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`Too Jewish?’ artist fulfills dream of meeting Rabin’s wife

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NEW YORK, June 24 (JTA) — For artist Helene Aylon, it was a dream come true. When she addressed a letter to “Lea Rabin, Israel” last September, inviting her to see the artwork she had dedicated to Yitzhak Rabin’s memory, Aylon had no idea that she would soon be explaining to the former first lady the piece which was inspired, in part, by his murder. Aylon’s installation in the “Too Jewish?” exhibit making its way through Jewish museums around the country is titled “The Liberation of G-d.” On transparent pieces of parchment laid over the pages of the Five Books of Moses, Aylon highlighted in pink pen the passages that in her opinion sanction violence, are misogynistic or simply neglect the women’s names in places where the men’s names are listed. “People project onto God what they think he said, but I don’t think this is the way God wants things to be,” Aylon said in a recent interview here. In the exhibit, on view this month in Baltimore, she put volume after volume of the Chumash on the walls lining a little space she constructed essentially out of Torah, and invites people to leave written comments in blank books left for that purpose. Many of the comments are laudatory. But others, from Orthodox Jews — including rabbis — are negative, even angry at what they consider her desecration of Torah. Aylon says she does the highlighting of the Hebrew and English text on parchment overlays, rather than directly over the page itself, out of her love and respect for Torah. Panels of rabbis from each of Judaism’s denominations have gathered in most of the cities where “Too Jewish?” is on exhibit to discuss the meaning of her work. After receiving Aylon’s letter, Rabin wrote back to her, saying that she would be in Baltimore when the show was on display, and that she wanted to see it. Earlier this month, as they walked together around the installation now on view in a Baltimore storefront, sponsored jointly by The Contemporary Museum and The Jewish Museum of Maryland, Aylon said, “I want to liberate Torah from the fundamentalists.” Rabin responded, “The one who murdered Yitzhak said, `I am doing it in the name of God.’ Your message is, no one should do things in the name of God.” On a videotape of the visit provided by Aylon, she is seen gently altering Rabin’s interpretation, saying, “No one should say, `God told me to do atrocious things.’ ” The “Too Jewish?” show opened last year at New York’s Jewish Museum, and after Baltimore will travel to Philadelphia. Aylon was raised in the Orthodox community of Borough Park, Brooklyn, married a rabbi and raised her children in a community that she felt alienated from as it grew, in her opinion, increasingly right wing. Aylon and her still-young children remained in the community for several years after her husband died. She later moved to San Francisco and Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, though she often returns to visit her now-elderly mother in Borough Park. She soon began creating the paintings, installations and performance pieces that have garnered her grants and renown in contemporary art circles for the last 20 years. Her often-interactive work has addressed nuclear disarmament, environmental disaster and renewal, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The exhibit is dedicated to Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who was murdered by an Orthodox Jew in November 1995, but also to a principal and a teacher who influenced her deeply at the Shulamith Yeshiva for girls in Borough Park, which she attended as a child. “They taught me about Judaism, and that it is also OK for a girl to ask a question,” Aylon said in a soft voice.

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