Of Painters, Plays and Poets

Student Talent and Creativity on Display at Yeshiva University Arts Festival

Intrigued by Talmudic archaeology? Curious about Sephardic pizmonim [traditional tunes]? Want to catch a whimsical Steve Martin play or tour a gallery that includes photography, sculpture, line drawings and more?

These were just a few options to explore at the 15th annual Yeshiva University Arts Festival, which kicked off with an art gallery opening on March 20 and will conclude with a jazz ensemble performance on April 12. In between, events that run the gamut from film nights to open mikes have offered students and members of the YU community a chance to showcase their talents, experiment with new forms of expression and learn about the arts—and each other—from unique perspectives.

“The Arts Festival brought me to medieval Spain and the shores of Greece,” said Jonathan Scheiner, a junior at Sy Syms School of Business who attended the Sephardic pizmonim concert. Led by Rabbi Moshe Tessone, director of YU’s Sephardic Community Program and a faculty member at the Belz School of Jewish Music, student and professional musicians performed beloved Sephardic songs from a broad range of countries, including Spain, Greece, Yemen and Egypt, some dating to the Middle Ages and the Maimonidian era. “I love how you can hear the unique sounds of different cultures in places where Jews lived in their music,” said Scheiner. He especially enjoyed an Arabic solo on the udd, a unique Mideastern stringed instrument that adds to the distinctive flavor of Sephardic music: “As an Ashkenazi, it’s fun and refreshing to hear something the ear isn’t used to.”

At the art gallery, there were also plenty of new and unusual things for the eye to take in. Hanging on one wall was a composite work that joined smaller depictions of war to create a complex portrait of a soldier’s face. The piece was created by students in artist Sebastian Mendes’ Materializing History and Personal Experience course at Stern College for Women, which focuses on personal responses to powerful life events. On another wall, a photograph—taken by student photographer Shimon Fried—showed a bride in white lace, cradling a book of psalms in her hands, capturing the sacred power of marriage and ritual.

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According to Ayala Raice, co-president of this year’s festival with Yeshiva College senior Sammy Steiner, an emphasis on a wide range of artistic style and pieces was important to the staff. “We wanted to have really unique and different pieces, from line drawings to graphic art, and I think we achieved that,” said Raice, a senior majoring in art history at Stern. One of her favorite pieces was a painting that featured a rack of bowling shoes. “They’re a part of everyday life that is disordered and not even necessarily beautiful, but there is beauty in capturing that aspect of life and focusing on it,” she said.

For Jordana Chernofsky, a studio art major at Stern whose work was displayed in the gallery, the festival provided a forum to appreciate the talents of fellow students and share her own creations. Her piece, “Time,” which employed deep, arresting blues-and-gold leaf, was inspired by her first experience with the egg tempura medium.

“Originally I thought about creating a biological clock and having a heart overlap it, because our professor highlighted the transparency of this medium and I wanted to work with that,” said Chernofsky. “But I like it like this.” Time, or lack thereof, is a theme in her work, especially the struggle to find time for creative endeavors. At Stern, however, she feels she is part of a supportive arts community. “It’s warm and intimate and you have a lot of one-on-one relationships with faculty,” she said. “I found my place.”

That spirit of collaboration and dedication also infused the two dramatic productions, Hamlet at Stern and Picasso at the Lapin Agile at Yeshiva College, featured during the festival. “It’s like a triple curriculum,” said senior Aryeh Forhman, who plays George in Picasso, of the time and effort invested in the play. However, he felt the investment added dimension to his college experience. “The play is an artistic staple at YU, and the people who do art and drama here still have that focus on Jewish learning,” he said. “We’re a small but very dedicated group,” said Rafi Skier, a sophomore in computer science at Yeshiva College and a crew member on Picasso. “You get to spend lots of time with all sorts of amazing and creative people, and together you create something extraordinary.”

For Norman Adler, university professor of psychology and special assistant for curriculum development and research initiatives to the provost, the festival’s flourishing and diverse avenues for student expression—which also included a reading hosted by the undergraduate literary journal Something Rich and Strange, a faculty recital, classical concert and publishing panel—only underscore the creative opportunities at YU. Dr. Adler established the first Arts Festival in 1996. “It’s a co-curricular matrix out of which courses, student activity and even careers can be affected,” he said. “University life is the life of the mind and the spirit, and the Arts Festival brings both together within a Torah context.”

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