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Skidmore College

Rabbi's "Sacred Scraps" to be featured at exhibition

May 30, 2014
Rabbi Linda Motzkin
Rabbi Linda Motzkin

Rabbi Linda Motzkin has been a presence in Saratoga Springs’ rich cultural community for decades, both as co-rabbi of Temple Sinai and also as Jewish chaplain at Skidmore. But behind her public role as a rabbi, Motzkin has been on a private artistic journey that will be exhibited for the first time at her show “Sacred Scraps: The Work of Rabbi Linda Motzkin,” at Spring Street Gallery, 110 Spring St., Saratoga Springs. An opening reception is planned from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 8, at the gallery. The public is welcome.

Motzkin was ordained a rabbi in 1986, and came to Saratoga Springs that summer with her husband and co-rabbi Jonathan Rubenstein. Since her youth she had dabbled in various art forms, including the study of Hebrew calligraphy as a college student under master calligrapher David Moss. In 2003 she began studying with Rabbi Eric Ray to become a soferet (a Hebrew scribe who writes Torah scrolls and other sacred documents), a profession traditionally restricted to men. One of a handful of women worldwide who have mastered this craft, she is the only soferet in the world who makes her own parchment, which she prepares using deerskins donated by local Adirondack hunters. “I never dreamed I’d get involved in scraping and fleshing animal hides,” Motzkin recalled, “but at the time I began, it was the only possible way for me, as a female scribe, to obtain kosher parchment.”

Rabbi Motzkin, "Shivi'ti:  Healing Psalms"
Linda Motzkin, Shivi'ti:  Healing Psalms,
Ink on deerskin parchment, 59" x 29"

When Motzkin began making parchment for the Torah scroll that she is currently writing, she discovered that not every deerskin can produce suitable parchment, due to inherent flaws in the skin as well as damage that occurs during processing. “Even though I couldn’t use them as Torah panels, I still thought these flawed pieces had their own sacred dimension,“ Motzkin said. So she decided to highlight their imperfections and transform them into a different sort of sacred art, weaving fragments of Hebrew texts and other design elements around the holes and tears in the skins. Some of her pieces are small, and some over five feet in length, sometimes resembling Swiss cheese, with their organic intricacies.

The exhibition will feature up to 20 pieces of all sizes, some as small as 12 inches and others larger than five feet. Says Motzkin, “A lot of folks don't know that real parchment is not paper, but is made from animal skin.”

The process of creating these pieces reflects the mystical belief that holiness lies embedded within all matter, waiting to be recognized, uplifted and transformed. Motzkin’s artistic journey is an inspiration to those of every background, sacred and secular, who seek to find beauty and meaning in the midst of the flaws and imperfections of life.

Baked goods for the June 8 opening reception of “Sacred Scraps: Works by Rabbi Linda Motzkin” will be provided by Temple Sinai’s Slice of Heaven Breads, a project of Motzkin’s husband, Rabbi Jonathan Rubenstein.

There will also be two workshops presented at Spring Street Gallery as part of the exhibit. The first is a writing workshop with poet Marilyn McCabe from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 15, co-presented by the Adirondack Center for Writing, which will use Motzkin’s work as the inspiration for reflection and personal expression. The second is a parchment-making workshop with Motzkin from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday, June 22. Motzkin will demonstrate her preparation of deerskin hides.  Workshops are $5.

This program received support from Saratoga Arts through its Saratoga Program for Arts Funding, which is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts.

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