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SHA'AR: Song of the Gate

 
 שער אשר נסגר קומה פתחהו
Gate long closed, Rise up and open it!
 
Sha’ar: Song of the Gate is an artistic collaboration launching at Baycrest’s Ronald and Nancy Kalifer Culture Hub in May 2022. The exhibit will be on display until fall 2022.
 
Two acclaimed Toronto women artists, in close collaboration with a distinguished New York filmmaker, explore the powerful themes of exile and redemption in SHA’AR: Song of the GateThis exhibition is inspired by a Hebrew love song from medieval Spain that merges earthly and heavenly love. The full text of the poem is depicted on the walls of the gallery. 
 
SHA’AR presents Deborah Bennett-Kagan’s fiery abstract paintings and Samantha Goldman’s intricate acrylic sculptures—strikingly modern re-imaginings of Jewish tradition—in conversation with exquisitely illuminated manuscripts and ketubahs (Jewish marriage contracts) from Europe and North Africa, as well as quotes from the Hebrew Bible. Curated by New York filmmaker Andrea Simon, SHA’AR invites viewers from all traditions to embrace this mystical symbol of transformation, setting the stage for a multi-generational conversation on Jewish history and spiritual practice.
 
The word שער appears in the Hebrew Bible nearly 500 times and is an essential component of daily and holiday prayers. The Shema, recited three times each day, commands us to lovingly inscribe God’s word “on the doorposts of your houses and upon your Gates.” On Shabbat and Yom Kippur, we sing, “This is the Gate of Adonai, the Just will enter in.” 
 
The Gate is open, friends: please come in!
 
 
With Deep Gratitude to the following scholarly consultants for their contributions:
Sharon Liberman Mintz, Curator of Jewish Art, Jewish Theological Seminary Library
Rabbi Mike Moskowitz, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah
Special thanks to Design Consultant Barbara Suhr


 
 

Sha’ar Asher Nisgar— Samantha Goldman

A contemporary interpretation of the 11th-century devotional love poem by Solomon Ibn Gabirol that inspired this exhibition, based on a traditional Moroccan setting.
 

Listen to an audio recording

 



Sh3mona— Sha’ar Asher Nisgar

Artist statement:

This link takes you to my video interpretation of Solomon Ibn Gabirol’s great Hebrew poem, written in Spain in the mid-11th century, and influenced by the rhythms of contemporary Arabic poetry that flourished there at the time.  I recorded and produced this rendition (which builds on a widely used Moroccan setting of the text) at home, sang the lyrics in Hebrew, and played and composed the piano and cello parts. The video incorporates 3D renderings of my digital drawings: these drawings are the basis on which the laser-cut sculptures in our exhibition, SHA’AR: Song of the Gate were executed. 

I take pride in contributing my own rendition of it to the long-standing canon of Jewish musicians, poets, and philosophers who have engaged with it. Samantha Goldman, artist.


Watch the Video

The Artists

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Deborah Bennett-Kagan

Deborah Bennett-Kagan

Deborah Bennett-Kagan is an artist based in Toronto, Georgian Bay and Miami.

Always a painter, she studied piano and violin and worked as a classical musician and music teacher for many years, before devoting herself full-time to visual arts. Her studio practice is centered around painting, found objects and consumer waste, and painted collages, as well as photography and video art. Her lifelong Jewish practice was shaped by her father’s experience as a survivor of the Shoah. Deborah’s work explores the paint medium and collage process in relation to the built and natural environment. Through her artwork, Deborah explores how environmental realities affect our experience. She intends to elicit an emotional, cathartic and spiritual reflection for the participant.

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Samantha Goldman

Samantha Goldman

An emerging artist based in Toronto, to date Samantha Goldman’s work has been characterized by its grand scale and multidisciplinary aspects. Having made her debut in public art in 2019 by way of a large, painted mural for Canopy Growth Corp. in Smiths Falls alongside artists Kwest and Jarus, Samantha has also performed her sound art at the Gardiner Museum for Yoko Ono’s opening of her exhibit The Riverbed, and on multiple occasions at the Art Gallery of Ontario. SHA’AR will consolidate Samantha’s reputation as a large-scale public artist and combine her sculptural, spiritual, painterly and musical practices in a form that will engage viewers from many different communities.

@spadinababy

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Andrea Simon

Andrea Simon

Andrea Simon’s work has explored the interaction between politics, culture and religion in a variety of times and places. Praised as both visually striking and intellectually provocative, her award-winning documentary films include multiple commissions from the Metropolitan Museum, MoMA, the National Gallery, the Jewish Museum, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, as well as the wryly subversive KORIAM’S LAW (Grand Prize, Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival) and PBS specials DESTINATION MOZART: A NIGHT AT THE OPERA WITH PETER SELLARS (Grand Prize, Montreal Festival of Films on Art), and ART OF INDONESIA: TALES FROM THE SHADOW WORLD. TALK TO ME: AMERICANS IN CONVERSATION, a film-essay on American identity commissioned by the National Endowment for the Humanities has been recognized for its densely layered presentation of complex issues of race, class, and culture: “The Whitmaniacal spirit has been brought to film by Andrea Simon. This America sings.”  (Todd Gitlin). FAYUM PORTRAITS (original music by Meredith Monk), considers Egyptian funerary painting as a prism through which to view the death of the antique world and shares many themes with the SHA’AR project.  “The concept for this exhibition arose from a daily study of Talmud throughout the past two years: I am grateful to Rabbi Mike Moskowitz and my chevruta for opening the Gate to ‘Intimacy with the Invisible’ through this supremely difficult, and supremely joyful, discipline.”   Andrea Simon


Exhibit Highlights


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Sha’ar Asher Nisgar

Artist: Deborah Bennett-Kagan

Medium: acrylic, pigment, charcoal, latex, glitter and 23K gold leaf on canvas

Size: three panels each of 3’ x 5’

Location: Kalifer Culture Hub  

 

Deborah Bennett-Kagan’s triptych, ‘Sha’ar Asher Nisgar’, is a unified meditation on the Gate concept: three formidable black-and-white images in a classically abstract expressionistic mode. All are imposing – this triptych fills an entire wall of the exhibition. The Talmud tells us that the Torah given to Moses was “written in black fire on white fire.” Occasional flickers of 23K gold leaf are visible in the glistening black strokes in these works, which deliberately invoke the letters of the Hebrew alphabet: the three paintings constitute the word for gate (Hebrew letters shin, ayin, raash). SHA’AR is an ethereal presence in each canvas, shifting and changing from moment to moment as one considers the work. 

img-1

Sha’ar Asher Nisgar

Artist: Deborah Bennett-Kagan

Medium: acrylic, pigment, charcoal, latex, glitter and 23K gold leaf on canvas

Size: three panels each of 3’ x 5’

Location: Kalifer Culture Hub  

 

Deborah Bennett-Kagan’s triptych, ‘Sha’ar Asher Nisgar’, is a unified meditation on the Gate concept: three formidable black-and-white images in a classically abstract expressionistic mode. All are imposing – this triptych fills an entire wall of the exhibition. The Talmud tells us that the Torah given to Moses was “written in black fire on white fire.” Occasional flickers of 23K gold leaf are visible in the glistening black strokes in these works, which deliberately invoke the letters of the Hebrew alphabet: the three paintings constitute the word for gate (Hebrew letters shin, ayin, raash). SHA’AR is an ethereal presence in each canvas, shifting and changing from moment to moment as one considers the work. 

img-1

Sha’ar Asher Nisgar

Artist: Deborah Bennett-Kagan

Medium: acrylic, pigment, charcoal, latex, glitter and 23K gold leaf on canvas

Size: three panels each of 3’ x 5’

Location: Kalifer Culture Hub  

 

Deborah Bennett-Kagan’s triptych, ‘Sha’ar Asher Nisgar’, is a unified meditation on the Gate concept: three formidable black-and-white images in a classically abstract expressionistic mode. All are imposing – this triptych fills an entire wall of the exhibition. The Talmud tells us that the Torah given to Moses was “written in black fire on white fire.” Occasional flickers of 23K gold leaf are visible in the glistening black strokes in these works, which deliberately invoke the letters of the Hebrew alphabet: the three paintings constitute the word for gate (Hebrew letters shin, ayin, raash). SHA’AR is an ethereal presence in each canvas, shifting and changing from moment to moment as one considers the work. 

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Columns of Smoke, in Clouds of Myrrh and Frankincense

Artist: Samantha Goldman

Medium: Reproduction, vinyl on plexiglass

Size: 3’ H x 4’ W x 4” D

Location: Kalifer Culture Hub 

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My beloved is like a Gazelle… Gazing Through the Window, Peering Through the Lattice

Artist: Samantha Goldman

Medium: Reproduction, vinyl on plexiglass

Size: 8’ H x 4’ W x 4” D

Location: Kalifer Culture Hub  

 

Samantha Goldman’s sculptural works reimagine the humble Jewish folk art of papercutting. Goldman is seeking to preserve this vanishing tradition by using contemporary materials— evoking imagery from her Jewish upbringing and research of related historical texts, songs and poems. Goldman’s digital drawings are laser cut onto acrylic sheets and constructed into freestanding sculptures, bridging a rich cultural past with emerging futures.

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From the Hills of Leopards

Artist: Samantha Goldman

Medium: Reproduction, vinyl on plexiglass

Size: 8’ (h) x 4’ (w) x 4” (d)

Location: Apotex Winter Garden

 

Samantha Goldman’s sculptural works reimagine the humble Jewish folk art of papercutting. Goldman is seeking to preserve this vanishing tradition by using contemporary materials— evoking imagery from her Jewish upbringing and research of related historical texts, songs and poems. Goldman’s digital drawings are laser cut onto acrylic sheets and constructed into freestanding sculptures, bridging a rich cultural past with emerging futures.

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Wrocław Mahzor (Holiday Prayer Book), Germany, 13th century

“Blessed is God who opens to us the Gates of Mercy”

A prayer recited during morning service on Yom Kippur

Curator: Andrea Simon

Medium: Reproduction, vinyl on wall

Credit: University Library, Wrocław, Poland, Ms. Or. I 1, f. 90v 

Location: Kalifer Culture Hub

 

The images are taken from medieval Mahzors (holiday prayer books). They date back to the late 13th- early 14th century, testifying to the unity of a global diaspora that had taken Jews as far east as Afghanistan and China, and westward to the edge of the New World. On each page, the Gate frames the same key prayer: “Open unto Us,” from the morning service of Yom Kippur, asks God, on this particularly sacred day, to open the Gates of Mercy to the worshipper’s repentant heart. It is striking that each individual prays on behalf of the whole community: What is a Jew in solitude? asks Adrienne Rich in her poem YOM KIPPUR 1984. 

 

The Gate, שער SHA’AR, is one of the most primal and passionate images in the Hebrew Bible. 

 

It expresses both a fierce commitment to justiceHate evil and love good / And establish justice in the gate, the prophet Amos proclaimsand the most intimate kind of personal longing for union with God, the Beloved, which is where we began. 

 

As Ibn Gabirol’s poem tells us:  ליוֹם בּוֹאך עדי  That day, you will come to me.

 

What quest, what questions, what desire keeps you moving forward?

 

What “Gate long closed” do you wish to open?

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Kennicott Bible , La Coruña, Spain 1476

This is among the most richly illuminated Hebrew Bibles in the world, deftly combining Jewish, Islamic and Christian motifs into a beautifully integrated whole.

Curator: Andrea Simon

Medium: Reproduction, vinyl on wall

Credit: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Kennicott 1, fol. 438v

Location: Kalifer Culture Hub

 

This glorious manuscript page takes the form of a double-gated “Moorish Arch”, clearly meant to evoke the architecture of Muslim Spain. The text here is a scholarly essay on Biblical grammarthe “Gate” or “Key”that is often included in Medieval Hebrew Bibles from the Iberian Peninsula: you can see the Hebrew word שער in the keyhole-shaped arch on the right.

 

The Kennicott Bible is the work of the scribe Moses Ibn Zabarah and the illuminator Joseph Ibn Hayyim. It was created in Spain in 1476, when Islamic rule in much of Spain had been over for more than three centuries. In this work, two Jewish artists in Christian Spain are paying homage, through the use of Islamic imagery, to a lost time when Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together in relative calm.


Once again, the Bookif you know how to read itis a time machine, a magical Gate that invites us to enter a distant, longed-for past.

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David Bar Pesach Mahzor (Holiday Prayer Book), Germany, 14th century

“Blessed is God who opens to us the Gates of Mercy”

A prayer recited during morning service on Yom Kippur

Curator: Andrea Simon

Medium: Reproduction, vinyl on wall

Credit: New York Public Library, Dorot Jewish Division

Location: Kalifer Culture Hub

 

The images are taken from medieval Mahzors (holiday prayer books). They date back to the late 13th- early 14th century, testifying to the unity of a global diaspora that had taken Jews as far east as Afghanistan and China, and westward to the edge of the New World. On each page, the Gate frames the same key prayer: “Open unto Us,” from the morning service of Yom Kippur, asks God, on this particularly sacred day, to open the Gates of Mercy to the worshipper’s repentant heart. It is striking that each individual prays on behalf of the whole community: What is a Jew in solitude? asks Adrienne Rich in her poem YOM KIPPUR 1984. 

 

The Gate, שער SHA’AR, is one of the most primal and passionate images in the Hebrew Bible. 

 

It expresses both a fierce commitment to justiceHate evil and love good / And establish justice in the gate, the prophet Amos proclaimsand the most intimate kind of personal longing for union with God, the Beloved, which is where we began. 

 

As Ibn Gabirol’s poem tells us:  ליוֹם בּוֹאך עדי  That day, you will come to me.

 

What quest, what questions, what desire keeps you moving forward?

 

What “Gate long closed” do you wish to open?

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Catch us, the foxes, the little foxes

Artist: Samantha Goldman

Medium: Reproduction, vinyl on plexiglass

Size: 8’ (h) x 4’ (w) x 4” (d)

Location: Apotex Winter Garden

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Come to my Garden… Let the aroma of its spices spread.

Artist: Samantha Goldman

Medium: Reproduction, vinyl on plexiglass

Size: 8’ (h) x 4’ (w) x 4” (d)

Location: Apotex Winter Garden

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Your Eyes are like Doves behind your Veil… Your Song is Heard throughout the Land

Artist: Samantha Goldman

Medium: Reproduction, vinyl on Plexiglass

Size: 8’ (h) x 4’ (w) x 4” (d)

Location: Apotex Winter Garden

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Marriage Contract from Oran, Algeria 1847

Curator: Andrea Simon

Medium: Reproduction, vinyl on wall

Credit: The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary KET 268

Location: Kalifer Culture Hub

 

A Ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) often places its key text, which details the obligations of the loving couple to each other, within the frame of a Gate. This practice consciously invokes the hope that the newlyweds will create a home as happy and holy as the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem; that their marriage will bring us all closer to a Messianic time to come.

 

The exuberant 1847 Ketubah from Oran, Algeria, surrounds its Gate with verses from the Book of Ruth: elders gathered at the Gate to congratulate Boaz on his marriage to Ruth, comparing her to “Rachel and Leah, builders of the House of Israel.”  

 

The modest 1896 Ketubah from Meknes, Morocco celebrates a wedding among Megorashim (Jews expelled from Spain in 1492) and includes a request—some 400 years later—that God protect and have mercy upon the exiled community of Castile.

 

In the beautiful Italian Ketubah from 1756, the Gate image speaks with particular directness:     two spiraling “Solomonic columns” framing the text allude to those said to have adorned the Temple. The Gate marks a passage, a journey, a transformation: like all Jewish rituals, the marriage ceremony joins past to future, memory to hope.

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Marriage Contract from Meknès, Morocco 1896

Curator: Andrea Simon

Medium: Reproduction, vinyl on wall

Credit: The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary KET 447

Location: Kalifer Culture Hub

 

A Ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) often places its key text, which details the obligations of the loving couple to each other, within the frame of a Gate. This practice consciously invokes the hope that the newlyweds will create a home as happy and holy as the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem; that their marriage will bring us all closer to a Messianic time to come.

 

The exuberant 1847 Ketubah from Oran, Algeria, surrounds its Gate with verses from the Book of Ruth: elders gathered at the Gate to congratulate Boaz on his marriage to Ruth, comparing her to “Rachel and Leah, builders of the House of Israel.”  

 

The modest 1896 Ketubah from Meknes, Morocco celebrates a wedding among Megorashim (Jews expelled from Spain in 1492) and includes a request—some 400 years later—that God protect and have mercy upon the exiled community of Castile.

 

In the beautiful Italian Ketubah from 1756, the Gate image speaks with particular directness:     two spiraling “Solomonic columns” framing the text allude to those said to have adorned the Temple. The Gate marks a passage, a journey, a transformation: like all Jewish rituals, the marriage ceremony joins past to future, memory to hope.

img-1

Marriage Contract from Reggio Emilia, Italy 1756

Curator: Andrea Simon

Medium: Reproduction, vinyl on wall

Credit: New York Public Library, Dorot Jewish Division

Location: Kalifer Culture Hub

 

A Ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) often places its key text, which details the obligations of the loving couple to each other, within the frame of a Gate. This practice consciously invokes the hope that the newlyweds will create a home as happy and holy as the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem; that their marriage will bring us all closer to a Messianic time to come.

 

The exuberant 1847 Ketubah from Oran, Algeria, surrounds its Gate with verses from the Book of Ruth: elders gathered at the Gate to congratulate Boaz on his marriage to Ruth, comparing her to “Rachel and Leah, builders of the House of Israel.”  

 

The modest 1896 Ketubah from Meknes, Morocco celebrates a wedding among Megorashim (Jews expelled from Spain in 1492) and includes a request—some 400 years later—that God protect and have mercy upon the exiled community of Castile.

 

In the beautiful Italian Ketubah from 1756, the Gate image speaks with particular directness:     two spiraling “Solomonic columns” framing the text allude to those said to have adorned the Temple. The Gate marks a passage, a journey, a transformation: like all Jewish rituals, the marriage ceremony joins past to future, memory to hope.

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Text panels and wall wraps

Curator: Andrea Simon

Medium: Reproduction, vinyl on wall

Location: Kalifer Culture Hub

 

The full text of the poem ‘Sha’ar Asher Nisgar’ is viewed throughout the Culture Hub in both English and Hebrew: semi-opaque hand-lettered, distinct vertical panels for each language, over a plain gray-green textured background that evokes a feeling of stone or moss.