Keren Or Celebrating Milestone With 20th Year Of Teen Arts Contest

When it comes to the Keren Or Teen Arts Contest, David Siegel has seen it all. His parents, the late Jerry and Eileen Siegel started the contest in memory of their daughter, David’s sister Karen Siegel-Jacobs. As the project prepares to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the contest, Siegel is amazed that it’s still going strong.

“To last more than a few years is significant, but to get to 20 is almost unimaginable,” he said. “It’s not so much the longevity but the recognition that all these kids have gotten, for 20 years, for creative work.”

Siegel’s parents managed everything with the contest for the first few years, before turning it over to Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council to manage. The event continues to be sponsored by the Karen Siegel-Jacobs Fund at the Adath Jeshurun Foundation. This year’s celebration is from 2-4 p.m. May 5 at the Minnesota JCC Sabes Center Minneapolis. 

“May 5th is an opportunity for the community to come out and support our teen artists,” said Sarah Routman, Rimon’s interim executive director. “It may be one of the only programs in the Twin Cities that currently attracts Jewish teens from across the community from all denominations, synagogues, and schools.”

This year’s poetry, prose, and photography winners will be named and their work will be displayed on the wall outside the Tychman/Shapiro gallery at the JCC in May. Entries are grouped by age: 7th-9th graders and 10th-12th graders, with each group having the opportunity to enter their work in all categories.

“[Rimon founding Executive Director] David Harris used to talk about how a lot of these kids aren’t athletes, or on the debate team, or don’t participate in things at school, so they aren’t getting recognition for this kind of effort,” Siegel said. “It’s a really cool thing about the contest: This is recognition of kids for the creative process and their creative work. And whether they go on to be artists isn’t the point. They’ve exposed themselves to art. They are artists.”

One of those artists is Ian Aizman, who participated in one of the first years of the contest, winning in photography and finishing second in prose. Aizman saw a flyer for the contest at his St. Louis Park Synagogue, Bais Yisroel, and was encouraged to enter by his rabbi. His first meeting with Jerry Siegel was inspiring to him.

“He was one of those people that beams with joy,” said Aizman, who is reviving his connection to the contest as a judge in the photography competition. “Immediately, he just made you feel warm inside. It sounds cliche, but he had a way of doing that with everyone.”

Aizman said he continues to be inspired by Jerry Siegel.

“His kindness inspired me as a human, which in turn inspired my artwork,” he said. “When you’re a teen a lot of your self-image comes externally. Having people like Jerry who encourages you in a creative way but also are guideposts as human beings. As I spent more time with Jerry and that way of being that he had, it had an impact on me as a human and then the art.”

The contest recognizes excellence in art, but Aizman is quick to mention that no one is a pro at age 14. 

“They’re curious photographer and curious writers,” he said. “Expertise can cloud the innocent, true curiosity. The world hasn’t told you there are rules yet. It’s sort of magic in a way, and Jerry created that environment with the contest. He hosted the awards and took such care with the entry and the artist.”

David Siegel said the family and Rimon are imagining what Keren Or will look like going forward, including expanding the program beyond the contest. 

“I hope 20 years from now, someone will be around to continue the legacy of Keren Or that honors the past and drives value in the future,” Siegel said. “We’re very fortunate to have this exist in the community. Hundreds of kids have been impacted, and their families, grandparents, and siblings, too. It’s not an insignificant deal in the world.”

This article is sponsored content from Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council. For more information, check out our media kit.