Friday, July 7, 2017

Making a Tallit Mosaic at Camp Newman

This summer at URJ Camp Newman was my eleventh in a row as an artist with Hagigah, the arts track for 10th and 11th graders. As usual, I spent a few hours a day for two weeks cutting paper with them; after all, that’s what I do in my “real” life outside camp. But for the past three summers I’ve also spent that time making a mosaic with some of the Hagigah campers.

Step one is always the same: we start by studying text. This year we decided on a big piece focused on the idea of community, so I brought a few ideas to the kids to jumpstart their brains, and asked them what community in a camp context meant to them. They came up with a dozen or so great ideas, but when I asked them to vote on their favorites, the choice was unanimous: they wanted to represent the moment in Erev Shabbat services when their counselors hold up their tallitot up to bless the campers with the words of Hashkiveinu.

As with every project, this one started as page after page of sketches.

I sketched out a few ideas and found a way to express what they wanted to show, and then we got to work. In just six one-hour sessions, these 20 campers completed 24 square feet of mosaic.

The first tiles laid were the black outlines of the tallitot.

The campers have taken to calling the tile adhesive "cream cheese."

The mosaic was built in two pieces, on two separate tables – with 10 campers around each one.
We even had a "faculty art night" which was open to all of the rabbis, cantors, educators, artists, medical and office staff, etc. – always nice to open up the activity to more people when we can.
Way to go, Laura and Lindy!
They chose the colors; they chose to add a hamsa and a Jewish star and flowers on the tallitot; they picked the words we added to drive home the message of community (words we all shout during the tallit-waving). After a day of grouting, we were done – and the result was spectacular!
The campers designed the colorful tallit designs themselves.

Protective eyewear was provided AND REQUIRED for everyone while breaking tiles.
What really got to me, though, was how the mosaic-making process was a microcosm for the camp experience. Not everyone came to the table with the same experience or ability; not everyone had the same interest in every part of the process; but we all had to work together to get it done – and we did.
The design started to take shape and we began to get excited!

Everyone learned how to choose and break and combine tile to create an image, and the resulting mosaic was truly a group effort. It’s a representation of the community we choose, and the community we build – steeped in religious and cultural traditions, but constantly being remade and renewed by every single camper.

We'll be officially unveiling the mosaic at the 2017 Peachy Levy Hagigah Festival next week – so it'll be up in time for the 70th anniversary celebration, when my wife and I will be leading all of the hundreds of celebrants in making ANOTHER mosaic... we hope you'll join us!

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