The Story Behind the Kaddish Tapestry

– Susan Avishai

Six years ago I was invited to attend a fibre-art residency at the Mark Rothko Art Centre in Latvia. We nine artists were expected to each create a piece for their collection. 

My first days were spent in Riga (where my grandfather was born), and I should not have been surprised to discover the once large Jewish community decimated.  I was lucky to be invited to Rosh Hashana services at the one remaining synagogue, where a Chasidic rabbi and his wife were valiantly trying to revive the lost community. I learned that the Soviets who had taken over after the war had no great love for the Jews either, in fact, I was told, public recitation of the Kaddish had been outlawed. I then knew how my project would unfold.

As an artist, I had always loved to play with Hebrew calligraphy. I imagined a piece with the Kaddish prayer cut out of linen, with light projecting the sacred words in a ghostly way on the wall behind. 

That piece is now in the permanent collection of the Mark Rothko museum, but a couple of years later I decided to create a second one, this time using a linen tablecloth that my grandmother brought when she fled Europe. That is the one you see here, which I have happily gifted to the DJC.