Workshops on “Art and Midrash”

by Idelle Hammond-Sass

Idelle Hammond-Sass and Carol Levin will hold a Hanukkah workshop on Sunday morning, December 13, 10-11:30am. To participate, sign up here.

I’m excited to be offering Zoom workshops on “Art and Midrash” for AARC. In this first blog, I talk about our Yom Kippur workshop on Jonah (and the Whale). On that day, our small group began with the study of the haftarah text and midrash about the reluctant prophet. We then took twenty minutes to put our images and words on paper. Finally, we shared our results, saying what the art meant to us.

As artist and author Pat Allen says, “Art is a way of knowing.” Art is a useful tool for understanding stories and themes. The use of drawing and color to explore themes can open our imagination to the story. We discover images through associations and connections. In this context, it doesn’t matter so much what our art looks like; we need to leave our inner critics out of the picture and focus on what the art says to us!

During the pandemic, how many of us have been affected by our own isolation? Have we felt that this time has frustrated our inclinations to be of help to others, do our work, deliver a message, even feel safe in our own spaces? Or has it been a retreat, a time of introspection and discovery?


The Haftarah text reads: “And the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.” (Jonah 1:17). Rabbi Tarphon’s midrash is vibrantly visual and imaginative:

That fish was specially appointed from the six days of Creation to swallow up Jonah, as it is said, “And the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (ibid.). He entered its mouth just as a man enters the great synagogue, and he stood (therein). The two eyes of the fish were like windows of glass giving light to Jonah.
Rabbi Meir said: || One pearl was suspended inside the belly of the fish and it gave illumination to Jonah, like this sun which shines with its might at noon…” 

Nedarim 38a:15 נדרים לח א:טו

drawing by Rita Gelman

Sally George Wright expressed her workshop experience as, “The drawing, and seeking a verbal way of explaining, helped me identify what I need to work on for the New Year. This was much better than trying to identify major ways I missed the mark. Turning back became, how can I move forward?”

Picture 2

Evelyn Neuhaus, documentary filmmaker (NEVER A BYSTANDER), connected with a video we watched. Evelyn saw that Jonah’s warning to the people was an act of generosity and realized that her film on Irene Butter was also an act of generosity. Her drawing expresses feelings about generosity, compassion, and lovingkindness.

Witnessing our artwork by writing helps us notice things about our art, finding meaning in the images, colors, or marks. Free writing, making word associations, noticing the choices we make in our drawings can lead to new meanings. Sometimes it may lead to more writing, such as this poem by Carol Bloom Levin, author and illustrator of Haggadah Regatta.

Sanctuary 2020

On Yom Kippur, we read how Jonah 
was swallowed alive by a whale. 
For some, it’s a frightful tale
about facing fears alone.
But during this pandemic year
the message for me is hope.

Isolation is opportunity 
to atone.
Sheltered within the dark, 
Jonah’s prayers bring 
him resolve to accept 
responsibility.

Chaos invites a reckoning 
and lockdown awakens the call
to refocus perspective
on humanity. 

As light fills my sanctuary
I peer into its heart, 
ever grateful to
connect. 

 Swimming Toward the Light, Out of the Depths
Another insight into the creative process came from yours truly, Idelle Hammond-Sass. When I began this drawing, I found myself making circles, imagining water, turbulence, the unknown. I wrote, “the opening is small, I can get out – I am out of turbulent waters of judgment and fear. Becoming. She swims, I swim up and out, moving, limbs in motion… The place of potential, of release, air, of forgiveness, love – all possible.”


Next in the series: 

Hanukkah workshop on Sunday morning, December 13, 10-11:30am. 
Co-hosts Carol Levin and Idelle Hammond-Sass explore Hanukkah themes of resilience, resistance, and persistence. Bring your light into the darkest time of the year!

Idelle Hammond-Sass is an Ann Arbor artist, jewelry designer and Open Studio Process facilitator.