As some of you might already know, on Tuesday, December 11, Wendy Rabinowitz, 72, died in a car crash several miles from her home in Pittsfield.
What you might not know is what a luminous presence she was in the Berkshires, and beyond.
Wendy Rabinowitz, or Wendilah, as she liked to be called, was a gifted artist, whose deeply spiritual work was also political. “All art is a healing,” she wrote. “A tikkun olam to creation.” Tikkun olam refers to the Judaic concept of human action that repairs a broken world.
I am thinking of her exhibit “Women At The Wall: A Call for Peace” at the United Nations. It was an extraordinary vision: an eight foot interactive assemblage of weaving and copper, handmade paper, glass beads, wood, ceramic, papyrus, abalone, a prayer shawl and stone. Wendy provided small blank scrolled papers for viewers to respond. They left over 3,000 messages of peace. The plaque was exhibited widely including at the Hancock Shaker Village.
I originally met Wendilah when I first moved to the area. She asked me if I’d join her to see her show “Imoteinu (And Our Mothers),” which was based on the voices, power and wisdom of the ancient Jewish Matriarchs. I remember her images of the feminine “outlaws” of the Old Testament: Lilith and Hagar. Wendy was steeped in religious study, but never sanctimonious. As her friend Susan Solovay, an artist and hypnotherapist, has written: “Wendy had an impish, mischievous playful side that wove beautifully with a deep seriousness. She cared about what is important in life: compassion, art, justice, spirituality.”
The two of us along with Wendy, Marilyn Kalish, Mary Gendler, Joy Dronge and a few others were part of a group of Jewish Women Artists, who met regularly for several years and shared our work. We called ourselves the Bollabustehs.
Barbara Newman, a filmmaker, wrote this: “She took on and fought for all she believed in – the health of the planet, peace, human rights, love, equality, and the family of humankind… I always knew that when she showed up, she’d be wearing jewel-toned colors to match her brilliant, light-filled spirit. She wove her magic into everything: her art, her friendship, the way she lived her life.”
Wendy’s friends and teachers were numerous. She had been a student of the famed Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement, in Israel, who helped shape many of her ideas as well as Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Rabbi Everett Gendler.
One more caveat: family. Wendy celebrated family life. Her partnership with Jeff Borak, arts editor of the Berkshire Eagle, was legend. Although they met in their 40s, theirs was a romance. Wendy and I once went together to the Boston Museum of Art where she picked up a puppet for Jeffilah, as she called him. I looked at it curiously. “Oh, we sometimes like to talk through puppets.” A very unusual spirit. And she was inordinately proud of her daughters, their husbands, and her grandchildren.
“Life was an adventure for Wendy,” Susan Solovay concluded. “Just too short for the rest of us – we are not ready for her to go.”