Palestinian life of the day is the subject matter of mural paintings to be unveiled today (Sunday) in the Synagogue of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, 15 West Eighty-sixth Street. “Modern Palestine” is the name given to the series, which consists of three large panels painted in oil on canvas.
Temima Nimtzowitz, American Jewish artist, who recently came back from an eight months’ stay in Palestine, limned the scenes, which are regarded as unique in synagogue decoration.
The contrast between ancient Jewish life and modern Zionist activity forms the themes of three panels covering more than 180 square feet. The central panel, almost twenty feet long and five feet high, deals with present-day agricultural aspects of Palestine. Depicted are the many activities of the in-gathering season in the Emek (the valley where agricultural industries predominate). Men and women pioneers are at work in the banana plantations, the orange groves, vineyards and cornfields. The attempt is made to show the abundance and fertility that organized labor in the fields have produced already and will, in greater measure, produce in the future.
MODERN LIFE DEPICTED
At right one panel deals with old elements in modern Palestine. In the upper right-hand corner is the old city of Tiberias. Therefrom emerges a group of Chassidim in their traditional garb, dancing with the Holy Scroll in the usual attitudes of joy and ecstasy. This leads to the Wailing Wall, with three Jews at prayer. Through the arches one catches a glimpse of the old city of Safed.
The left-hand panel deals with new elements in modern Palestine. In the upper left-hand corner is the city of Haifa, with its new port. To the right is Mount Scopus, dotted with olive trees. There stands the Hebrew University; students are at their studies and research, symbol of new interests and modern methods of education. Below them is the Haifa Technicum. Two mains from the Ruttenberg Electrical Works lead directly to the young worker who is the center of the panel and from whom all forces seem to radiate.
STUDIED AT ROERICH
Temima Nimtzowitz, the artist, attended the New York School of Fine and Applied Art and was graduated from the Master Institute of the Roerich Museum in 1931. There she studied with Howard Giles and Emil Bisttram. Later she became instructor of fine arts at the Master Institute.
For the most part synagogues have been conspicuously deficient in the use of pictorial representations of the human figure in their decorations.
BAN BASED ON BIBLE
The ban against the representation of human or animal forms as expressed in the Biblical commandment, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:4), has been largely responsible for the non-existence of paintings in Jewish places of worship. Most of the decorations took the form of fruit, floral or geometric designs. However, recent excavations of synagogues in Palestine are witnesses to the illuminating fact that the Bible prohibition was not always strictly adhered to.
In modern times with the expanding of the synagogue from merely a place of worship to a place of assembly for forums, recitals and meetings of all kinds, the attitude toward the decorations on its walls is also undergoing a broadening process.