Weinberg’s art illuminates Jewish history


Susan Weinberg left the world of finance only to discover new riches in the pictorial discovery of her Jewish past. Her twin exhibits now on display in the Gallery Walk at the St. Paul JCC, The Silence Speaks Loudly and A Hole in Time, combine images and narrative to illuminate lost Jewish worlds.

The Silence Speaks Loudly is a series of paintings, literal and allegorical. They explore the horrors of the Holocaust in Lithuania and expose the “negative spaces” that exist now in the absence of the Jewish people and Jewish places that once resided there.

Weinberg was inspired to create these paintings as a result of spending six weeks in Lithuania studying the Yiddish language. I was reminded of Victor Bloomfield’s photographic exhibit shown last year at the St. Paul JCC, Kaddish for a World Destroyed (9-3-10 AJW), and his similar conclusion about Lithuania’s attempts to forget and minimize the importance of its lost Jewish heritage. Both Weinberg and Bloomfield insist that we “never forget,” using different media as their voice.

Left: “Sholem Aleichem” by Susan Weinberg

“Gedenken” is the first painting to catch the visitor’s eye and is well placed to draw the audience in further. Minnesotans know well the awe that can be felt while exploring a conifer forest at Lake Itasca and other northern locales. The trees depicted here bear testimony — they remember (gedenken) the massacre of Jews that took place under their canopy, and the bones of those buried beneath the soil that nourish their roots. To human eyes on the surface, the place is and has always been a green cathedral, but Weinberg’s painting insists that the voices of the dead below shout upward and rustle the branches above to remember.

For the most part, the paintings in The Silence Speaks Loudly are dark and disturbing. They form a collective whole and might be difficult to view or understand outside of the framework of the exhibit. The paintings are all unframed, which emphasizes the simplicity, the unembellished truth of what the images express.

Weinberg’s narratives, therefore, that accompany each painting are integral parts of understanding the images. They illuminate the strength of emotion that underlies the subject of each painting.

A Hole in Time is a collection of paintings and photographs of Radom, Poland, just before the start of World War II. It is based on and incorporates materials from the home of Minnesotan Dora Zaidenweber, who was born in Radom and is a Holocaust survivor and witness. Pictures and film from Radom and Zaidenweber’s family were secreted away by Zaidenweber, her husband and brother as they fled the Nazis. Paintings by Weinberg capture the moving images that were on the film and tie A Hole in Time to the images from The Silence Speaks Loudly on the opposite wall of the gallery.

Just as the forest scene is familiar to Minnesotans, so are many of the photographs from Jewish Radom in 1937 — similar to what might be found in the photo album of a Jewish family in Mendota Heights today: parents, siblings and cousins gather for a weekend at the lake home or small resort to enjoy a short summer’s pleasures. They are the essence of modern family happiness and security. The “hole in time” is created when these times of normality for Jews were ripped apart in Radom, but continue uninterrupted here in America. People like Zaidenweber may recreate what they lost due to the war and the Holocaust, but the interruption in time leaves a hole in their lives and their hearts.

The “film” images tell a slightly different story. They are not Zaidenweber’s family photos and show the Jewish community in Radom in all its diversity — more secular Jews in fashionable clothing mingle in the streets with men and women in traditional garb. Have they come in from a rural shtetl to conduct some business or buy books at a Jewish bookstore? Their world is gone, too; the hole in time expands even larger.

These twin exhibits are excellent teaching tools to learn about twin themes from the Holocaust. They speak to us in images and in the voices of real people. Take some time to look and listen the next time you visit the St. Paul JCC.

A Hole in Time and The Silence Speaks Loudly, two exhibits by artist Susan Weinberg, are on display through Oct. 16 in the Gallery Walk at the St. Paul JCC, 1375 St. Paul Ave. For information, visit: www.stpauljcc.org.