By Shelley Werner
(AJNews) – Renowned Film Maker Jeremy Kagan is painting the Torah. One of his beautiful images ‘Tablets’ is on the cover of the Passover Calgary edition of Alberta Jewish News. He will be featured next month on April 19 on the Season Finale of Art and Scroll Studio. Click here to register for free tickets.
Professor Kagan is well versed in creating stories that move. As a filmmaker and professor, he excels in the art and craft of making narratives come alive. Whether the source material is a book or a script, he teases out the essence of the emotional content and conveys it in a way that will move the viewer. He is an internationally recognized director/writer/producer of feature films and television and a well-known teacher. He has made many movies about Jewish subjects and worked with many Jewish actors, including “The Chosen.”
One story that had never been before his lens is the Torah. He was drawn to the idea of creating a visual midrash, that is an artist work that would capture the essence of the Torah portion.
On April 19, 2023 at 7 pm MDT he will be the special guest on the season finale of Art and Scroll Studio zoom series on Judaica art.
“On my iPad, I’ve been drawing a visual response to this week’s Torah portion and the Midrash about it. I do this every week and, over the last few years, I’ve made five sets of these drawings. The first set started on a whim. I had learned some odd stories about the first parsha Beresheit. One Midrash described the snake as a tall creature on two legs with a long neck and a lust for Eve. I had just learned an ancient Indian technique of painting on stretched silk and decided to illustrate this creation story.”
Every week in synagogues around the world, a section of the Torah is read. The Torah is divided into 54 portions – called parshas. After each parsha, a selection from the prophets is also read, and these are called the Haftorah. Kagan’s paintings and drawings are responses not only to the text of the Torah and Haftorah, but also to the rabbinic commentary in Talmud and Mishna and to apocrypha that have emerged over the centuries.
“I created the first set of paintings and pencil caricatures from the Haftorah over a six year period,” explained Kagan. “I was at the time working as a filmmaker. Over the last four years using the iPad I have done a second set of visual responses and I am presently working on the third set.”
Rabbis write that there are multiple meanings for each word in Torah, starting with the literal, and moving toward the more subtle and esoteric. Hebrew, as a language itself, offers interweaving permutations as each letter has symbolic and even numerical values, all of which give rise to much interpretation of the text.
“In many of the paintings there are references to the Kabbalah and its imagery,” noted Kagan. “Kabbalah is the spiritual path of Judaism. It provides meditative, mystical and practical guidance. It is a vast field of knowledge and experience. And in much of the imagery there are reflections of Kabbalistic concepts including a basic one that has a visual component called the “Etz Chaim” – the tree of life, and it divides into 10 energy-like centers called Sephirot that are part of this tree. Each of these has colors associated with it.”
Making images from these inspired words is a challenge. At one time because of the second commandment, which forbids making idols, image making was frowned upon until the last two centuries when Jewish graphic artists began to express themselves. Kagan took on these projects as a personal assignment of doing a drawing for each week.
“It has been fun and a challenge and an opportunity to get closer to Torah,” he explained. “I must admit these images are mostly surface and just touching the edges of the depth one could go into the teachings.”
It is said that everyone should write a copy of the Torah during their life times. These are his versions. He hopes the images entertain, provoke and inspire the viewer to further examinations and insights and encourage people to explore more these remarkable writings.
“Each illustration draws me closer to my history, our history, my family, our ancestors and to reminding me of the ethics, imagination, and abiding courage of our sages and our people,” said Kagan. “I have had the gift of being a Jew in America.”
He comments that he has had the fortune of grandparents who risked immigration and the unknown, leaving Europe and probably escaping death in the Holocaust. His family tree reaches back to rabbis on all sides for hundreds of years. They were all orthodox and may not have approved of his drawings. “But I am in their debt for bringing me here where I have had the blessings, as is said in morning prayers, of kindness, mercy and grace to be a creative being. And I am grateful.”
Professor Kagan teaches graduate courses at the School of Cinematic Arts at USC and has created the Change Making Media Lab which specializes in developing and creating Entertainment Education (EE) emphasizing the values of narrative dramas and comedies to successfully motivate behavior change.
Some of his feature credits include the box-office hits “Heros” with Henry Winkler, the political thriller “The Big Fix” with Richard Dreyfuss, “The Chosen” from Chaim Potok’s classic novel, and “The Journey of Natty Gann.” Among his many television shows are Katherine: The Making of an American Revolutionary and HBO’s “Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8.” Among his other television films are “Descending Angel” about former Nazi criminals disguising themselves in the US and “Color of Justice” with Judd Hirsh about racism.
Jeremy Kagan will be the featured guest on April 19, 2023, 7 pm MDT on Art and Scroll Studio: A zoom series that celebrates the makers and creators of Judaic art.
To register for the virtual and free program click here.
Shelley Werner is a designer and the host of Art and Scroll Studio. (YouTube.com/@artandscrollstudio.
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