New Jersey Stage logo
New Jersey Stage Menu

Speaking Out Through Art

By Ilene Dube,

originally published: 03/16/2023

Speaking Out Through Art

In the days leading up to Purim – the holiday during which Jews rejoice, don costumes and perform skits, eat triangular cookies filled with jam, and thank Queen Esther for saving them from persecution – Michigan’s attorney general announced she had been targeted in a threat to kill Jewish members of state government.

Assaults, vandalism, and harassment targeting Jewish communities and individuals in the U.S. have risen to their highest levels ever since the chanting of “Jews will not replace us” at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

More recently there were incendiary tweets from Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, and here in New Jersey, a man was arrested in early February for throwing a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue. In the five years since a gunman shot and killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, antisemitism has left many Jews living in fear.

Speaking Out Through Art

Sandi Sykora, Star of David, 2019. Smalti, gold smalti, mixed media. (Photo by Skirball Museum)

Mosaic artist Susan Ribnick, who hails from Austin, Texas, decided to do something. “Tacitly listening to this ‘news cycle’ and doing nothing felt somehow complicit,” she writes in the booklet for the exhibition she organized, From Darkness to Light: Mosaics Inspired by Tragedy. “What happened there could happen anywhere to anyone in any house of worship, but this one hit close to home.”

Advertise with New Jersey Stage for $50-$100 per month, click here for info

From Darkness to Light has been touring the country and can be seen in the Gaelen Art Galleries at JCC MetroWest in West Orange through April 30. Thirty-eight 8-inch-by-8-inch mosaics were contributed by artists from around the world, addressing antisemitism and gun violence. There is also a larger dedication panel created by Ribnick.

The exhibition has been traveling since its original inception in 2022 at the Skirball Museum in Cincinnati; other venues have included a Catholic university and arts centers. Ribnick initially sought artists through the Austin Mosaic Guild, where she was co-president, but word traveled to mosaic artists throughout the world.

The Gaelen Art Galleries is an ideal exhibition venue because of the diverse community at JCC MetroWest, says Visual Arts Manager and Art Gallery Director Lisa Suss. The JCC’s fitness center and aquatics, lifelong learning and childhood education center, film, book groups, theater, and other programs are open to and attract people of all faiths and backgrounds – just as the artists in the exhibition represent many faiths.

“It emphasizes how the event affected so much of the community, not just Jewish people,” says Suss. “One of most impressive things about reaction to the shooting was how the people of Pittsburgh, from Catholic, Muslim and other religions, came together and supported the synagogue.”

Gaelen Art Galleries is a contemporary exhibition space enclosed in glass with black panels. “We are unusual in having a dedicated gallery. Many JCCs have only a wall to showcase exhibitions,” says Suss. She and a colleague offer tours of the exhibition, by appointment, to add further insight into the incident at Tree of Life, the mosaic technique and antisemitism.

On Sunday, March 19, there will be a special program with gallery tours, refreshments and a screening of “A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting.” Directed by Trish Adlesic, the film is a “personal documentary portrait of the survivors, victims and family members, who share their firsthand accounts of the attack and its aftermath, when diverse Pittsburgh communities united against hatred,” according to the program blurb. It shows how people from other faiths, such as Muslims, banded together to demonstrate against attacks by hate groups. Tickets are required for the March 19 program.

Speaking Out Through Art

High school students in Cincinnati, Fitting the Pieces Together. Glass mosaic. (Photo by Skirball Museum)

Advertise with New Jersey Stage for $50-$100 per month, click here for info

Additionally, a mosaic making workshop will take place April 16 -- $175 includes lunch and all supplies.

“Never forget.” These are the words often used about the 6 million Jews slaughtered by the Nazis. And yet Holocaust denial and distortion on social media remains a significant cause of concern, according to a 2022 UNESCO report.

In “Remember,” Carol Shelkin, of Havertown, Penn., reminds us to “Never Forget” and always remember the lives lost “and when we are able, celebrate every person whose life was taken too soon on this dark day…  and hold in our hearts their memories and know these losses were not in vain. We can make this world better because of them. How? Teach our children to see others as human beings and never allow this to happen again.”

The tree of life is an archetype common to many religions, mythologies and folktales throughout the world. It represents the source of life, as well as the cycle of life and death. The tree of life was said to have grown alongside the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden.

Mosaic artist Shanee Woodbridge, also from Austin, Texas, chose the tree of life as her subject. “The Tree of Life is made of roots, bark, limbs and leaves,” she writes in her statement. “They all come from the same source. It may appear changed as light moves around it but it is still the Tree. All parts are equally needed for a healthy tree. Light determines how it is seen as are people. Love comes from all of the colors and parts of the Tree.”

Another artist was inspired by the Tree of Life congregation’s logo. The 36 artists range from professionals and teaching artists to passionate hobbyists and represent six countries.

Some of the mosaics include verses from the Bible or Hebrew letters and symbols; some incorporate the artwork or writing of children. Others were inspired by the blog posts of Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers. “Everyone has a story,” says Ribnick. Many focused on hope, life, light and healing.

Speaking Out Through Art

Shelley Jaffe, Skyline of Pittsburgh, 2021. Smalti gold, mixed media. (Photo by Skirball Museum)

Shelley Jaffe’s mosaic is a skyline of Pittsburgh, glittering with the city’s iconic bridges and buildings. Although a Michigan resident, she has visited Pittsburgh many times with her husband who grew up there. One of his grade-school friends was a victim of the Tree of Life shooting. “After the shooting, ‘Pittsburgh Strong’ and ‘Stronger than Hate’ were seen everywhere, on T-shirts, billboards and storefronts,” writes Jaffe.

One mosaic quotes the now-famous words of Mr. Rogers, who happens to be from the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh where Tree of Life is located: “Look for the helpers. You’ll always find people helping.”

Advertise with New Jersey Stage for $50-$100 per month, click here for info

About the author: Driven by her love of the arts, and how it can make us better human beings, Ilene Dube has written for JerseyArts, Hyperallergic, WHYY Philadelphia, Sculpture Magazine, Princeton Magazine, U.S. 1, Huffington Post, the Princeton Packet, and many others. She has produced short documentaries on the arts of central New Jersey, as well as segments for State of the Arts, and has curated exhibitions at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie and Morven Museum in Princeton, among others. Her own artwork has garnered awards in regional exhibitions and her short stories have appeared in dozens of literary journals. A life-long practitioner of plant-based eating, she can be found stocking up on fresh veggies at the West Windsor Farmers Market.

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.



To narrow results by date, categories,
or region of New Jersey click here.

Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles

Tuesday, July 16, 2024 @ 7:30pm
Count Basie Center for the Arts
99 Monmouth Street, Red Bank, NJ 07701
category: music

Click here for full description

Justin Hayward & Christopher Cross

Tuesday, July 16, 2024 @ 7:30pm
Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC)
100 South Street, Morristown, NJ 07960
category: music

Click here for full description


Tuesday, July 16, 2024 @ 7:00pm
State Theatre New Jersey
15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
category: film

Click here for full description

Click here for more events

Listings are available for $10 and included with our banner ad packages.

Click here for more info.



(MONTCLAIR, NJ) -- Outpost in the Burbs presents Robyn Hitchcock on Saturday, October 26, 2024 at First Congregational Church of Montclair. Imogen Clark will open the night. Doors are at 7:30pm, showtime is 8:00pm.

Pro Arts Jersey City presents "We Curate" at ART150 Gallery

Black Box Studios and Debonair Music Hall present "Don't Just Sit There: Not Your Average Comedy Show"

Click here for more event previews

New Jersey Stage

© 2024 by Wine Time Media, LLC
PO Box 811, Belmar, NJ 07719

Nobody covers the Arts
throughout the Garden State
like New Jersey Stage!

Images used on this site have been sent to us from publicists, artists, and PR firms. If there is a problem with the rights to any image, please contact us and we will look into the matter.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Threads, and on our RSS feed

Art | Comedy | Dance | Film | Music | Theatre | Ad Rates | About Us | Pitch a Story | Links | Radio Shows | Privacy Policy