendis and Rabbi Menachem Schmidt have been spending the end of Elul preparing for the first of Tishrei. What makes Kendis and Schmidt's preparation different is in just how literally they are celebrating the beginning of 5773: They have been putting the finishing touches onto "Tishrei," an exhibit opening on Sept. 7 at Old City Jewish Arts Center that will feature 10 of the region's most recognized Jewish artists displaying works representative of and influenced by the High Holidays, including a mosaic shofar from Sharon Ritz and a nine-work painting cycle from Barbara Rosin.
Kendis, the event and exhibition coordinator of the center's gallery, and Schmidt, the executive director of the center, are responsible for gathering the artists participating in the biannual show, which is the kickoff event for other holiday-themed exhibits. Schmidt says that, in addition to Tishrei, "When it's around Purim, we try to do something more humorous. When First Friday coincides with Sukkot, we've done an artistic sukkah, where artists will do panels on the sukkah."
Located on Third Street in the heart of Old City's gallery district, the center has been displaying Jewish artists to the First Friday crowds since February 2006, when Schmidt, after deciding he had to change the dynamic in the neighborhood, came up with the idea. "It bothered us that there was no Jewish presence on First Fridays," he says as shorthand for why he created the center. "We didn't know what kind of response we would get — we were just totally blown away when we first opened up. The response was overwhelming — it's a great experience that brings the community together."
The consistently large numbers of attendees, and the chance to exhibit their works as a community of Jewish artists, goes a long way toward explaining the center's appeal to Jewish artists. According to Schmidt, "Right now, we have around 250 artists who have shown here and have maintained contact with us." Part of why the roster is so huge: The center has an open-door policy when it comes to artist submissions. "We have a group that looks over the artwork and, once you've passed that muster, it's not a problem for you to show again," Schmidt says. "We're happy for people to submit — we love to give people a chance to show, especially local artists."
And the artists displaying at "Tishrei" love to show at the center — virtually every one of them has been involved in at least one previous exhibit there; one artist, mixed media specialist Joanne Hoffman, has been with the center since it opened, even designing its logo. "It's a very nice community of artists there," she says. "Menachem makes everybody feel important, and there is a lot of enthusiasm among the people who are showing."
Another artist featured in "Tishrei" is the abstract artist, Ruth Pinkenson Feldman. The former director of early childhood for the JCCs of North America in her previous life, Feldman has been painting full-time since 2008, and has exhibited at the center twice previously. She finds that displaying her works at the center is the right outlet for a newfound synergy. "I have finally found a way to meld my interest in Judaism my spiritualty with my art," she says. "The ideas in Judaism are so profound, so rich, so evocative that the abstract artwork, because it's formless in some ways and because it's an opportunity for meditation and reflection," according to her, gives "the mind an opportunity to contemplate ideas that are far deeper than anything I could draw in a figurative sense."
While Schmidt would be thrilled to have everyone so moved by the exhibit, he is happy in the knowledge that "Tishrei" will be reaching people — regardless of their affiliation — in some meaningful way, if only for the few minutes they walk through the gallery space. "This gallery creates some very unusual opportunities for people who aren't Jewish to understand Judaism, and it creates opportunities for people who are Jewish. You have your pierced, tattooed art students, you have your Main Line art enthusiasts, tourists — all kinds of different people. It's a lot of fun."
"Tishrei" runs from Sept. 7 to 27 at Old City Jewish Arts Center, 119 North Third St. The opening reception will take place at 5 p.m. on Sept. 7. There will be a "Meet the Artists" reception on Sept. 9 at 2 p.m. For more information, call (215) 923-1222 or go to www.ocjac.org.