From an artist’s perspective, Passover can be source of inspiration, says Toronto curator and artist Evelyn Tauben.
“It’s a holiday that intersects with very tactile, performative activities, and these really lend themselves to art-making,” she explained, referring to the items that traditionally comprise the Passover seder plate, and the various meanings behind them.
“We don’t just tell a story, we do it with these props that we eat, touch and smell,” added Tauben, who several years ago left a position as head of programs and exhibitions at the Koffler Centre of the Arts to work as an independent curator and producer, primarily with Jewish artists. (She also writes a monthly arts and culture column for The CJN).
Tauben recently teamed up with local architect and artist Joanne Frisch to create a Passover-themed installation in the window of the storefront space serving as the new home of Makom, the grassroots, downtown and progressive Jewish community of which both are active members.
The installation features a collection of cardboard boxes, several of which are affixed with colourful papers spelling the Hebrew names of the seder plate components, and six that bear, in neon pink lettering, questions that Tauben said she and Frisch came up with, inspired by the items on the plate.
“We thought of the installation as a kind of deconstructed seder plate,” she explained. “The questions range from philosophical to thought-provoking to playful and provide a different way of thinking about the seder plate foods.”
For instance, the question inspired by the egg, which is said to symbolize rebirth is, “Why were you born?” while the shankbone, which represents the Pesach sacrifice to God, inspired the broader question, “What’s your sacrifice?”
While seder plate symbols are intended to prompt conversation, Tauben said the process can become rote when repeated in the same way each year.
“With the Zroah [shank bone] for example… it’s not that easy to connect to the idea of a sacrifice today. So on a more philosophical level we can ask, ‘What is your sacrifice?’ and turn it into a more personal, introspective conversation.”
Prior to moving into the new building last month, Makom – whose mission is to offer inclusive and diverse opportunities for Jewish learning, ritual, arts and culture – has been largely nomadic, with its weekly Friday night services and other programs held at various community and private venues.
The space, which is located on College Street just east of Bathurst Street, previously served as the private studio of artist and Makom member Rochelle Rubinstein, who frequently used the front window to exhibit the work of other artists. Rubinstein now rents the space to Makom.
Inside, it’s an open concept esthetic, a large room where Makom’s founding director and leader Rabbi Aaron Levy and the new director of education and family programming Rabbi Julia Appel have desks and where there’s an assortment of found furniture and bookshelves lined with Judaica.
Rabbi Levy said the space gives the organization a greater sense of stability, and has already been used for four weeks of Friday night services, as well as for a bar mitzvah.
In addition, there’s a basement refurbished as a kid’s playroom, a kosher, vegetarian kitchen and a garden where Rabbi Levy said he hopes people will be able to daven, eat or hold programs in good weather.
“Having our own storefront gives us the opportunity to do more programming, because we’ll no longer have to look for a place to hold each program. But it also gives Makom greater visibility,” Rabbi Levy said. “In the short time we’ve been here, we’ve already had lots of people poking their head in and going, ‘What is this place?’”
To continue Rubinstein’s practice of using the front window for installations, Tauben will be taking the lead on seeking funding to enable different artists to showcase their work there.
“I like the idea of giving a platform to local Jewish artists but also of collaborating with all kinds of artists, and giving them some kind of prompt as a point of connection to Jewish values or ideas,” she said.