JMM Insights: Continuing the Conversation with our Curator-In-Residence

Recently, JMM was thrilled to introduce Liora Ostroff as the Curator-in-Residence who is currently collaborating with JMM to coordinate projects and programs that foster discourse, build empathy towards different communities, and encourage community participation. (You can read our previous interview with Liora here.)

In this JMM Insights, we virtually sat down with Liora and Executive Director Sol Davis to discuss Liora’s project A Fence Around the Torah: Safety and Unsafety in Jewish Life. This project addresses safety, security, and exclusion in Jewish communities through community-responsive programming and the creation of an arts-based exhibit.

Your project is called A Fence Around the Torah: Safety and Unsafety in Jewish Life. Can you share how you arrived at that title? 

LIORA: This conversation about safety and unsafety is happening across communities, and rather take it as it is and apply it to Jewish life, I want to really re-frame it and root it in Jewish life and Jewish thought.

A Fence Around the Torah comes from the very first line of Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of our Forefathers.” Jewish law and practices—the fence—define the bounds of Jewish life and preserve the Torah—and the core values and ethics of Judaism. What do Jewish ethics and text tell us about safety practices, exclusion, physical and emotional danger, and our relationship with the community around us? I consider the title to be a reminder to turn back to Jewish tradition and ethics for answers that go beyond the framework that has been offered up by Jewish Institutions thus far.

How does this project relate to JMM’s mission, vision, and values? Why is it important for JMM to be a platform that holds space for this project?

SOL: The JMM’s mission statement begins with connecting people to Jewish experiences and ends with imagining a better future. This project aims to create a platform that connects the full spectrum of Jewish perspectives and experiences with one another. It is an ambitious and perhaps impossible task, but that is what we are setting out to do. It is a vital task that I believe museums are uniquely positioned to undertake. As the community conversations and the exhibit that grow from this project are sure to show, there is not a monolithic Jewish experience.

A Fence Around the Torah will bring the diversity of people, perspectives, and communities within Jewish life into conversation about critical issues related to our communal safety and well-being. This is a project that seeks to receive the input and wisdom of the community and share it with the public rather than present institutional knowledge to the public. Jewish museums across the United States are grappling with ways to diversify their exhibits, programs, and collections to be more fully representative of the multitudes that exist within Jewish life.

Participatory projects such as A Fence Around the Torah serve to advance these efforts. By creating a space for Jewish people to be in dialogue with one another around their concerns about and experiences of safety and unsafety, we will not only imagine but begin to build a better future together. 

Part of your project is curating an exhibit of artwork from artists, musical performers, cultural innovators, and poets responding to questions, for example, “How do we imagine Jewish futures, safety, and solidarity?” and “How do excluded voices make space for themselves?” Why do you think artistic responses to these questions are important for this project?

LIORA: Artists can be prophetic: they make it possible to imagine a different and liberated future. Art can be challenging, subtle, direct, or ambiguous. We don’t have to confine our work or imagination to what feels presently realistic or palatable.

The greater Jewish community is continuously putting forth narratives about who we (collectively) are and where we (collectively) are going. Whoever has historically been excluded from that narrative or alienated from the collective culture might find themselves represented in the work driven by artists who answer those questions.

Sol, Last time we asked Liora what she hoped people would take away from this project. This time, we would love to hear your thoughts. What do you hope people will take away from this project? 

SOL: I hope that people will come to the project with an openness to learn about experiences within Jewish life that differ from their own and a willingness to listen to and reflect on a broad range of expressions about Jewish life and subjectivities in this community and in this country today. The project is certain to expand our conversations and frameworks for thinking about safety beyond physical security, to include emotional harm, moral injury, symbolic violence and more. I hope that people take away ideas and inspirations for how we can better uplift and care for one another, strengthen our Jewish communities, and build a more just and joyous future.

Do you have a question for Liora about her residency, the inspiration for this project, or her own art practice? Please ask your questions in the comments section below.

Call for Submissions:

Curated by JMM’s Curator-in-Residence Liora Ostroff in partnership with a panel of community members, JMM invites submissions of artwork for its upcoming exhibit, A Fence Around the Torah: Safety and Unsafety in Jewish Life, an artist-curated exhibit exploring safety and exclusion in Jewish communities on display in JMM’s Samson, Rossetta and Sadie B. Feldman Gallery.

Access the call for submissions here. 

Upcoming Program:

Register here.

Back to Maracanã
Thursday, September 2, 2021 at 8:30 PM Eastern

Enjoy a film under the stars at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC’s outdoor drive-in entertainment venue. 

On September 2nd, catch a screening of the 2019 film, Back to Maracanã. Three generations of fathers and sons embark on a spontaneous trip from Israel to Brazil for the World Cup in this heartwarming Israeli-Brazilian family drama. 

Purchase tickets here.

Reminder: Executive Director Sol Davis is holding weekly office hours to meet you! Make an appointment for a virtual visit and share your thoughts, ideas, and aspirations for JMM.
Click to schedule an appointment now!

Esther’s Place Online:
Rosh Hashanah Bundle

Ahead of Rosh Hashanah, check out this month’s shop bundle available exclusively through Esther’s Place online.

Remember – JMM members can receive their 10% discount by adding promo code Member at checkout. 

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