Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Paper Midrash in Lafayette (no, not the one from Hamilton)

Just wanted to quickly post a few photos from our Paper Midrash residency at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, California. Rabbi Shawna and I gave a visual sermon on "People of the Comic Book" and we used our "Paper T'filah Visual T'filah" for Friday night services, had an oneg Shabbat scavenger hunt with some of my work, led an adult papercutting workshop, and even had the religious school get into the fun with our exclusive "Fold-and-Cut Torah" lesson plan!

"Paper T'filah Visual T'filah" in Erev Shabbat services

Oneg Shabbat Scavenger Hunt

Making Paper Midrash with Rabbi Shawna

Rabbi Nicki Greninger made Paper Midrash in our workshop

We had a great group in our adult papercutting workshop

Paper Midrash made by Karen, a workshop participant

Paper Midrash made by Nathan, workshop participant

Paper Midrash made by Rabbi Greninger

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Men of Steel and Women of Valor

This fall I opened a new exhibition at The Temple Museum of Jewish Art, Religion, and Culture in Cleveland called "Men of Steel and Women of Valor," and I've been keeping you posted here (and on Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram) but as the exhibition comes to a close it seemed appropriate to put everything up in one place – right here on my blog. (You can also read about it in The Forward or the Cleveland Jewish News.)
Standing in the gallery – in my Superboy shirt, of course.

At the heart of the exhibition is a series of large portraits made of cut-up comic books featuring Superman and Lois Lane, Daredevil and Elektra, the Fantastic Four — transformed into the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, as well as modern figures. These portraits are a nod to the Jewish custom of inviting guests into one’s sukkah during the fall festival of Sukkot, since we opened the exhibition just before Sukkot. In fact, Rabbi Shawna and I went to The Temple-Tifereth Israel for a Paper Midrash weekend to coincide with the exhibition, praying and teaching and creating all weekend with the community.

Rabbi Shawna and I led a bunch of papercutting workshops during our Paper Midrash weekend

We led a number of projects to create new art for the walls of the TTTI sukkah

Teaching in "the birthplace of Superman"

The exhibition focused heavily on Superman, created in Cleveland in the 1930s by two Jews, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — portraits of whom are included in the show, made of cut-up Superman comics from the past 90 years. You can see the whole show online in this PDF catalog, or check out the pix below.
"Abraham: Ignition" is made with cut-up Fantastic Four comics featuring patriarch Reed Richards

"Sarah: Forward" is made with cut-up Fantastic Four comics featuring matriarch Sue Storm Richards

"Isaac: Hurt" is made of comics featuring blind vigilant super hero Daredevil

"Rebekah: Someone" is made of comics featuring ninja badass Elektra

"Jacob:Disguise" is made of Clark Kent comics (and a little bit of Loki)

"Leah: Suppress" is made of comics featuring Lois Lane (and so is her sister)

"Rachel: Answers" is made of comics featuring Lois Lane (and so is her sister)
It also included portraits of Golda Meir, Israel’s first female prime minister, and Sally Priesand, America’s first female rabbi. The portraits share the walls with landscapes of Jerusalem, stories of fire and water and cloud, and explorations of the Mishnah — all made out of cut-up comic books.

“Siegel: Chutzpah” is a portrait of Jerry Siegel, the writer who co-created Superman. Siegel is represented with cut-up comics featuring some of my favorite Superman writers from the past 90 years.

“Shuster: Action” is a portrait of Joe Shuster, the artist who co-created Superman, Shuster is represented with cut-up comics featuring some of my favorite Superman artists from the past 90 years.

“Priesand: My Turn” is a portrait of the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi in the United States, Sally Priesand.

“Meir: Fight” is a portrait of Golda Meir, the first woman to serve as Prime Minister of Israel.

You can see the whole show online in this PDF catalog. For more information on our residencies and workshops, visit

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Deep Space Shiviti

“Deep Space Shiviti” is a papercut I created for Rabbi Paul Kipnes in December 2019, commissioned as a birthday present by his family. It is modeled on the traditional Jewish shiviti, a meditative artwork inspired by words from Psalms 16:8: “I have always placed the Eternal before me,” intended to inspire an appropriate frame of mind for prayer and contemplation. The shiviti traditionally incorporates a seven-branched menorah, words drawn from Jewish texts, kabbalah, and other mystical sources; this one also features cut-up comic books.

“Deep Space Shiviti” is a contemporary and personal interpretation of this traditional form, built around a vision from the fourth chapter of the book of Zechariah, which describes a lampstand of gold, feeding into and being fed by two olive trees, one on either side. It is a vision of replenishment and renewal, of resilience and rededication. Surrounded on both sides by the twelve gems of Aaron’s priestly breastplate (an allusion to Rabbi Kipnes’ Hebrew name), the menorah stands in front of the Kotel in Jerusalem, reinvented as a place where everyone stands together for inspiration and connection.

The words and imagery in “Deep Space Shiviti” are drawn from comic books — two kinds in particular: Star Trek comics and comics featuring Jewish super heroes. The name “Deep Space Shiviti” is itself a reference to Rabbi Kipnes’ guest appearance on an episode of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

There are allusions to Rabbi Kipnes’ family and community; to places close to his heart; to his roles as husband, father, rabbi... and as a man true to himself. The papercut contains camp cabins, maps of wondrous places, and images of light and inspiration.

There is the Bat Signal, another lighted symbol of hope; Yggdrasill, the “world tree” whose roots and branches support and connect the fabled Nine Realms; and Deep Space Nine, a home to a diverse group of people with different backgrounds who are united in a common cause (and also of special meaning to Rabbi Kipnes). The papercut also features multiple Jewish super heroes, including Kitty Pryde and Benjamin “The Thing” Grimm — the former with her “Hold Fast” tattoo and the latter holding his Star of David necklace; Black Canary, whose commitment to heroism is matched by her commitment to handing down her super heroic beliefs and practices to the next generation; and Spider-Man, who reminds us that with great power must also come great responsibility.

The papercut includes:
All-New X-Men #13 (Aug 2013)
Astonishing X-Men #36 (Apr 2011)
Batwoman #3 (Jan 2012), #16 (Mar 2013)
Booster Gold #19 (Jun 2009)
The Life of Captain Marvel #1 (Oct 2018)
Dazzler #38 (Jul 1985) – “Light”, #1 (Aug 2018)
Excalibur #66 (Jun 1993)
Fantastic Four #56 (Aug 2002)
The Legion of Super-Heroes #503 (Sep 1983)
Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes #352 (Oct 1987)
Lumberjanes: A Bird’s Eye View (Dec 2017
Marauders #2 (Jan 2020)
Noble Causes: Distant Relatives #2 (Sep 2003)
The Ray #1 (May 1994)
Scarlet #8 (May 2016)
Star Trek Movie Special: Star Trek III (1984)
Star Trek: The Next Generation #24 (Oct 1991)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #1 (Aug 1993)
Star Trek: Year Five #1 (Apr 2019)

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Paper Midrash in North Carolina

This year, since High Holidays, Rabbi Shawna and I have been in Manhattan (NY), North Hollywood (CA), Cleveland (OH), Milwaukee (WI)... and we're just getting started! This past weekend we were in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, bringing Paper Midrash to Temple Emanuel – and we had a great time, as usual.

Rabbi Mark Cohn leading Erev Shabbat services with "Paper T'filah Visual T'filah"

We started the weekend with a pop-up gallery for an intimate gathering of temple leadership, then in to services which Rabbi Mark Cohn led with "Paper T'filah Visual T'filah" (which I made in cooperation with CCAR Press).

Rabbi Shawna and I gave a visual sermon on this week's Torah portion, which we called "Lech L'cha: Boldly Go," which referenced Abraham and Sarah (of course) but also Star Trek, The Fantastic Four, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and more.

Saturday morning we led a Paper Midrash workshop, in which participants created beautiful and meaningful midrashic interpretations of Lech L'cha, cutting up comic books just like I do in my studio.

God calls to Abram and Sarai: "Lech L'cha!"

Abraham is a super hero, surviving being thrown into the fire by Nimrod.

Sarah has her own super hero: she talks directly to God and saves Abraham!

Sarah being carried into Egypt by Abraham, disguised as his sister, IN A COFFIN.
 Saturday night Rabbi Shawna and I presented "People of the (Comic) Book," a visual history of Jews and comic books, from the very first comic book in the 1930s up to present-day Jewish creators and characters.

Ready to talk about the patriarchs: Jerome, Joseph, Stanley, and Jacob

It's such a fascinating subject, and we have so much fun revealing the semi-secret Jewish world behind Superman, Batman, the Marvel cinematic universe... so much good stuff.

Religious school students making "Fold-and-Cut Torah" projects in the Lamed Center

Sunday morning we brought our "Fold-and-Cut Torah" project to the Temple Emanuel religious school – Rabbi Shawna and I led a special program for the fifth, sixth, and seventh grade students and their parents, while the K-5 classes used our lesson plan to create their own Torah focused on the values held in common with comic books.

Learning and praying with the "Twelve Tribes" papercuts

Sunday ended with a special service for the religious school led by Rabbi Cohn that incorporated my papercuts, including my "Twelve Tribes" series – so proud to have my work used in this beautiful studying/praying/learning experience!

Want more information about bringing Paper Midrash to your community? Contact us at for details.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Paper Midrash in Houston

There's a nice exhibition of my work at the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC Houston this fall – check it out if you can.

Monday, April 29, 2019

With Every Turn of the Maze

"With Every Turn of the Maze" Ketubah (click to enlarge)

Noah and Molly were married in a labyrinth on Bainbridge Island in Washington — and their ketubah places the couple and their vows between two curving paths reminiscent of that labyrinth. The labyrinth was designed and built by Jeffrey Bale, and is made of large and small stones in various configurations; the papercut ketubah was created by Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik and mirrors those configurations, but rather than stones it is made of cut-up comic books and an old book about puzzles and games.

hotos of the Jeffrey Bale labyrinth on Bainbridge Island

Imagine the various items peeking through the openings of the papercut as “things in a bag,” gathered together to mark their marriage (a custom developed by Rachel Adler) — but later, by the artist. They are representations of Noah and Molly as a couple but also as individuals who have chosen to pursue a path together. Within the paths of the papercut labyrinth are mazes, toys, books, numbers, words and phrases — all with meanings (some more obscure than others) that embody their journey to marriage as well as their continuing journeys.

Detail from ketubah (click to enlarge)

The comic books that make up this ketubah feature heroes that represent the couple, notably John Constantine and Wonder Woman. The places they’ve been, the things they’ve done... all within. Many of the comics used feature weddings, and the words “I love you” in a small heart-shaped stone at the bottom come from a June 2017 issue of Jessica Jones.

Detail from ketubah (click to enlarge)

And after deciphering the myriad elements included in the ketubah, there’s one more puzzle: the artist has provided all of the cut-out paper pieces in a jar for Noah and Molly, should they ever want to attempt to put them together in their original arrangement.

The ketubah includes:
Batman #50 (Sep 2018) – wedding issue
Claws #2 (Nov 2006)
Fairest #10 (Feb 2013)
Hellblazer #10 (Oct 1988), #103 (Jul 1996), #231 (Jun 2007), #275 (Mar 2011) – wedding issue, #22 (Apr 2015)
Jessica Jones #7 (Jun 2017) – “I love you”
Luke Cage, Power Man #17 (Feb 1973) – Stan Lee’s Soapbox with “vow”
Marvel Rising: Omega (Nov 2018) – pinball cover
Richie Rich Fortunes #37 (Nov 1977)
Runaways #15 (June 2006)
Star Wars #39 (Sep 1980)
The Thing #2 (Feb 2006), #8 (Aug 2006) – bar mitzvah issue
Walt Disney Chip ’N’ Dale #30 (1974)
X-Men #51 (Aug 2012) – wedding issue
X-Statix #23 (Jul 2004)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Paper Midrash in the Windy City

Chillin' in Chicago at Cloud Gate (a.k.a the Bean)

We were worried about the cold. The temperature was going to be measured in single digits and, like true Southern Californians, we put on warm jackets when it dips below 65. We were concerned whether people would brave sub-freezing weather to make paper midrash with us... but they did! And it was great!

We led two workshops at Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard, Illinois; one for adults and one for teens. The adults came for an evening of Havdalah, a little nosh, some teaching on Midrash, and cutting up comic books. Chicagoans are not stopped by cold weather; we had a big crowd, part of the vibrant adult education program at Etz Chaim.

Isaac teaching at Congregation Etz Chaim (and some participant artwork)

It was clear that participants were drawing on what they had studied in Melton and other programs; most participants were already familiar with what midrash is and they were ready to create their own.

Rabbi Shawna teaching at Congregation Etz Chaim (and some participant artwork)
The participants made some beautiful papercut explorations of the creation story in Torah and Midrash. Proving that pop culture is not just for kids, one couple even stumped Isaac with their favorite villain.

We got some great feedback from the group, like this: “Paper Midrash was fantastic! I love that we got to make a piece of art. I also enjoyed learning about the different types of interpretations from Torah, stories that fill in the gaps versus how Torah is put into practice. The presenters brought great energy and knowledge.”

Sunday morning we worked with the CEC high school teens. We brought lots of Spiderverse and Captain Marvel for the teens to work with and — again — we were pleased to see the depth of their designs and how even in working with the same story, no two designs were alike.

A beautiful place to teach teens about Midrash and art

More teen papercut artwork

In both groups there were multiple interpretations of a midrash in Talmud that says that trees talk to each other. We wondered if it was the experience of the seasons (something we don’t have the same way in California) that had people aware of the natural cycle of spring and  eagerly awaiting the the regrowth of trees.

Posing with the teen artists (and some more teen artwork)

We also led a workshop for the Jewish Federation and Jewish United Fund of Greater Chicago, at a fabulous communal space in the suburbs called Sketchpad, where a bunch of Jewish organizations share space for creative (and “regular”) pursuits.

Sketchpad was an incredible place to teach and create

We were so impressed with the concept for the space and how it was used; it was great to be able to work with talented and enthusiastic Jewish educators from different organizations, all under one roof.

With the group from Jewish Federation and Jewish United Fund of Greater Chicago

We loved learning about the space and the Jewish community in Chicago as much as we loved sharing midrash with the group. We always begin the creative part of our workshops with the blessing for creating art from On the Doorposts of Your House and were thrilled to introduce this prayer to Jewish educators, who were excited to bring it back to their own students.

Want more information about bringing Paper Midrash to your community? We’re currently scheduling residencies and workshops for the 2019-2020 academic year; contact us at for details.