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Central Synagogue in New York City recently commissioned artist Jeffrey Brosk to build a portable ark, a Torah reading desk, and two Torah holders. These ceremonial objects were first used at Lincoln Center High Holidays services and will be used throughout the rest of the year.
Brosk has been creating art since 1978. His work has been exhibited and collected extensively, by such institutions as the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, the Museum of Art and Design, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Brosk attended Horace Mann, the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, and received a master’s degree in architecture at MIT.
As Central’s Director of Communications, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jeffrey to learn a little more about the project and his background as an artist.
Annette Powers: How did you begin making Jewish ceremonial art?
Jeffrey Brosk: Although I have been an artist since 1978, I began making Jewish ceremonial art in 1995. My first project was a Torah Reading Desk for Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. It was a very meaningful commission because it started my exploration of my Jewish spirituality through art. Whenever I do a piece of Judaica, I learn more about my religion by investigating the history and use of the object. This knowledge informs my visual approach.
How did you get involved with this project at Central Synagogue?
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, Central Synagogue's senior rabbi, saw one of my abstract wood wall sculptures at the home of a congregant and thought my aesthetic sensibility would be interesting for their project. She contacted me and the process began.
How does your background in architecture influence this work?
This is a very comprehensive ceremonial art project for many reasons, and called upon my training as an architect as well as my artistic sensibilities. The biggest challenge was that the collection of ceremonial art objects had to be appropriate for the large scale environment of David Geffen Hall as well as, the much smaller scale Peter J. Rubinstein Chapel at Central Synagogue. The way I addressed this challenge came from my love of the landscape, which has been the underlying source for my artwork for the past 40 years. I conceived of a series of eight panels that would stand behind the ark in a slight curve. These panels are an abstraction of mountains that serve as a protective and loving embrace of the ark. The materials are walnut wood with areas that are chiseled and covered with gold leaf. Originally, the panels were to be put in storage during the year, however, Rabbi Buchdahl had a wonderful idea of having the panels hang on the wall in the Peter J. Rubinstein Chapel at Central Synagogue. This is a great example of the collaborative nature of projects like this one.
How did you decide on the various design elements?
The design started with the eight panels as a way to relate to the scale of David Geffen Hall. I wanted the panels to attract the attention of the congregants and focus it on the Ark. The use of gold leaf was meant to relate to the symbolism in Judaism of light and the Torah. In some symbolic way the light as expressed in the gold leaf is radiating from the Torah onto the spiritual landscape around it. Walnut is a beautiful wood with very expressive grain and the color is a good combination with the gold leaf.
How would you summarize your experience working with Central on this project?
All the people that I dealt with at Central Synagogue provided very helpful information and were extremely friendly and gracious to work with throughout the project. I was very grateful to have been asked to participate in this ceremonial art project.
Learn more about Jeffrey Brosk's art at www.jeffbrosk.com.