BOSTON – A multigenerational crowd of 3,500 ushered in Hanukkah at the Museum of Fine Arts at the Jewish Arts Collaborative’s sixth annual Hanukkah celebration on Dec. 18 with the unveiling of a newly commissioned menorah installation by Caron Tabb and a surprise gift for the evening’s participants from the MFA.
In his welcoming remarks at the event, presented in partnership with Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and other supporting organizations, museum director Matthew Teitelbaum offered everyone in attendance a free one-year membership for new members.
“And if you’re asking yourself, ‘What’s the catch?’ there is no catch,” Teitelbaum said.
The gesture is part of the MFA’s yearlong celebration of its 150th anniversary – beginning in 2020 – when the museum is throwing open the doors for visitors. The same membership offer was piloted at its Juneteenth celebration last summer, as well as at other community celebrations this past fall, and also will be offered to visitors at the MFA’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day program on Monday, Jan. 20.
The response was overwhelming. Throughout the evening, people lined up at tables set up by MFA staff, eager to fill out the application form.
JArts director Laura Mandell was taken by surprise when Teitelbaum made his announcement. “It’s such a timely offering for our community,” she wrote in an e-mail. People who signed up were proud to show her the pin they received that said, “I’m a member.” She was excited to sign up as well.
It was a “wonderful surprise and true gift for the whole family,” said Dana Gittel, marketing manager at Hebrew Senior Life, which was a sponsor of the event. “I couldn’t fill out the form fast enough!”
Celebrants gathered in the MFA’s spacious Shapiro Family Courtyard got a first look at “Persist and Rise From Ashes,” Tabb’s 20-foot-long and 8-foot-tall menorah, which embodies the story of Hanukkah and its themes of religious freedom, resilience, and the power of light over darkness.
It’s on view through Jan. 5.
Each of the menorah’s eight candle holders and the shamash are made of repurposed wooden poles. Oval flames of white fabric – illuminated by electric bulbs beneath – are inscribed with the words of inspiring leaders and artists, including Nelson Mandela, Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Shakespeare, Israeli choreographer Sara Levy-Tanai, Leonard Cohen, Oprah Winfrey, and others.
The words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. enlighten the shamash: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“Our Jewish tradition is deeply symbolic and allows us to seek and make meaning of historical events and religious rituals,” Tabb, of Newton, wrote in her artist’s statement that she shared with the Journal.
The world today poses challenges that threaten the values Tabb holds dear: religious freedom, equality, and equity.
The quotes she chose “reflect my belief in the power of social justice that Judaism teaches us and for which I believe we are ultimately judged for.”
In her art making, Tabb embraces found objects that imbue deep meaning to her creative process and the work itself. The menorah is constructed from reclaimed wooden pallets and construction beams Tabb blackened, plus chicken wire and fabric.
The material reflects “the story of the Jewish people who time and time again, rose from ashes and built a nation. The flames sculpted and lit from within project the message outward,” she wrote.
Tabb draws on her life’s experience. Born in South Africa, her family immigrated to Israel when she was a child. In Israel, she built a well-established career as a nonprofit leader. Tabb, her American husband, and their Israeli-born children relocated to the United States nearly 20 years ago, first to California and later to Greater Boston.
She began her creative journey as an artist less than a decade ago, mastering a mature artistic expression that belies the relatively short time she has been making art on a full-time basis. Her visually engrossing work has been on exhibit in numerous galleries and in juried shows across Boston, New York City, and beyond and is in private collections.
In her menorah at the MFA, Tabb draws on the enduring power of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, to create art that sparks a universal chord.
“My hope is that viewers pause to reflect on the quote that resonates and speaks most to them and feel empowered and inspired to work for a better world,” Tabb said.