DCJCC Preschool Provides a Reggio Response to Miriam Mörsel Nathan’s Exhibit

My name is Mandy Sheffer and I am the atelierista at the Washington DCJCC Preschool. Atelierista is an Italian word that translates to studio specialist in English. In simpler terms, I am the school’s art teacher. We are a Reggio-inspired preschool, meaning we follow the Reggio Emilia teaching philosophy. Every week each of the seven classes in our school has a one-hour studio session with me in our art studio. This time is a chance for the children to talk, explore, learn and create artworks and projects that are meaningful to them, while at the same time learning new art techniques and becoming familiar with different art styles and artists.

Being a preschool within a community center, we are very fortunate to have access to some amazing resources, including the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery. As part of our most recent studios, each class visited the gallery and explored Miriam Mörsel Nathan’s exhibit ‘Memory of a time I did not know…’. The exhibition is described as follows:

“Working from pre-World War II photographs, Mörsel Nathan searches for details of family members, most of whom she has known only through photographs and stories. In working with these images, she creates hauntingly beautiful and provocative works.

By piecing together fragments of information collected from family documents, notes on photographs and oral histories, Mörsel Nathan’s work reveals an elusive story of personal history and ascribed memory, acknowledging what she does not know about the people in these images.”

This is how I explained the exhibit to our preschoolers:

“Miriam, the artist who created the pictures in the gallery, has a family just like you and me. Some of her family she has never met before. They lived far away, long ago and the only way she knew about them was from a box full of old photos. The photos were so old that they were black and white; there was no color at all. She loved to look at the photos and because she didn’t know anything about the people in the pictures, she loved to make up stories about them.

Some of her favorite photos were of her Aunty Greta. Aunty Greta wore lots of different clothes in the pictures, but because the photos were black and white, Miriam didn’t know what color they were. She liked to try and imagine what color Aunty Greta’s dress might have been, or the color of the jumpsuit she was wearing. She decided to paint some pictures of the dress and jumpsuit to help her imagine their color.

She also loved to look at pictures of her Uncle Josef at his wedding, surrounded by his family and friends. Because she didn’t get to go to the wedding she didn’t know the whole story, she didn’t know what happened at ‘the party’. So she decided to imagine and try and guess what happened. She also created artworks using the pictures of his wedding to try to help tell the story.”

The children really connected with the exhibit. There was a lot of continued conversation about the artworks, Aunty Greta and Uncle Josef began to pop up in the children’s play and lots of the children wanted to know more about Miriam. The children also began taking their parents to visit the gallery. To build on this interest we continued our gallery-inspired studio work. Over the following four weeks, each class created artworks inspired by the exhibition – visiting the gallery frequently throughout the weeks for inspiration and to gain new insights. Because we are Reggio-inspired, we wanted to stay true to the approach throughout the process. Having the children guide the direction of the artwork is one way and documentation throughout the process is another.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Throughout the creation process, we utilized a range of documentation methods to make the process more meaningful and to highlight the learning that has happened throughout, including written, photographic, audio and video observations. Each class created their own binder, which told their individual journey through written and photographic observations as well as work samples. These were presented alongside the artworks.

Below is a summary of each class’s artwork:

DAGIM (2 year old’s): The Dagim’s artwork was inspired by the Aunt Greta series and focuses on each individual child and their favorite color. One-by-one each child laid down on a large sheet of white butchers paper and was traced around to create a silhouette of their body. They then chose a color to represent them. For example Oliver said “Aunty Greta is blue. I am red.” We painted our silhouettes using the color that each child chose to represent themselves. We used watercolor paint and brushes for the base color and then squeezed and flicked tempera paint in squeeze bottles over the top of the watercolor.

PEELIM (2 1/2 year old’s): The Peelim’s artwork was inspired by the Aunt Greta series and focuses on each individual child and the colorful clothing that they wear to school. We visited the gallery again in small groups and looked at Miriam’s repetitive artworks of Aunty Greta’s jumpsuit. We talked about all the different colors we saw and each child chose what color they thought her jumpsuit really was. We looked at our own clothes that we wear to preschool and talked about what every child was wearing and what color their clothes were. We then headed up to the fourth floor photocopier and took it in turns to photocopy the shirt we were wearing at school that day (reminiscent of the simple black and white images of Aunty Greta’s jumpsuit that Miriam created). I also photocopied an assortment of the children’s spare clothes (namely pants and socks). We used watercolor paper for the copies. We built onto this work by adding color to our photocopies using watercolor paints and small brushes. They finished their art pieces by organizing and gluing their water colored clothing into one piece on a large sheet of paper.

RIMONIM (2 3/4 year old’s): The Rimonim’s artwork is inspired by the Aunt Greta series and focuses on portraiture – what Aunty Greta’s face looked like. This class was intrigued by the fact that Miriam hadn’t painted a face on the Aunty Greta silhouettes and we talked a lot about what we thought her face might have looked like. We started our artworks by painting Aunty Greta’s skin – we used large white paper and mixed an assortment of skin-toned tempera paints using different sponges. Next, we shaped Aunty Greta’s head and added the detail to her face. The children’s faces were photographed and their eyes, nose and mouth were cut from their pictures and mixed up together. We drew large circles on the back of our skin-toned paper to represent her head and then cut them out. Using the cutouts of their faces, the children glued and collaged on eyes, noses and mouths. Last, we mounted our faces onto large sheets of watercolor paper and added hair using black markers and watercolor paint. The end results were quite abstract and striking!

KOFIM (3 year old’s): The Kofim’s artwork is inspired by the Uncle Josef series and focuses on memories and storytelling. The Kofim spent a lot of time looking at the Uncle Josef wedding photos. We brainstormed all the things that we thought might have happened at Uncle Josef’s wedding and then individually each child talked in more detail about a specific story they thought took place at the wedding. Next, we created small ink drawings (reminiscent to photographs) to compliment the stories we told in the previous week. These were then combined into a wedding album for Uncle Josef.

SIPORIM (3 year old’s): The Siporim’s artwork is inspired by the Uncle Josef series and focuses on clothing, perspective and storytelling. This class spent a lot of time studying the group photo of Uncle Josef’s wedding. We talked about the clothes that they were wearing and how they were posed. We decided that at weddings you have to dress fancy and at Uncle Josef’s wedding you had to wear a hat. For our artwork we decided to get fancy and go to Uncle Josef’s wedding too. Choosing from a large array of fancy dress-up clothes, shoes and accessories to get dressed in, the children could wear anything they wanted, but they had to make sure they had a hat. Once dressed and looking fabulous, each child took turns to stand against a white backdrop to pose for a picture in black and white, of their front and their back. Once printed we added our own color using colored pencils and then arranged these pictures to resemble the group photo from Uncle Josef’s wedding.

TUTTIM (late 3’s, early 4 year old’s): The Tuttim’s artwork is inspired by the slideshow from the Uncle Josef series and focuses on family, memories and storytelling. Each child brought in an old photo of their families taken before they were born, and in turn told a story about what they thought was happening in in. These were recorded using an audio recorder and combined in iDVD (Apple video-editing software) to create a slideshow of memories. We also talked as a group about our school family. We talked about all the people who make up our school family and together explored each floor of the building to see what school family members we could meet. We took with us an audio recorder, a camera and a list of questions the children had written to ask the people that we met. These recording and photos were also used in our slideshow. The Tuttim were also in charge of creating invitations for the exhibition, creating the menu for the night (pickles, ice-cream, popsicles, bread and apple juice) and curating the artwork.

YAELIM (pre-K): The Yaelim artwork is inspired by the veiled images in the Uncle Josef series and focuses on family, memories and storytelling. Each child brought in an old wedding photo from home (of their parents, grandparents etc) and created stories about the images. The photographs were then copied black and white and the children added their own colors using colored pencils. We also created wedding veils using embroidery circles, white netting, large needles and pastel colored embroidery thread. The children created abstract designs with their thread and added in beaded details. The culmination of the artwork was combining all pieces together into a frame to create veiled memories like Miriam did.

To showcase the children’s incredible work, and to give a fitting end to the culmination of this project, we decided to create our own gallery in the preschool lobby (aptly named The Preschool Lobby Gallery) where we could exhibit our work. November 10th was our opening night and naturally we threw a party for our families and our JCC family to come and see the work. The Tuttim class were our ‘mover’s and shaker’s’ and helped to plan and coordinate the opening night. They set the menu (pickles, ice-cream, popsicles, bread and apple juice), curated the artworks, packed away the school library from the lobby and made sure that all JCC staff were reminded of the event.

On opening night we drew a huge crowd of JCC staff, families, friends and most specially the artist herself, Miriam! The children (and teachers) were so proud at what they had achieved and we were all honored and excited to have Miriam join us. Some found themselves tongue-tied when they got to meet her, while other children grabbed her hand and took her to look and talk about the artworks they had created.

Miriam’s art has been incredibly inspirational for all the children and teachers, acting as a catalyst for strengthened relationships within the school, the centre and with our children’s families. Aunty Greta and Uncle Josef have become so important to all of us that they will never be forgotten – they are part of our families now too!

Faith and Environmental Concerns

In Genesis 1:28, God tells Adam and Eve that they shall fill the earth in numbers and subdue it, ruling over all the living creatures in the sea, sky, and ground. But what God meant by granting this sanctified dominion is up to heavy debate and has been at the center of many contemporary political, ethical, and environmental discussions since the Scientific Revolution. With the advent of modern technological and mechanistic innovation, our ability as humans to use the earth’s resources has expanded exponentially and people of faith have been wondering – is this what God really wanted?

The discussion, in its most simple form, boils down to a question of an open-use policy versus stewardship. Some people argue that God gave us Earth and everything on it to use at our discretion and for our sole benefit. The earth is our God-given kingdom, they state, and we can use all of it as we see fit. Others, however, believe that God gave us this planet as a gift – something to cherish, care for, and steward in a way that preserves its resources and beauty for future generations, indefinitely. This question of whether God gave us the right to plunder or the duty to protect was the topic of a panel discussion hosted by the Humanities Council of DC last week. As a part of their World House Series, the council hosted an event called “A Moral Dilemma: is going green a choice between right and wrong?” The event included four speakers, all of whom are both active in their faith communities as well as in the environmental movement. One speaker was a Christian and an urban gardener, another a Jewish professional trying to “green” the Jewish community, another a young Muslim woman working on environmental policy, and the last a former chair of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington who also holds an executive position within the energy and climate division of the United Nations. The resounding answer to the question posed above, as answered by the four panelists, was that we as a human community, and especially communities of faith, are not treating the planet or it’s creatures in a way that God (or our respective deities) would approve of. All four professionals came out in favor of stewardship, with some very interesting arguments and ideas about how to move forward.

 One panelist argued that in an age of Globalism, with national borders becoming increasingly fluid thanks to economic and technological integration, people across the globe need to admit that the world is too small of a place to pretend that we are all still existing separately. We live in one community now, he argued, and it is time for societies all over the world to start engaging in real dialogues about how our use of environmental resources is going to harm our neighbors in this global village. Other panelists argued this point as well, noting that in many religions we are asked by the powers-at-be to put our neighbors and our family first. If we continue to do things like clear wetlands that lead to events like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, are we really doing our jobs?

 The Jewish panelist, Josh, said something very similar. He mentioned that some of the main ideas behind keeping Shabbat and keeping kosher have to do with giving everyone and everything, including the people we employ and the land itself, some time off. The Jewish people, he said, are a people that like to be challenged and that enjoy intellectual debate; we spent centuries extrapolating teachings in the Torah and other scripture to include modern issues like electricity and labor laws – it’s time for us to use that same logic to include the environment in our community ethic (the essay “A Land Ethic,” by Aldo Leopold, makes great arguments for this type of thinking). God’s call to protect and care for our neighbors means that today, we need to pay close attention to the aggregate effect of our individual actions; driving to work everyday when you could be taking public transportation isn’t holding a gun to someone’s head, Josh said, but millions of people ignoring environmental issues are threatening the lives of billions of others. When fresh-water resources run scarce, the United Nations executive stated as an example, we get conflicts like those in Darfur. As faith-based communities, we have a mandated responsibility to act preventatively when it comes to issues of both environmental and social injustices.

 While each panelist had slightly different reasons for evoking a call for environmental protection from their separate religious groups, they all agreed that communities of faith should be addressing environmental concerns in the same way that so many of these communities address hunger, homelessness, and general prejudices. When it comes down to it, one panelist argued, connecting one’s personal values and one’s religious values should not be a personal struggle. As issues of social justice become more complex, he argued, we should be actively creating space for dialogue around how we can incorporate these new issues, like caring for the environment, into our evolving religious ethics.

 To learn more about environmentalism and Judaism, take a look at some of the following organizations: Hazon, Adamah, and Wilderness Torah

Remembering Yitzhak Rabin z”l

On November 2, 2010 the Embassy of Israel held its official public observance of the 15th anniversary of the death of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the 16th Street J with a screening of Rabin: Shivah in November. Prior to the film Dan Arbell, the Deputy Chief of Mission for the Embassy delivered these remarks.

Yitzhak RabinThank you all for coming tonight to this memorial. Every year since Rabin’s untimely death, we have held a service in his honor at our Embassy. For me, it has always been a very personal experience commemorating a profound loss that I thought of as uniquely Israeli.  Rabin’s death was an isolating experience – one I felt we should share internally among our citizens. However, I have come to understand that this tragedy was not solely ours. I realize that it was a loss for the Jewish people, as a whole. So, I want to thank the Washington, DC JCC Film program for this night – it is comforting to come together as a community and mourn our collective loss. If you would, please join me for a minute of silence in honor of the late Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. 


For as long as I can remember, Rabin was a national figure for the Israeli people. Even in my childhood, I recall singing songs about his achievements, and he was looked up to by virtually everyone. As I progressed in my career, I had the opportunity to meet and work alongside him on many occasions. I feel fortunate to have many memories of this much revered man, but one stands out in my mind. It was 15 years ago and we were in the Rotunda room of the Capitol building here in Washington, DC. It was a Conference of Presidents event to commemorate 3000 years of Jerusalem as our capital. I remember singing the Hatikva –in the US capitol. The weight of this moment was not lost on me.

As an Israeli and as a Jew, to sing a song of our hope – our national anthem – here in the midst of the most powerful country on earth was overwhelming there are no words to describe the inspiration I felt. Rabin was there – the previous months and days prior to this, he had been through a series of what I am sure were soul searching meetings in Israel’s new hope – our hope for peace.

9 days later, the country was stunned. The shock was palpable around the world. Here in America, people remember where they were when Kennedy was shot. Israelis remember where they were when Rabin was shot. In fact, I was watching a film that to this day, I have not been able to bring myself to watch the ending of.

For those who did not know him, it is important to understand that he was not an ordinary man. The first Prime Minister of Israel to actually be born in our homeland, he was known as “Mr. Security”. With an illustrious career, he served as a general, the Chief of Staff for the IDF, Ambassador to the US, Minister of Defense, and was elected twice as our Prime Minister.  He embodied the ideal of ultimate Sabra – the ultimate Israeli. Despite being shy, he knew how to get down to business and get things done. Truly an introvert, he felt a tremendous duty to civic service.  The eloquence of his approach was his steadfast and unrelenting protection of Israel, combined with a humane gentleness, which he carried with him always. He felt deeply and never took his responsibilities lightly. He carried a heavy heart, which anyone who came into contact with him could openly see.  His blend of strength of purpose and optimism was epitomized in a speech he made to Congress following the peace agreement signed with Jordan, he stated,  “I, Military ID # 30743, Retired General in the Israeli Defense Forces, consider myself to be a soldier in the army of peace… Today we are embarking on a battle which has no dead and no wounded, no blood and no anguish. This is the only battle which is a pleasure to wage: the battle of peace.” This was a profound statement that touched me deeply and I recall the standing ovation he received that strengthened my own resolve to work on Israel’s behalf.

In Israel, we still have not come to terms with Rabin’s assassination. To have him killed by one of our own is a wound that 15 years later is still open. But, if Rabin leaves us with anything, he leaves us with the most unlikely of thoughts. He leaves us with Tikva – hope — his courage – the courage to try a different path. To try to work with your enemy because the price of defending against them seems too high – the sacrifice too great — is an act of great courage, befitting such a great man.

In 1993, as Rabin signed the Oslo Declaration of Principles, he reinforced his optimism, “Enough of blood and tears. Enough. We are today giving peace a chance.” In fact, I will never forget the tense moment when it came time for Rabin to shake hands with Arafat on the White House lawn. I could see his contemplation, and indeed, Rabin hesitated, but shook his hand, committing himself to the principles he was indeed signing. A moment later, the applause was deafening. Even if he was unsure that this was the answer, he had the strength to explore this alternate route. And sometimes in vulnerability, there is strength.

Rabin’s life-long dedication to Israel created a trust in him that enabled Israelis to have the courage to pursue a more challenging path.  He came to believe that the way to defeat war was peace. What Rabin searched for in his life, we continue to seek to this day… Israel’s ultimate and long lasting peace and security, and for that we have Tikva.

Blessed be his memory…

%d bloggers like this: