photo by Matthew Rabinowitz
Soon after the bell rings, students in the new art and wellness Zman Kodesh gather in a circle to find their “Chi,” or balance, by practicing the ancient art of Tai Chi.
Born out of middle school art teacher Jessie Nathans’ passion for art and Judaism, the new art and wellness Zman Kodesh fills the void which opened after the music Zman Kodesh was discontinued this semester.
The art and wellness Zman Kodesh is based on three core concepts: utilizing art as a form of prayer and meditation, creating a safe space for everyone in the Zman Kodesh to learn about one another and helping students secure “wellness,” a comfortable state of mind.
“Part of my spiritual belief and scientific belief is that there are certain shapes in nature that connect with meditative practiced, [including] things like the spiral and the Star of David and basic shapes and basic 3D kinds of handwork,” Nathans said. “So, I know from my own experience it’s a spiritual experience to make things. So, I wanted to bring those two things together, but also as a spiritual practice.”
To begin each day, participants either share any “out-of-balance” experiences that they had the previous day by passing around a talking stick or they participate in the martial art Tai Chi. Then, they practice “centering” art, such as making designs with wires, drawing or other visual art techniques.
“I feel like finding my ‘Chi’ and bringing out my inner essence really calms me down,” sophomore Benny Rushfield, a participant in the Zman Kodesh, said.
Rushfield, who was in the music Zman Kodesh last semester, decided to join the art and wellness Zman Kodesh this semester because of its unique approach of connecting to Judaism by finding one’s balance through art compared to other Drisha Zman Kodesh offerings.
This connection between Judaism, art and balance first spurred from Nathans’ idea of using art as a way to pray and cope with emotional or health issues; she has led Art & Wellbeing group, a nonprofit organization, since 2016.
“I’ve been interested in art and Judaism for a long time, ever since I was introduced to Judaism when I was an adult in a serious way,” Nathans said. “I think that there are a lot of interesting crossovers. And, for me, art is a form of prayer.”
When she first heard about the idea, Director of Jewish Life Stephanie Hoffman was intrigued.
“A Jewish lens was kind of the approach that she’d been working on with this other program she’d been doing, [and] it sounded like it had the potential to be a really important and worthwhile option for students,” Hoffman said.
To Hoffman, the new Zman Kodesh provides another opportunity for students to connect with God, themselves and the community in a unique way.
“There are just different ways to connect to something, be that a higher power, God, or community or the actual thing that you’re doing,” Hoffman said. “Art and Wellness allows a certain space for something that some students want.”