Events | Invitation to participate: Home Beautiful – Inviting in the Ancestors

Montreal artist and academic Devora Neumark invites you to send in your stories, poems, images, etc. in response to the following question: What have your ancestors taught you about the relationship between beauty and home?

The following is brief contextualization of this call for participation:

The holiday of Sukkot provides us with a perfect opportunity to honour and give thanks for the harvest and the knowledge of our elders while keeping our hearts open to the plight of people around the world whose temporary dwelling (in refugee camps, settlements in occupied territory, tent cities, etc.) is not voluntary. By coming together during Sukkot and inviting our ancestors into the conversation (through song, poetry, story, etc.) to reflect on and create new possibilities for imagining home in the aftermath of loss, I believe that we can build individual and collective resilience in/with beauty.

For some time now I have been exploring the role of storytelling and other personal & cultural narrative constructions. Most recently, I have been captivated by the Jewish Home Beautiful community pageant, which was written by Betty D. Greenberg and Althea O. Silverman in the 1930s and consisted of multiple holiday table settings and foods, traditional songs, and scripted readings. The performance was presented as the closing event in the Temple of Religion at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair and soon after codified and printed by The National Women’s League of the United Synagogue of America. The publication, replete with prescriptive descriptions of Jewish festival observance and rituals as well as recipes associated with the food items included in the elaborate table settings, made multiple references to the oppressions experienced by Jews over the ages and the centrality of beauty to come to terms with these experiences. Throughout subsequent decades, wide distributions of this book led to community performances in the United States and Canada.

In the context of global art history(ies) and (post)colonialism, the interconnectedness between aesthetics and politics is never very far from the (ongoing) entangled socio-cultural project of articulating home(land). I have come to believe that the Jewish Home Beautiful performed an important role in establishing strong dual identification for Jews who drew – and continue to draw – an unquestionable link between North America and the State of Israel (which was initially at the time of the New York World’s Fair called Jewish Palestine). While the Jewish Diasporic experience has been mitigated, in part, due to the performativity of cultural constructions such as the Jewish Home Beautiful, the domicide  – the politically motivated willful destruction of houses and homes that has been and continues to function as a major weapon in the arsenal of cultural oppression – impacting Palestinians continues to escalate. The Jewish home beautiful is, after all, not so beautiful; a new cultural script is achingly necessary.

While the initial Jewish Home Beautiful script was co-authored by Greenberg and Silverman and adapted by the hosts of the different versions of the play performed from the 1950s through to 2009 in places in Canada such as Montreal and Saint John as well as Newark, St Paul and Mobile in the United States, I believe that the new narrative capable of challenging the status quo will emerge from the strength and diversity of a multiplicity of voices. Hence this invitation.

This call is being circulated on-line in keeping with the importance of electronic media as the new dialogic vector. While community pageants were once the chosen form to circulate information and affirm socio-cultural identity, forums such as this, perform that most critical of roles.

Whether or not you personally have any links to Israel/Palestine, the history of colonialization has touched us all, including everyone currently living here on Turtle Island. By honoring the wisdom of our ancestors and the lessons that they have passed along about the importance of beauty in the process of making home, we can collectively help shape a new post-colonial dynamic.

Devora Neumark