1. “Colors of the Oasis”, an exhibit of Central Asian ikats, at the Textile Museum ends on Sunday. As I understand it, the word “ikat” refers to the weaving technique, not to the use of the fabric, although most of the many, many items on display are robes, men’s and women’s, woven in the 19th and early 20th century along the Silk Road, -dayin places like the the present day Uzbekistan, Turkestan, and Tajikistan. The process, similar to a tie-dye process, has the silk died multiple times, with parts of the silk bound and cutoff each time, so it becomes dye resistant and consequently enables the weaver. to create patterns on the final fabric. The patterns are typically designed and sketched by a designer, so that the dyers and weavers can be precise as they accomplish their various tasks. The results can be stunning.
There is an interesting video that explains the process. But if you don’t want to sit for that, all you need to do is walk into the three rooms that contain robe after robe after robe, all in excellent condition, with bright blues, reds and yellows. Looking at them individually is of course helpful, but to me, it’s the effect of seeing them all together. A ten minute visit is all you need for this.
The ikats were part of a larger collection of Murad Megalli, and Turkish American businessman who somehow was able to collect over 200 of these Central Asian pieces. Mr. Megalli died in a plane crash on a business trip to northern Iraq several weeks ago.
2. “One Flea Spare” by Naomi Wallace, is also closing this week at the Forum Theatre. A well-done production, the play itself is not much to my taste. It’s the 17th century and London is in the throes of a plague. Everyone who could (which means most of the wealthy) have fled town, but some are forced to remain, as houses are quarantined for a month after anyone dies inside. So it was with the very wealthy Snelgraves, whose servants have all succumbed. But they are not alone, because a young man (a sailor) and a younger women ( a 12 year old who claims to be the daughter of another wealthy couple) break into the house, seeing the possibility of both food and shelter. The four interact throughout the play (the only other character being a town crier and gofer, who appears outside the window from time to time), showing the difficulty of maintaining class distinctions, when it is just the four of them, in isolation, awaiting either freedom or death. Billed as a comedy, it did not appear very comical. Although the play itself has one a number of awards, it is not a play I would readily see a second time.
3. “Lubavitcher Rabbi’s Memoirs”. I am not sure why I have spent so much time reading about the Chabad movement – I am certainly neither an adherent nor a particular fan. But so be it. After reading the new biography of the most recent Rebbe (Samuel Heilman’s book, “The Rebbe”), and a book about the experience of the previous rebbe, Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, during his St. Petersburg years, and Chaim Potok’s “My Name is Asher Lev”, I settled down with a book published by the movement (my edition was 1961, although the copyright date is 1956)
hoping to learn more about the author. This did not really happen, because in fact these are not memoirs – the book is misnamed. This is a series of stories, vignettes really, about a series of Jews in various towns in the Pale of Settlement (Minsk, Vitebsk, and a series of smaller communities). These Jews are generally scholars, but are looking for something more than dry scholarship. They are interested in people generally, in moral righteousness, in avoiding material possessions, in teaching those who have not had, or could not absorb, traditional education, but who want to become more learned on religious subjects. They rebel against a society which idolizes religious scholars over all others, yet they remain scholars of the first order. Of course, nothing is perfect. These otherwise moral individuals often leave their families and leave their communities to pursue to their callings – they decide to spend six months, or a year or more, sitting at the feet of a scholar in another community, they leave their parents and do not tell them where they are going, they leave their spouses or children. Sometimes, they return, and sometimes not.
The work of the Baal Shem Tov is going on further to the south, and eventually, his reputation spreads north, and those who were taught directly by him, begin to move north. Eventually (there is a second volume of these memoirs, ,apparently), I am sure that the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov’s disciples, will become the core of the Chabad movement.
The stories are all pleasant to read, they all have good endings, they are all fable-like. The book clearly is meant to provide insight into the ethical and moral nature of the founding of the Chabad movement. Perhaps it does just that.