Old City Jewish Art Center


John O. Mason

The Old City Jewish Art Center, located on 119 North Third Street, is a Jewish-themed art gallery in Old City which hosts Shabbat services, including services and a meal,  during the traditional First Friday exhibits among the galleries in the area.

Artists whose works have been exhibited include Rita Ackert, Steve Belkowitz, Linda Dubin Garfield, Liliana Life, Carla Goodstein, Peter Reich, and Mordechai Rosenstein, Mickie Rosen, Hinda Schuman, Susan Leonard, Kathryn Pannepacker, Else Wachs, Paulette Bensignor, Susan Forbes, Rachel Issac, B.Leah Palmer, and Barbara Rosenzweig.

More after the jump.
Rabbi Menachem Schmidt, founder of the gallery,  was born in Irvington, New Jersey,  and grew up near Highland Park, near Rutgers. “I grew up in a Conservative synagogue,” he says, “and I became involved with Lubavich (or Chabad Hasidism) when I was about twenty. I was a Television and Radio major at Syracuse University, and I (had) a dual major in Art History.” After graduating, Schmidt attained shmicha (rabbinical ordination) and he was asked by Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, regional director of Chabad activities, under the guidance of the Lubavicher Rebbi, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to organize the Lubavich House at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is still Executive Director.

The gallery, says Schmidt, ” is a resultant project of a lot of (Lubavich) programs.” Of the center’s mission, he says, “Art is a very valuable expression of  Judaism, it’s a valuable expression in order to express ideas in Judaism, in order to bring people together. It also creates commonality between all kinds of different people.”

The artists featured in the gallery, Schmidt adds, “are al different in terms of their connection to Judaism, in their own personal observance, and to me that’s very exciting.”

As for the gallery’s First Friday programs, Schmidt says, “We live in Center City, and I’m involved in a lot of the projects in center City, and I always have my eye on First Friday. Before we opened, there was never anything Jewish happening on First Friday. It’s not only Jewish, it’s also something that brings people together besides commerce, it’s (also) something that’s creating a community, which is a message of Judaism. We didn’t really know if there would be any interest in it. My daughter lived close by and I asked her to see if she could find any empty art galleries or any empty spaces that we could squat in, and we’ll see how it goes. Yehudi Bork owned this space, and he was happy to let us use it.”

One of the people active with the center is Diane Litten, an artists whose makes jewelry, hats and scarves, which she calls “fine art accessories.” “They needed somebody here(at the center),” she adds, ” and I needed a studio, so we made an arrangement.” Litten takes part in setting up the center for shows; she calls that arrangement “excellent, wonderful.” Her work does not have a religious or Jewish theme, “but it’s an arty theme.”  

Cynthia Blackwood, a member of the Board of Directors of the center, speaks of the theme of the center’s October show, based on the 27th Psalm, which is said on Elul before Rosh Ha-Shona: “This is a show I wanted to put together. Rabbi Schmidt and I worked out a theme, and I called artists in to do a piece relating to the 27th Psalm, and they did, all thirteen artists. I did the calligraphy (with the Psalm in Hebrew), so you’re walking in and that’s the Psalm. I wanted you to feel like you’re wrapped in the Psalm.” The art works in the exhibit, adds Blackwood, “relate to the feelings that the artists have while reading the Psalm.”

Painter Barbara Rosin says of her works in the exhibit, “I’m a professional artist,  and Cynthia (Blackwood) is my framer, and she’s very familiar with my work. She invited me to participate, and she sent me material about the 27th Psalm and the month of Elul. It was extremely interesting, a lot of commentary, it was very interesting for me to work on.

“I’m a landscape painter,” Rosin adds, about her painting her work, “and the psalm made me think of very serene places, sanctuary, (being) free from harm.”


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