As an educator, Carolyn Manosevitz often combines the world of spirituality with art. The following article was published in ARTS: the Arts in Religious and Theological Studies.
SPIRITUALITY and the HOLOCAUST and the ARTS, SPIRITUALITY and the HOLOCAUST are two courses that Manosevitz teaches at Christian seminaries. The format for these M. Div. Classes is often a summer school or inter-session intensive 3-4 day to one or two week seminar. In this course, Manosevitz addresses the element of faith both for Christians and Jews in the shadow of the Holocaust. Often the most honest portrayal of an event is communicated via artistic expression. Thus, Manosevitz incorporates the arts into curricula for these courses.
Elements of spirituality and nature are woven into Manosevitz's studio classes. Painting, drawing and mixed media collage are a few of the courses taught through the Manosevitz Studio.
In her efforts to keep the memory of the Shoah* alive, Manosevitz lectures widely on the 'aftermath' of that event. How has it affected people of faith? How has it affected children of survivors? What about the response of th e Church; the Jewish community? What is the role of memory after the Shoah. How does memory both collective and individual affect one's faith?
Shoah: Hebrew word meaning 'catastrophe', term currently used by scholars to describe Hitler's Final Solution.
Arts THE ARTS IN RELIGIOUS AND THEOLOGICAL STUDIES
I N T H E S T U D I O
A Search for Healing
by Carolyn Manosevitz
Carolyn Manosevitz was born and raised in Winnipeg, Canada. She received a BA cum laude from the University of Minnesota and MFA from the University of Texas. She has taught at the University of Texas, Southwest Texas State University, Austin Community College, and St. Edward's University. She now teaches at Colorado Mountain College and is also a visiting lecturer at the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary where she teaches a course on spirituality and the Holocaust. She is also a facilitator for "The March of Remembrance and Hope" - a mission that takes Christian seminary students from all over the world to Poland and Israel.
Author's note: The word "Holocaust" derives from a Greek word meaning 'burnt offering,' which seems to give the event a religious significance. There was nothing religious about Hitler's "Final Solution." Therefore, I prefer to use the Hebrew word 'Shoah,' meaning catastrophe. This term is used by modern scholars in reference to that event.
As a visual artist, I have backed into the world of theology. For several years, my art has been inspired by conversations I have had with 'the second generation': children of Holocaust survivors. In 1995, I exhibited my art at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas. Whenever I would have a show of this work, I always insisted on lecturing about what it means to be a child of Holocaust survivors. My qualifications include the many conversations I have had with the second generation from California to New York, Canada and Israel.
That day at Austin Seminary, I found myself in the chapel. There I was, a child of Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine to Canada, in a Christian sanctuary, addressing a sea of Christian faces. Growing up in Canada, I was taught that those people were my enemies. On my way to school every day, I would cross to the other side of the street so I would not have to walk in front of the church.
However, these people seated in front of me in the chapel seemed to be the antithesis of 'the enemy.' Their responses to my lecture were of compassion and understanding. As I spoke, I kept visualizing my father standing at the back of the sanctuary. How proud he would have been. And how shocked he would have been at the welcoming response from my audience.
Technically, my father was not a Holocaust survivor. After all, he spent the war years safe in Canada, having immigrated in the early part of the 20th century. However, he came from a very large extended family. He was the youngest in a family of twelve children. By the late thirties, when all of his remaining siblings wanted to come, Canada had closed its doors. Although he had desperately tried to obtain visas for them, none were forthcoming. They were all murdered in the Shoah.
The Shoah was never talked about in our household. Nevertheless, I had invisible faces to go with the Yiddish names that I heard daily. I did not ask any questions. I was too scared. I do remember being told by my mother that everyone was 'rounded up' at the railway station and shot. In the archives of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I discovered that, as was the case in so many other towns in the Ukraine, all the Jews in Kremenets were trucked to an open field, forced to dig their own graves, and were shot into them by their Ukranian neighbors who collaborated with the Nazis.
In addition to being too scared to ask questions as a child, I was also too frightened to read any literature or view any films pertaining to the Shoah. The very word "Holocaust" terrified me. I never realized how profoundly affected my family was by the Shoah.
On January 2, 1992, my oldest son boarded a plane to live in Berlin with a girl whose father had been a Nazi. Long before, I had vowed never to set foot on German soil. That day (one of the most painful in my life), I found myself in my studio struggling to deal with my pain. I began a painting of an empty swing. All I could think about were all the people who died in the Shoah, who are not here to swing on the swings, walk in the parks, and so forth. I completed the painting in about a week. Then I began searching for children of Holocaust survivors.
My series called picking up the pieces: the second generation and beyond is the body of work that was exhibited at Austin Seminary. I learned much about the second generation in preparation for the execution of this work. Children of survivors are deeply affected by their parents' experiences. Shortly after beginning to exhibit this work, I found that comments from my viewers made me very much aware of the similarities between children of Holocaust survivors and those of alcoholics as well as victims of incest and abuse. I realized that trauma is trauma. While the pain is the same, the source may be different. Having this knowledge caused the paintings to become more abstract. I wanted to create an abstract arena wherein my viewer could search for his/her own pain, identify it and thus begin to heal. I do not believe that the healing process can begin until the source of the pain is revealed.
After my show at Austin Seminary, I contacted Dean Robert Shelton and told him about the impact of his community on me. I began teaching there the spring semester of 1996. Since that time, I have been a visiting Iecturer there, teaching my course, SPIRITUALITY AND THE HOLOCAUST. This experience has changed both my life and my art. One cannot talk about the Shoah and not talk about faith. This topic could potentially be problematic in terms of a Jew entering into serious discussion with Christians, particularly Christian seminary students. They are passionate about their faith. Nevertheless, the opposite has been true in my experience.
In researching the literature for this course, I have gained strength in my ability to deal with material that needed to be covered. Theologians such as John Roth, Richard Rubenstein, Emil Fackenheim, John T. Pawlikowski, and others, have provided me with necessary information. I emulate the courage of these contemporary thinkers. My approach in the classroom is a personal and honest one as I talk about my own faith traditions, and I demand the same from my students. At first they are reticent, but the honest atmosphere that I try to create by example gives them confidence. While they are familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, many have never met a Jew before. We deal with difficult and delicate subject matter such as the failure of the Church during the Shoah. My intention in the classroom is to provide a safe venue for intense discussion. Our honesty with each other paves the way. Early on, it was words from my students that began to inspire my art. Our discussions would often go beyond the classroom. I find their words comforting. Our in-depth study of the Shoah is painful for all of us. Nevertheless, it is the classroom dialogue that is most healing for all of us as well. Our commonality is the experience of studying one of the most heinous crimes in human history and trying to make sense of it in terms of spirituality and theology. They get my message: the Shoah was a universal phenomenon, not simply a Jewish one. It was a volcanic rupture that rocked our world and changed the course of history and theology. In the classroom, my students begin to understand the horrors of evil and the enormous breach caused by the evil that was the Shoah. my naked soul is a painting inspired by a letter I received from my student Phillip Blackburns. He described his frustration at being unable to bring back my family but expressed his hope in his future ministry and his desire as a Christian spiritual leader to provide a better world for my grandchildren. Before executing this painting, I wrote in my journal that Phillip 'unveiled my naked soul'. No one before had ever been so selfless in his attempt to 'make it better' for me. In my reaction to Phillip's letter, I was beginning to see my own pain.
After my request that he write a Christian response to the Shoah, my student David Barker wrote about the difficulty of this assignment. He expressed his wish that this become a path that we take together. My painting: the call god has placed on my life is dedicated to David. The title is taken from words expressed to me by him. I participated in David's ordination into the Presbyterian ministry in 2001. During the service, I recited an ancient Hebrew prayer. Sitting on the chancel with the participating clergy, I could not help but think of my own roots. While the sanctuary had the feeling of being foreign to me, it no longer felt scary. I felt welcomed and safe with my peers who sat next to me. What an honor it was for me and what a testimony to both David and myself.
Shortly after my exhibit in Austin in 1995, the Dean called and informed me that one of his seminary students was interested in meeting me. He was a German from Nuremberg. His parents had refused to speak to him about the war, and Dean Shelton asked if I would meet with him. I reluctantly agreed. Shortly after he entered my studio, I asked why he had come. "I was hoping for some sort of reconciliation," he said. "Not in my lifetime," were the first words out of my mouth. However, as we spoke, and as I cried, I realized that it took much more courage for him to come to my door than for me to open it. "The reconciliation needs to be right here, right now, in this room between you and me," I said. We talked for two hours. When he got up to leave, he extended his hand. I asked for a hug instead. Dieter Heinzl has become my good friend. I know that I have contributed as much to his healing as he has to mine. My painting reconciliation is in honor of Dieter. The two opposite sides are joined together by the white silk fabric-like paper, symbolic of our coming together, two people from opposite worlds seeking reconciliation and healing from each other. We have found it.
In 2000, I began a series that I call healing. It was not until I had completed the second or third painting in this series that I realized that this journey has been all about my own healing. In executing the paintings for this series, I would draw a natural image such as a leaf or flower. I would then either tear or damage the image in some way, to symbolically portray a wound. Shrouds or veils of paper would cover this wound to protect it as it heals.
In the spring of that same year, I was a leader for The March of Remembrance and Hope, a newly formed organization that takes college students (mostly Christian) to Holocaust sites in Poland. I brought some of my students from Austin Seminary. Sharing the experience of standing on the soil where it all happened was healing for all of us. The most spiritual moment, however, came as we stood on the ruins of the crematoria in the Birkenau concentration camp. Together, we all recited the Kaddish (the Hebrew prayer for the dead). Then we joined hands and sang Amazing Grace. There were about six hundred of us from all over the world, including ten Holocaust survivors. We were of different faiths but we had a common purpose which was to bear witness and, in so doing, commit ourselves to keeping the memory of the Shoah alive. As a Jew, with my Christian brothers and sisters standing beside me, I realized that I do not have to do this alone. Feeling their strength next to me was comforting and healing. My painting reconciliation II is a result of my experience in Poland.
Al Staggs is a Christian chaplain who was part of our group on the March of Remembrance and Hope. His monologue on Dietrich Bonhoffer was moving to all participants. After one very difficult day, when we had visited the Majdanek concentration camp, Al was seated next to me at dinner. He was very quietly writing. Suddenly, he handed me a piece of paper. It was a poem that he titled: Listen to the Voices from the Ashes. As I began reading, tears came to my eyes. The imagery was profound. Once more, I found comfort in the face of the other! I was so inspired by Al's words that immediately I began to draw in my sketchbook. My painting listen to the voices from the ashes was inspired by Al's poem.
I found healing in the face of the other, in dialogue with the other, in the compassion of the other and in the spirit of the other. This healing and this dialogue has strengthened me as a Jew. It has taught me that people of different faith traditions can come together in search of answers and be fortified and renewed by the joint experience.
I taught at three Christian seminaries in 2002. My experience at Wake Forest University Divinity School was so profound that I conceived of the painting before leaving there. mending the fracture describes my hope that the fracture between our two faiths can be mended. However, the reconciliation is new. Furthermore, not all Jews seek reconciliation with Christians. The wounds are too fresh and too deep. They are not ready. The same is true for many Christians. Therefore, the reconciliation that I seek with my Christian brothers and sisters needs to be protected. It is still delicate. Hence, the layers of papers act as protection for this fragile phenomenon.
My next painting, seeking the holy spirit together, details my passion for dialogue with Christians. The cross emerging from the star of David is symbolic of our mutual foundation. After the Shoah we must, I believe, come together to search for meaning, to seek answers to difficult questions such as 'where was G-d?' We may not find the answers, but as people of G-d, we will be strengthened by each other. I believe we must do this together.
Of course, one cannot deal with the Shoah and not talk about memory. I have no memory of my relatives. I never knew them. Nevertheless, I feel the pain of not having that memory. the eternal presence of absence speaks to that issue. However, I also believe that one must find a place to put painful memories. We cannot ignore them. They are part of who we are and we all have them. If we keep them "between our eyeballs," they will interfere with our daily lives. Hence, the memory vessel was born. This is a symbolic vessel wherein one can place important memories. I believe it is important to honor the memories of victims of the Shoah by not forgetting them.
At this writing, I am on my way to the Ukraine. Finally, after hearing the name of this town my entire life, I am going to see the place where my parents came from. In 1941 when the Nazis marched into Kremenets, there were 15,000 Jews living there. There were only fourteen survivors at the end of the war. None were my relatives. No Jews live there today. However, the Jewish cemetery there miraculously survived the war. My grandfathers are buried there. All my other relatives are buried in the mass grave on the outskirts of the town. I plan to visit both places.
This trip will be life changing for me. My guide is a non-Jewish Ukranian - a sensitive and compassionate man. Prior to my experiences with Christians at seminaries in the United States, it would have been easy to generalize by saying that all non-Jews in the Ukraine are Anti-Semites. I now know the dangers of categorizing people with such broad strokes. Although this will be a difficult trip, I know it will give me closure. I know it will be healing. It will change my life. And I know it will change my art.
COMMENTS FROM STUDENTS
WHO HAVE TAKEN THE CLASS:
SPIRITUALITY AND THE HOLOCAUST
"The Spirituality and the Holocaust class served as a pragmatic application of faith in our world. It was, in a very real sense, a framework for my first year divinity school experience...it provided me a general awareness and appreciation for the similarities and differences of the Jewish and Christian faiths...such a rich and valuable educational experience.
This summer I took Arts, Spirituality and the Holocaust. I cannot adequately express how fulfilling I found this course. Not only did I learn a great deal about the Holocaust, but Carolyn Manosevitz encouraged us to use this knowledge as an entry into examining our own Christian theology in fresh ways. Even now, several weeks after the class, I find myself challenged and my faith strengthened. Of my seminary coursework, this course has impacted me the most.
Carolyn is an excellent instructor. She both facilitated discussion and invited us into examining ourselves, our faith and the Christian community at large, in ways we can engage our ministry.
The Eternal Presence of Absence
The Eternal Presence of Absence by Carolyn Manosevitz
The following article was published in the Journal for Arts in Religious and Theological Studies. Twentieth Anniversary Issue. 2009.
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