May 17 2021 The Art and Culture of Family Connection
Categories:Best for Grownups
Sydney Gurewitz Clemens, noted early-childhood educator and author, said, “Art has the role in education of helping children become themselves instead of more like everyone else.” As Jewish arts professionals, and as grandparents and parents, we see firsthand the limitless potential of art to illuminate so many different facets of Jewish life and tradition.
At the most basic level, the arts are a great way to help children develop life skills—communication, problem-solving, social and emotional skills, and motor skills—along with self-expression, creativity, and originality. When we engage with a painting by Amedeo Modigliani or a sculpture by Louise Nevelson, for instance, we practice critical thinking and learn to delineate what we see, what we feel, and what stories it evokes. When we bake challah, our fine motor skills are put to the test. And when we dance to a song by the Yemenite Israeli band A-Wa, we’re engaging our gross motor skills and releasing endorphins, all while making healthy life choices.
Great art has the ability to span the ages. Kids at eight and grandparents at eighty can find beauty and meaning in the same architectural masterpiece or concerto. Because art makes space for multiple interpretations, it innately fosters conversation between the generations.
Making the Past Relevant
According to the 2019 National Study of Jewish Grandparents, 70 percent of grandparents want to teach their grandchildren about their Jewish heritage and relay Jewish values to them. So much of Jewish art is about preserving and enlivening the past. By examining treasured family holiday or ritual objects, like a Kiddush cup or an afikoman bag, or watching favorite Jewish movies together (even online), Jewish culture is handed down and family bonds are strengthened.
The Cachet of Culture
For years, the Jewish community has struggled with how to make Jewish “cool” and resonant with younger generations. We suggest that Jewish tradition is already cool, loaded with stories and life lessons that can be beautifully and powerfully illuminated through art and culture. When kids see elements of Jewish culture reflected in popular culture, like young Jewish artists and musicians, they are inspired and that much more likely to engage.
Adding Another Layer to Family Events
For many years, Jewish learning through art has been thought of simply as crafts for kids. But when grandparents and grandchildren paint pottery together that they can use on Shabbat or sing Dayeinu together at the Passover seder, new traditions create bridges between the generations.
While exploring the paintings of masters like Marc Chagall, Israeli food stories with chefs like Michael Solomonov, and the music of Ladino rising stars like Sarah Aroeste, participants of all ages can find meaning and joy in the arts, fostering strong familial connections and transmitting Jewish culture. The Jewish Grandparents Network and the Jewish Arts Collaborative are proud to partner in this work.
Laura Mandel is Executive Director of the Jewish Arts Collaborative (Boston).
Gerald Slavet is Co-Founder of From the Top—a non-profit organization that works with teenage musicians in communities that have limited access to the arts and features those musicians on an NPR radio show and podcast.