L'dor Vador: Legacy and Responsibility, From Generation to Generation

Media contact:  Suzanne Silitch, Associate Director of Communications for the Arts; 413-597-3178; suzanne.silitch@williams.edu

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., April 5, 2011 – The Jewish Religious Center (The JRC) and the Chapin Library at Williams College are pleased to present L’dor Vador: Legacy and Responsibility, From Generation to Generation, a small but rare collection of Jewish artist books that are now on view through the end of May. The exhibition features six finely bound volumes lent from the collection of Sigmund R. Balka, Class of 1956, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of The JRC at Williams. The exhibition is free and open to the public, however, visitors are advised to call ahead to confirm their visit: (413) 597-2061 or (413) 597-2483.

All of the artist books in this exhibition emphasize the theme of “generation to generation.” Curator Robert Volz, Custodian of the Chapin Library at Williams College, says, “I selected items from Mr. Balka’s collection that strongly reflected this theme because I wanted to emphasize the passing of the Jewish tradition from Mr. Balka, a member of Williams Class of 1956, to students enrolled at the college in 2011.”

Aron-Hakodesh (The Holy Ark): Jewish Life and Lore by Saul Raskin (New York: 1955) contains over 150 vigorous images interspersed with captions and descriptive notes in Yiddish and English that pictorially trace the life of a boy named Moishele. Viewers can follow Moishele’s experiences from Bar Mitzvah to marriage, Sabbath to Purim, and a host of games, jokes, and folklore. At the end, his own children must be taught and in his old age, his children’s children. The final pages tell of Israel and the Promised Land.

Minha l’Shabbat v’ Havdalah: An Offering for Shabbat Afternoon and Havdalah. (New York: Compiled by Rabbi Malcolm Thomson, for private distribution, 1972) contains artwork by Elbert Weinberg, Lothar Frank, Natvar Bahvsar, Leonard Baskin, Red Grooms, and Alex Katz. The portfolio, covered in Indian Tassar silk, has prayers printed in Hebrew and texts in English. Only 108 copies were distributed on the occasion of Deborah Levinson’s Bat Mitzvah on November 18, 1972.

Ira Moskowitz (1912–1985), an artist of Polish-Jewish heritage, made religious tradition and ritual the subject of many of his print series. He worked closely with the noted novelist, Isaac Bashevis Singer (also from Poland) on several works about Eastern European Jewish life. In this way, both Moskowitz and Singer have passed to later generations the lessons of their boyhood and young adult experiences. This is magnificently represented in the deluxe book, Satan In Goray, by Isaac Bashevis Singer; etchings and drawings by Ira Moskowitz (published in New York, 1981.) The edition on display is one of 50 special copies signed by the author and artist, bound in full maroon morocco.

Accorded the place of honor in the exhibition is The Song of Solomon, with colored plates by Ze’ev Raban.  (Jerusalem: The Song of Songs Publishing Company, 1930.) The volume, bound in full dark brown leather and elaborately embossed, is presented in Hebrew calligraphy, with a decorative border and English translation printed letterpress. The book is dedicated by Ze’ev Raban, in the spirit of student to professor, to the venerable Boris Schatz, founder and manager of the “Bezalel” Arts and Crafts School in Jerusalem. In its first decades, which began in 1903, “Bezalel” was known for its adaptation of art nouveau with traditional Persian and Syrian art, creating a “Hebrew” style for the arts and crafts practiced in the anticipated Zionist state where other civilizations and cultures had lived immediately beforehand. Two other displayed volumes from Mr. Balka’s collection feature prints by internationally renowned artists Marc Chagall and Sir Jacob Epstein.

The Jewish Religious Center
More popularly called “The JRC,” this building of unique architecture serves as temple, meeting hall, library, and kitchen for the functions of the Williams College Jewish Association Weekly Shabbat dinner and services are held on Friday nights. The Jewish Religious Center is a place for the Jewish community at Williams College to come together for religious observances and social events. It is located on Stetson Court (across the street from the Admissions office). Although we welcome members of the greater community to our services and events, the Jewish Religious Center is a space designed to serve the needs of Jewish students at Williams College.

About the Lender
For over fifty years, Sigmund R. Balka has collected illustrated printed works that portray Jewish life so that the knowledge gained from this visual material may complement written texts describing the Jewish experience in Europe and America over the past two hundred years. Drawings, paintings, prints, and illustrated books by Jewish artists, especially those from the United States or who have found a welcoming home in the U.S., have for decades been Mr. Balka’s consuming passion.

Mr. Balka strongly believes that it is his responsibility to share these works with libraries, colleges, and museums as part of the legacy and responsibility of Tikkun Olam, or repair of the world. He believes that the value system based on L’dor Vador, or passing these values from generation to generation, is the sustaining force of the Jewish people, regardless of their denomination or secular status.

For these reasons, Mr. Balka continues to share his collection with his alma mater. Mr. Balka graduated from Williams College in 1956. He lives and works in New York City.

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