The Arty Semite

Pittsburgh Hasidic Seminary Offers Arts Education to Women

By Beth Kissileff

  • Print
  • Share Share

“The teachers here get to know you, instead of getting to know what they can change about you,” said Rochel Goldsmith, a fine arts and writing student at the Tzohar Seminary for Chasidus and the Arts, a one-year Lubavitch seminary for post high school girls opened this fall in Pittsburgh, Pa. Her peer, Rivka Eilfort, a singer, added: “I feel like I’m in a pre-school classroom when everything is there to stimulate your senses, every aspect of you, but on an adult level.”

Tzohar (literally “window,” from the description of Noah’s Ark in Genesis 6:16) teaches both Jewish studies and the arts, and tries to integrate students’ interest in both areas. The school is run by Amy Guterson, a graduate of Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University, where she studied fine arts and acting but felt she was never encouraged to connect her artistic endeavors and her Jewish spirituality. Her goal is to lessen the difficulty for the next generation and to provide a “kosher place to study the arts.”

Guterson said that she is saddened by the lack of focus on the arts in mainstream Jewish education and that art is often seen as “treyf” instead of “being a language, a potential vessel for kedusha [holiness].” At Tzohar the curriculum includes classes on “creativity and the arts,” Hassidic teachings, theater, filmmaking, Tanya, and the weekly Torah portion.

In the classrooms on Forbes Avenue student can encounter affirmations from Julia Cameron’s New Age flavored book ”The Artist’s Way” (2002), such as “I am a channel for God’s creativity and my work comes to good,” alongside excerpts from the late Lubavitcher Rebbe’s letters encouraging the work of Jewish sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, addressed by the Rebbe as “Chaim Yaakov.” Cameron’s “morning pages” are included in the curriculum alongside morning prayers.

In addition to Guterson, the other full time faculty member and teacher is Rabbi Aaron Herman, a Pittsburgh native who recently returned to his hometown after 13 years in Raleigh and Cary, N.C. Herman said that he is not creative himself but that he has an appreciation for the importance of creativity in his students’ lives.

The mixture of Jewish learning and creativity seems to reach students on a level most of them never experienced before. They spoke of looking at their watches hoping class would not end and of the freedom that they hadn’t previously encountered in their educational lives. One student labeled Guterson’s class on creativity and the arts “the barefoot class” because of its stress on creating a “safe environment where we can work without shoes on.”

Rochel Samuels, 20, of Milwaukee, Wis., described a group sitting around a Shabbat table and noting the nail polish each student wore. She asked who was wearing red and who orange, and soon realized all the colors of the rainbow were represented on her classmates’ fingers. Samuels was ecstatic that rather than being seen as a sign of “rebellion,” the multi-colored hand display was welcomed as part of the students’ “self-expression.”

A Tzohar is described in the Midrash as both a window as well as a precious stone. Tzohar Seminary seems poised to open a window in the lives of its students, as well as help them to create something artistically precious.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tzohar Seminary, Beth Kissileff, Amy Guterson

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.