Kol HaOt Ignites Its Journey

One of the ventures nurtured during this past summer’s cohort of the PresenTense Institute was Kol HaOt, which we first introduced to you back in August. Here’s an update as they continue to move their venture forward.

On Thursday evening, February 5, Kol HaOt: The Art of Jewish Living, hosted a magical showcase event at Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sheananim. Over forty representatives of various Jewish organizations and foundations, tour operators, and friends of Kol HaOt ventured out on a wintry Jerusalem evening to experience the programming and activities of this project that is poised to transform Jewish education, the arts, Israel experiences and the Jewish world entire. As guests arrived, they located their unique nametags: matchboxes mounted to a flaming background announced to others in the room, “I am (name) and I illuminate Jewish lives through (his/her organization).” These colorfully brilliant nametags set the stage for a festive and impactful evening. Participants were then feted to a spectrum of Kol HaOt works of art on display. Yair Medina of Jerusalem Fine Art Prints and co-founder of Kol HaOt arranged works of Eliyahu Sidi, Maty Grunberg, Jonathan Kremer, Matthew Berkowitz and David Moss. These pieces gave participants a sense of the genre of “teachable art” that is at the essence of Kol HaOt.

At ten minutes to eight, the formal program began. Matthew Berkowitz, co-founder of Kol HaOt began by welcoming everyone – thanking PresenTense for their role in partial sponsorship of the evening, sharing a Dvar Torah connected to Parashat HaShavua, Parashat Yitro, and then introducing the rest of the KHO team. Matt’s words focused on the connection of Yitro to KHO. Far from being a one-dimensional experience, Revelation at Sinai is multi-sensory: symbols and sounds are woven together inspiring awe in those standing at the foot of Sinai. Interestingly, kol (voice) and kolot (voices) appears to be the milah manhah (leitwort or thematic, repeating word) of that section. Torah states “the voice of the shofar grew louder and stronger; Moses spoke and God answered him in a voice.” French commentator, B’khor Shor remarks how unusual it is for the sound of a shofar to grow louder and stronger; typically, the sound becomes weaker in proportion to the strength of the ba’al tekiah. Rather, it became stronger at Sinai. Why did it strengthen? It was the entire community of Israelites that brought the message forward into future generations; and so too with those who gathered to experience KHO – those present were and are the community that are enthusiastically “getting the word out” for KHO. Elyssa Moss Rabinowitz and Yair Medina spoke of their personal journeys to this point: Elyssa emphasized her work in her extraordinarily creative and substantive work with b’nai mitzvah and her DayAway Programs; Yair discussed working with a spectrum of artists in his studio and bringing their visions to reality. Visionary and illuminator, David Moss, then went on to speak about the precious gift with which he was blessed; his experience of over forty years of teaching in this style; and the unlimited potential of KHO.

We then jumped into an animated and moving KHO exercise designed by David Moss – exploring middot, human qualities. Each group of three was given a “quality” to work with – compassion, justice, mercy, etc. Every havruta worked through their folder of quality, poetry and art . . . first discussing the human quality; then responding to moving poetic piece; and finally turning to an artistic representation of their particular characteristic. Conversations were animated and engaging – the sparks were flying in the room. Three representatives were chosen from among the fourteen or so groups: Yaakov Peterseil, Jane Epstein, and Virginia Bayer each presented their “quality” before the larger group. Their presentations engaged one and all and showed the potential for this exercise to be used as a means of building community, deepening relationships, and thinking broadly and art-fully about Torah.

From middot, we transitioned into KHO’s signature Mapping Program. This program, originally designed for the Wexner Heritage Israel Institute, introduces the idea of imaginative, non-literal mapping. Sources on the Land of Israel, poetry, midrash, pilgrim journal entries, and artistic maps of the land are woven together into a powerful audio-visual presentation exploring one’s personal connection to Israel. Over the second hour of the program, “Mapping the Journey” was presented as the audience sat – some moved to tears, others deeply engaged by the juxtaposition of word, dialogue and art. After experiencing David Moss’ “Bike Map,” which focuses on the significant places that mark his daily journey from his home in Baka to his studio in Hutzot HaYotzer, each participant was gifted with a scroll with which to begin their own mapping of their relationship to Jerusalem and Israel. Each scroll was uniquely designed with a number of cut out shapes. Guests were asked to turn to one another and discuss how they would begin to illustrate their own pilgrim journey in the Land of Israel.

The evening’s journey continued by describing each of the ten projects that we hope will be accomplished through this compelling new venture: Illuminating Experiences, Artists’ Circle, Visual Beit Midrash, Virtual Community, Jerusalem Cabaret, Jewish Journeys, Traveling Programs, Educating Educators, Matchmaking, and Bauhaus. The group was then solicited to help in a variety of ways: engaging KHO for programming for groups, families and smahot, networking: connecting KHO with the right people that will grow this vision, and funding: actively looking for funders and investors that resonate with the KHO vision.

The evening was a resounding success on many different levels. Kol HaOt is poised to make its mark on a Jewish world thirsting for its creative and animated programming.