Saturday, February 17, 2018

A taste of summer camp in winter: paper midrash in San Jose

Rabbi Shawna and I spent last weekend with Temple Emanu-El in San Jose as part of "Machane Emanu-El" – what they called "a Camp Newman Shabbat experience." We were joined by Camp Newman songleader Robin Kopf, who co-led Erev Shabbat and Shabbat morning services with Rabbi Dana Magat. (Big thanks to Rabbi Magat and Director of Education Phil Hankin for bringing us up!)

In addition to enjoying Shabbat brownies, Israeli folk dancing, and chuggim (just like you'd expect from Shabbat at camp), Shawna and I gave a "visual sermon" — a d'rash on the week's Torah portion, Mishpatim — which led right into some hands-on art workshops for the community. We bring pop culture Torah and Jewish fan fiction to Camp Newman every summer, so it made perfect sense to bring it to Temple Emanu-El for this special weekend.

The first workshop was our "paper midrash" papercutting, with a camp theme. And since that's designed for high school age kids and adults, the younger kids got to make our "Fold-and-Cut Torah" project (made for smaller hands, with scissors instead of knives).

Rabbi Shawna showing participants the finer points of papercutting
Selecting comics to fit a papercut

Look at that great Camp Newman sweatshirt!

A Machane Emanu-El counselor helping a camper with the fold-and-cut Torah project.

 The finished papercuts were GORGEOUS, as usual – all inspired by camp experiences, camp memories, and hopes and wishes for the future of Camp Newman. I brought some special comics featuring camp themes and storylines just for this weekend – such as Lumberjanes (a wonderful all-ages comic about a girls' sleepaway camp) – from my friendly neighborhood comic book shop, Brave New World Comics.

Camp Newman is set amidst beautiful, rolling, colorful hills
Papercutting fun for all ages, with knives and scissors!
This pieces evokes memories of lighting Shabbat candles at camp

Our rule is, if you've got a baby strapped to your chest
you still have to make art – but you can use scissors.
What's camp without a campfire? Not camp!
The family that cuts paper together, stays together
Gorgeous representation of the mirpeset (patio) at Camp Newman
After papercutting and a hearty camp-style lunch, Shawna and I set up for the NEXT art activity – this one for everyone from toddlers to seniors: a giant mural, camp style, with enough canvases for everyone to make a piece of a "Tree of Life" modeled after the Temple Emanu-El logo.

The prepped canvases in my studio, ready to be transported up to Temple Emanu-El

Hard at work, wondering what the finished mural will look like

Gathering around the finished canvases, admiring our work
The finished mural is now hanging
in the "Temple House" building at Temple Emanu-El
The last part of our group papercutting projects is usually finished off at in my home studio: creating a digital poster featuring all of the papercuts created in our workshop.

And remember: if you want to bring "paper midrash" to your community, check out

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Parting the Sea of Reeds... Under the Mighty Redwoods

The "dynamic duo" under the Redwoods
We're back from our "paper midrash" weekend in the woods with Peninsula Temple Sholom – praying, studying, and cutting paper. It was lovely being brought in as artist-and-rabbi-in-residence for PTS, and we're grateful for the opportunity to share our world with them. Bonus: they also had Cantor Rosalie Boxt as an artist-in-residence for the weekend (an incredible team at PTS put this incredible weekend together)!

Friday night after services we shared our presentation on "Pop Culture Torah and Jewish Fan Fiction" (also known as "Intro to Midrash"), with a focus on the weekend's Torah portion, Beshallach – which includes Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea from which the "Mi Chamocha" prayer comes.  Rabbi Shawna shared SO MUCH great midrash, including a text that delved into the many meanings of a particular sentence that started with the word "then." Seriously – "then." And a team-up between Spider-Man and Moses. (We have a lot of fun.)

Exodus/Shemot 15:1 starts with: "Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord..."

Saturday morning we led a meditative tefillah with emphasis on the prayers that make up the Amidah section, using large projected images of my "Paper Tefillah" series to encourage deeper thinking about personal meaning in the words.

And the rest of the day was set aside for workshops and learning. Cantor Boxt led sessons on music, while Rabbi Shawna and I led papercutting workshops, all inspired by Shirat HaYam.

Hard at work, cutting up comics

Rabbi Shawna discussing the mechanics of papercutting

It never ceases to amaze me how a room full of people can all start with the same story and find so many different meanings and foci for their artistic expression – some very deep thinking about the words of the portion and how we can connect to them.

Cut! Tape! Cut! Tape! (Repeat until done.)

You think the tables look messy? You should see the floor.

From explorations of the shape of the parted sea, to the emotions of the Hebrews fleeing to freedom, to contemplation of the nature of Divine presence and protection.

Finished work by workshop participant: Parting the Sea

Finished work by workshop participant: Egyptian in Peril

Finished work by workshop participant: The Parted Sea as Heart

We ended the weekend on Sunday with a particularly special experience: a "teach-back" session in which the workshop artists explained their work to the rest of the community, walking them through the midrashim they studied and the inspirations for their work.

We wish to thank Rabbi Dan, Rabbi Molly, Rabbi Lisa and the PTS community for bringing us up to "Happy Valley" for this year's retreat; we enjoyed praying and studying and creating with you.

(Interested in bringing us out to *your* community? Visit for details.)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Three Dreamers

I've got three new papercuts I wanted to share with you – inspired by the story of some "dreamers."

If you're not familiar with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), here's the shorthand: it's an American immigration policy that allowed some people who entered the country as minors (and remained in the country illegally) to receive a renewable two-year deferral from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. As of 2017, about 800,000 individuals were enrolled in the program created by what was popularly referred to as "The Dream Act," and so the people in question are known as "dreamers." But DACA is in danger, and we must speak up – in support of the people that come to our shores in search of freedom and refuge and opportunity.

I'm a second-generation American, and this has always been an issue of great importance to me. We've got a statue at the edge of our country which welcomes all those who need refuge:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
– excerpt from "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus
These three dreamers I've created are papercut representations of the Jewish tradition's dreamer, Joseph, known for his coat of many colors... and his long journey from favorite child to near-death to servitude to prison to leadership and, eventually, to sustainer of the children of Israel. All three papercuts include biblical references to "welcoming the stranger"; they're what I call "paper midrash."

A.K.A. Bunker
6" x 6"
Mixed media

A.K.A. Bunker is made of cut-up comic books featuring Miguel Jose Barragan, known to the world as the super hero "Bunker." Originally from Mexico, he now lives in San Francisco (a sanctuary city) as a member of the Teen Titans. His coat of many colors features the purple bricks he creates with his powers, and bits and pieces of the costumes of his teammates.

Here I Am
6" x 6"
Mixed media
Here I Am is made of cut-up America Chavez comics. A queer latina from the alternate dimension known as the Utopian Parallel, America's powers of teleportation led to her "undocumented" arrival in our dimension, where she started her super hero career as a member of the Young Avengers. In the background behind her are the words "All it takes is a second of trust" and two hands stretching out towards each other.

The Alien Superman
6" x 6"
Mixed media
Superman is probably the most famous undocumented immigrant super hero, and The Alien Superman is made of cut-up comics featuring the Man of Steel. When his birth planet Krypton was on the verge of destruction, his parents put baby Kal-El (his Kryptonian name) in a rocket and sent him to find sanctuary on our Earth. In this papercut he stands against a desert background with a hint of a militarized and fortified border wall.