Shalom/Salaam: The Story of a Mystical Fraternity (2000-2007)
Click the thumbnails to see a larger version of the painting.
Shalom/Salaam: The Story of a Mystical Fraternity is an interdisciplinary project predicated on the belief that contemporary art, at its best, can move outside of the narrow confines of the art world, approaching the general public through creative thought and a gentle activism.
My Shalom/Salaam Project highlights the strong Sufi influence on the development of Jewish mysticism, following this unfamiliar tale from 10th century in Spain, Egypt and the Holy Land, through the Kabbalah and into the Baal Shem Tov's Hasidism in the 18th century. I believe that the popularization of this positive story can help facilitate the peace dialogue between Jews and Arabs, becoming part of the healing process of that fractured relationship.
Based in my own original research about Jewish and Muslim mystics that studied together, read each other's texts and openly borrowed ideas from the other religion's mystical masters, Shalom/Salaam is a unique mixture of art, writing, scholarship and activism. Through a series of art shows, written pieces, conference appearances, forums and other activities, the Shalom/Salaam Project introduces this tale of spiritual entanglement to a diverse audience.
Shalom/Salaam is comprised of three different series of artworks, each concentrating on a different aspect of the tale. Paintings from the Baal Shem Tov explores the ecstatic mysticism of the 18th century Jewish mystic, the Baal Shem Tov, who was strongly influenced by Sufi threads buried within medieval Jewish spiritual thought. Secret Garden is a wall-borne installation that explores the subtle and beautiful Sufi mystical path of Islam. Lastly, a series of iconic portraits of individual medieval Jewish and Muslim mystics that linked these two religions at their spiritual cores, exhibits how this story was created by real people, sharing insights and respect across cultural and religious boundaries over nearly a millennia.
In addition to the artwork on this subject, I have taught a course entitled Sufis and Hasids: Masters of Mysticism at the Jewish Study Center in Washington DC (2000, 2001). I have published and delivered numerous papers on the subject at such venues as al-Azhar University (Cairo, Egypt); Chief Rabbi of Turkey's office (Istanbul); Columbia University (NY); Middlebury College (VT); University of Calgary (Canada); Muslim Community Center (MD); Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society (DC); Islamic Center of Western New York (Buffalo) and numerous other venues around the United States.
My 300-page academic study of this subject, Shalom/Salaam: The Story of a Mystical Fratnerity, was published in both the United States and Turkey in 2010, and other articles on the subject have been published since that time. For full information on the writing aspect of this project, please visit the writing page on this website.
I received grants and in-kind support from the Puffin Foundation (NJ), Sugarman Foundation (CA) and the New York Foundation for the Arts (NY). I am the official artist for the Abrahamic Family Reunion project, as well as serving as a member of the American Tqask Force examining Arab-Israeli affairs, created to safeguard equal rights for Arab and Muslim citizens of the Jewish State.
I participated in a symposium on Sufi influence on Jewish spiritual thought along with Dr. S. H. Nasr, University Professor of Islamic Studies, George Washington University and Dr. Marc Eli Saperstein, Head of the Judaic Studies Program at George Washington University in November 2004. After the symposium, Dr. Nasr was kind enough to send along a brief note indicating:
"In bringing this very important but mostly forgotten history to light, the author is making a major contribution to creating better understanding between Islam and Judaism in a world so much in need for such understanding."
Ultimately, this project combines visual art, writing and scholarship to answer the call of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Weisel, who said, "I still believe human bridges can be built between the two communities (Jews and Arabs), through reciprocal visits between students, teachers, musicians, writers, artists, business leaders and journalists." By popularizing this untold tale of mutual respect, perhaps a story of peace - so unusual in these difficult times in the Middle East – can begin to resonate as loudly, or even louder, than the sound of gun ships and bombs that currently command the stage between these two historic cousins.