by Rose Kleiner
With the start of the New Year the Jewish calendar transports our collective memory, as far back as 2 millennia. The calendar’s listings of Torah readings, and Haftarah readings, for Shabbat, and for the feast and fast days throughout the year, all take us back to the history and spiritual roots of our people.
The practice of decorating the calendars with beautiful illustrations, reflecting the culture of our people, give the Jewish calendar an esthetic dimension, that is enjoyed throughout the year.
Two charming wall calendars come from Pomegranate publishers this year. Their Jewish Museum Calendar 2015 features images of works from New York’s Jewish Museum. Their Jewish Celebrations calendar is decorated with the paintings by artist Malcah Zeldis.
Almost every one of the lovely illustrations of the Jewish Museum Calendar depicts works that were created during the 20th century. These works originate in different parts of the world, but all express a connection to Jewish memory and tradition.
Rafael Soyer’s Dancing Lesson (1920) portrays the older, immigrant generation, watching a young couple practice their dancing steps, movements that will help their integration into their new land. Going back, in that same calendar, to the early part of the 20th century, there is the elegant depiction of High Tea in the Sukkah (1906) by British artist Solomon Joseph Solomon.
Austrian artist, Isidore Kaufmann’s Friday Evening (c. 1920) is a nostalgic look at tradition which reflects very much l9th century Jewish religious life.
The calendar also contains several modernistic works, which speak of the Jewish experience even in our own day. Although created in 1928, Israeli artist, Reuven Rubin’s minimalist oil on canvas, Goldfish Vendor, appeals very much to today’s generation as well. The same is true for the colorful Esther Scroll, by Israeli artist, Yaakov Agam (1980).
Pomegranate’s second wall calendar, Jewish Celebrations, illustrated with paintings by Malcah Zeldis, is replete with cheerful pictures of many different Jewish observances, and customs, throughout the year. Aside from scenes of holiday celebrations, such as Shavuot or Pesach, there are pictures of such rituals as Shalachmones (gifts to friends, and the poor, brought on Purim) or of Havdalah (the ceremony at the end of the Sabbath).
Each of the illustrations is accompanied by an explanation of the tradition depicted, tracing the tie between the spiritual and the domestic that is such an integral part of Judaism.
From Universe Publishing come both a wall, and desk, calendar, all richly illustrated with images from the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam (for the wall), and the Jewish Museum in New York (for the desk).
The variety of beautiful, historical items shown in these two calendars makes for a mini catalogue of precious Judaica.
The objects portrayed in the wall calendar span several centuries, and come from countries far and wide. There is the silk and cotton tapestry (early 20th century), from Persia, decorated with the Ten Commandments, and with other Torah quotes.
A silver collection plate, from the Netherlands, dates back to the end of the 16th century. A gouache by Charlotte Salomon, titled Life? Or Theatre?, dates from l940-2, France. A stunning l8th century Omer Calendar, of wood, parchment, ink and metal, reflects the creative energy of the Netherlands Jewish artistic world.
An 1850 ceramic and enamel Seder Plate, from France, has each of the Hebrew terms printed with a French translation underneath.
Another most interesting item from the Jewish Historical Museum of Amsterdam, illustrated in this calendar, is a Mizrach wall plaque from Prague, dated about the last half of the 19th century. This Mizrach contains various Torah passages, all translated into German.
The Universe Jewish Calendar for the desk has images of a veritable treasure trove of fascinating art works. Each week on this calendar brings new objects to delight us. The countries of origin and the broad range of dates, when these objects were created, give us a compelling panorama of Jewish history.
There is the gilt silver Etrog Container, from Augsburg, Germany, dating from the 1670’s. Most charming are the items associated with a Jewish marriage, such as the cheerfully decorated Marriage Plate, from Delft, Netherlands (l8th century).
A Marriage Dress, from the Ottoman Empire (later 19th century), has an absolute regal air about it, with its velvet background and gilt metallic thread embroidery. A woman’s Marriage Hat, embroidered with gold thread, comes from 19th century Algeria.
Two marriage contracts, about three centuries apart, are each a treat for the eyes. The Marriage Contract from Hamburg, Germany (1678), is done on parchment, with ink and paint. Equally striking is the Marriage Contract by American artist Ben Shahn (1961), which was done on paper with ink, watercolor, paint, and graphite.
Among the unusual objects illustrated in this calendar is a copper Hand washing Vessel, in the shape of an animal, dating back to the late 12th century, in Northern Germany. At the other extreme is an illustration of an ultra-modern Hand Washing Vessel, by Israeli artist, Arie Ofir, made of silver and copper.
The most important part of this desk calendar is its excellent, succinct, ‘flow chart’, summarizing all Jewish holidays, feast days, fast days, and other celebrations, and observances, under ten headings.
These columns cover such information as dates, Torah readings, customs, historical and seasonal significance, and the mood and theme of the occasions being observed. For today’s busy households, this guide can be most welcome.
Another significant Jewish calendar, supposedly for the younger set, can be equally appealing to the young at heart of every age. My Very Own Jewish Calendar, by Kar-Ben Publishing, provides an opportunity to learn, to think, to reflect, and to get involved with one’s Jewish heritage, within the context of the broader world in which we live.
This is done with all-new facts each year, anecdotes, stories, trivia, recipes and various suggested activities, connected to the relevant month on the calendar, where the entries are found.
For example, on the September page, the month of Rosh Hashanah, there is an entry on Getting Ready, for the New Year. It speaks of the daily shofar blowing at the morning service, of the Selichot services, and of the practice of wishing each other a Happy New year, from the start of the month of Elul. This page also has an entry on the meaning of Labor Day, and the Jewish contribution to bettering the lives of workers.
Each calendar page contains a very easy recipe, that parents, as much as their youngsters, will find useful.
For Sukkot the calendar explains the prayer for rain, and the three kinds of rain that we pray for (giving the Hebrew terms for each, and their meaning).
The calendar cites, in its entry on blessings, Maimonides’ comments on the three types of blessings in Jewish life – blessings of enjoyment (before eating food), blessings before doing a mitzvah (lighting candles, etc.), and blessings of praise and gratitude (when putting on new clothes, seeing a rainbow, or being in the presence of a king).
With regard to the latter, we learn that when Israeli writer S.Y. Agnon won the Nobel Prize, he recited the appropriate blessing, in the presence of the king of Sweden.
Another entry tells us that the original headquarters of the Girl Scouts of America. was located a few blocks from the third oldest synagogue in the U.S., in Savannah, Georgia. That synagogue was home to three of the first five Girl Scout Troop leaders.
Another Jewish contribution to life on the continent, recalled by this calendar, is the invention of the crock pot, created by an engineer, who remembered his Bubbe making cholent in Lithuania, and having to carry it to the town’s bakery, to cook it overnight.
The calendar also presents, to simplify life, and kosher living in particular, the mini-kitchen, which is hidden away in an armoire, and contains a refrigerator, oven, dishwasher, and storage space for holiday foods. Thanks to this new product, next Pesach, instead of changing dishes, one can just change kitchens.
A lesson in geography is provided by an entry about the Jews of Alaska. They number about 6,000, refer to themselves as the Frozen Chosen, and live mostly in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau.
In l939 President Roosevelt’s Interior Secretary proposed that Europe’s Jewish refugees be resettled in Alaska, where they could bypass the usual immigration quotas. If only some action had been taken.
This calendar gives candle lighting times for major North American cities, including Montreal and Toronto.