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Indian-Israeli singer Liora Isaac. Courtesy photo

Eight lamps paired with eight women guests to dazzle at annual JArts Hanukkah show



Eight lamps paired with eight women guests to dazzle at annual JArts Hanukkah show

Indian-Israeli singer Liora Isaac. Courtesy photo

BOSTON – Since 2015, the Jewish Arts Collaborative has brought the Greater Boston community together to celebrate Hanukkah at the Museum of Fine Arts. Despite COVID constraints, JArts, the MFA, and the JCC Association of North America have collaborated to bring an innovative and uplifting Hanukkah program into homes across the country with a virtual event on Wednesday, Dec. 1 called “Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights.”

This year, the tradition of partnering with local artists and communities to create an exceptional evening for all ages has a special feminine twist.

The free program will feature eight Hanukkah lamps – including six from the MFA’s Charles and Lynn Schusterman Collection – and eight international women artists for an evening of performance, education, global diversity, and artistic engagement. Like an elegant evening where patrons enjoy wine to its fullest by pairing it with the perfect food, these performances and lamps elevate and balance each other, bringing out the best in both.

Each piece will last approximately five minutes. Slides of the corresponding lamp will appear during the presentations.

The idea behind this year’s theme germinated from brainstorming sessions between Laura Conrad Mandel, JArts executive director, and the MFA’s Charles and Lynn Schusterman curator of Judaica, Simona Di Nepi.

Originally from Rome, Di Nepi studied and worked in London and Tel Aviv for 25 years before coming to the United States. She became the first full-time Judaica curator at the MFA in 2017. Her appointment followed the 2013 gift of 120 decorative and ritual objects from the Charles and Lynn Shusterman Collection.

Although “Judaica” typically describes ritual objects used in the home or in the synagogue across history, geography, and media, Di Nepi takes a broader view. “Any kind of MFA material or object that is related to Jewish life, art, and history can be considered as Judaica,” she said.

Mandel asked Di Nepi to choose an array of Hanukkah lamps. “Some of the lamps are on display, but others are in storage, so this is a unique opportunity to hear about them,” Mandel said. “Each of the lamps represents a different aspect of global Jewry in an effort to spotlight the diversity of Jewish culture.”

After they picked the lamps, the team curated artists with connections to the stories behind them. Their hope is that by pairing a lamp with a particular artist, attendees will be inspired to reimagine these beautiful objects in ways that capture their imaginations and bring to life each lamp’s place in contemporary culture.

During the selection process, and purely by coincidence, they realized how many women’s work had caught their eyes. “We suddenly realized we had all women. There’s a theme there as well that adds special value to the evening,” Di Nepi said. “Eight nights of Hanukkah, eight lamps, and eight women guests.”

The full program includes an exciting mix of art forms, including dance, singing, and, for the first time, a culinary event. Silvia Nacamulli, who grew up in Rome, will do a demo of Italian-Jewish cooking. Her presentation is paired with a 16th century Italian bronze lamp.

Tair Haim is a powerhouse Yemenite Israeli singer, songwriter, and founder of the internationally acclaimed group A-WA who took the music world by storm with the mega hit “Habib Galbi.” Her performance is paired with a 1920s silver Yemeni lamp that features figures of the Maccabees and is one of Di Nepi’s favorites. “I have a weakness for the Yemenite one,” she said with a laugh when pressed to choose.

Boston-based contemporary dancer, choreographer, and educator Rachel Linsky filmed her original piece at the Gardens at Elm Bank in Dover. It was inspired by American Linda Threadgill’s lithe and charming 1999 silver, bronze, and walnut lamp, “Garden of Lights.”

Singer Liora Isaac, whose parents made Aliyah from India, has an ardent following in Israel, where she highlights a unique look at Indian-Israeli culture. Her performance will be paired with a 20th century brass lamp from India.

Neta Elkayam, another wildly popular Israeli visual artist and singer of North African music, brings a Moroccan flavor to her work, complementing a silver early 20th century Moroccan lamp.

The American Ladino singer and composer, Sarah Aroeste, will add to the evening with her feminist Ladino rock. An elegant 17th century bronze lamp has been chosen to join her.

Rounding out the Hanukkah lamp selections are a charming 1960 silver American piece (Di Nepi will interview Massachusetts-based jeweler and metalsmith Cynthia Eid) and an ornate 1750 silver German lamp that is embellished with elaborate Rococo ornaments that support figures of Judith and David, two Jewish biblical heroes.

American Mizrachi belly dancer Jackie Barzvi’s performance accompanies the lamp.

“This lamp reflects the [artistic] language of the time,” Di Nepi explained. “In Germany, that language was Rococo, with its distinctive and precise motifs. Jewish materials spoke that local artistic language, too.”

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