“Pray, Pray, Pray” Installation Calls For Tikkun Olam

For Jewish artist Johanan Herson, tikkun olam  — the Hebrew for the act of repairing the world — transcends religious boundaries.

Making the world a better place starts with realizing it’ll take people off all shapes and sizes, metaphorically speaking, to lead change, Herson said.

To do his part, he’s painting his own picture of tikkun olam. Five paintings on display at the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Memorial Union were unveiled Thursday at an art opening for the exhibition, “Pray, Pray, Pray,” up for viewing until March 5.

“We’re in a terrible time of [extremism] right now,” said Herson, who left his home in Canada 40 years ago to settle in Israel. “I’m asking for us all to pray together and break down the barriers.”

His paintings, acrylic and mixed media on board, tie in images of rainbow faces words like “God is everyone” and “Make love not war… please,” imploring viewers to go out and advocate equality.

The message is timely, Herson said. In Israel, where civilians live through destruction and war, many feel a threat to their nationalities.

Instead of letting it tear the country apart, however, Herson hopes the constant war will bring those who may look different or pray separately to fight for tikkun olam together.

“It’s necessary to take a step back and remember what religion is all about,” he said.

At the Thursday opening, Herson was joined by Tamar Eisenman, Israeli rock and folk singer-songwriter, who performed a set to a crowd of about 50 University of Minnesota students, Jewish staff and community members. Many of her songs are themed around making the world a better place.

The exhibit incorporates images Herson borrowed from previous works, including a depiction of Tel Aviv, the “white city,” with an overlay of colorful faces. It’s a nod to the city’s reputation as a safe space for a diverse set of people, including the LGBT community.

Herson spent about three months assembling the pieces, and the event was under construction for nearly half a year.

Idan Cohen, Minnesota Hillel’s Israel Fellow, said he hopes the event gives University of Minnesota a new take on Israel.

This year, we are really trying to bring not just Israeli culture, but also Jewish values connected to Israel in different ways,” Cohen said. The event was co-sponsored by Minnesota Hillel, Student Union and Activities, Students Supporting Israel at the University of Minnesota and local law firm Davis and Goldfarb Law, PLLC.

The art opening was one in a series of Israel- and tikkun olam-themed events sponsored by Minnesota Hillel this year, Cohen said. Hillel will host IsraAID, a nonprofit disaster relief organization, on Feb. 7 at Coffman Memorial Union. The time of the event has not yet been determined.

Want to view “Pray, Pray, Pray” at the University of Minnesota? Visit the second floor at Coffman Memorial Union to see the installation for free.