Three and a half years ago my father-in-law calls to tell me about an article he has read in the Jerusalem Report about an American woman in Israel who has initiated a community art project called Women of the Book. She has gathered dozens of Jewish women artists from around the world to each create a visual interpretation of the 54 weekly chapters of the Torah. There's an urgency in his voice which is rare. He thinks the project might interest me and he's right. I do some research on the woman and it turns out that she is about my age and we have some friends in common. And she lives about 20 minutes from me. It also turns out that according to the project website, they are still accepting new artists. So I send her an email.
She replies. Turns out the selection committee is meeting in a few days and she invites me to submit an application. So I spend some time looking at the available chapters and am not inspired. It is a lot of tedious laws and not the good kind, like don't kill anyone. They are regarding genital discharge and marrying your brother's wife if he dies in battle. In short, the nasty laws and laws about doing the nasty. I know. I'm very mature. The only thing half way interesting to me is the bit about stoning of the wayward son but that hits a little too close to home. I tell her I'll take a pass.
A week later, after further research, I settle on parashat Terumah. It talks about instructions on how to build the alter for God while traveling in the desert and I feel like there might be some good imagery there to work with. Also my mom is coming for her first visit since we have made Aliya so I'm in the process of setting up the spare room for her to feel comfortable and I'm seeing some parallels there. It's kind of a stretch. I write a short essay about my ideas and send in a sketch and images of my latest paintings.
She sends an email that she has just had a baby and so the process has been put on hold in the interim. That is fine with me. I am in no rush. I never hear from her again. I never followed up either. Something isn't right and I know it. I forget about the project.
Fast forward three years and I get an email from the same woman. She's cleaning out her inbox and is very sorry for never having responded after my submission. She wants to know if I am still interested in the project. There are still chapters available and they are listed on the website. I can't decide if I am disgusted or delighted that she would get in touch after all this time. I decide to go with delight and reply to her that the website is not up to date and I can't figure out which chapters are still available. Weeks pass and she doesn't reply. I am not surprised. This was March 2015.
In June 2015 I get a call from her. She's seen my latest work and thinks I am a good fit for the project. Where have you been cha cha? She goes on to explain that while my previous work, the watercolor landscapes, are lovely, the medium doesn't work with the project. The paintings are meant to be done on parchment, like a real Torah scroll, and eventually stitched together for display. She tells me that the project is going to be featured in the 2015 Jerusalem Biennale at the gallery at the the old train station in Jerusalem. It's all finally coming together but she's still missing a few chapters. I tell her that frankly I am not interested in any of the available chapters and she mentions that a new one has just become available since another artist decided to leave the project. She thinks it's perfect for me. The chapter is Balak.
Now I am not a Torah scholar. I can count on one hand the chapters that I know by name. But I know Balak because it's the one with the talking donkey. THE TALKING FEMALE DONKEY. It's the one where Bilam the prophet goes to curse the Israelites at the request of the Moab ruler Balak and instead God fills his mouth with words of praise: How goodly are your tents, Oh Jacob, your dwelling places, Oh Israel. I have won the Torah lottery.
So I submit another application with some ideas and a collection of my recent works. I come to understand from the updated website that it's a longshot since the artists involved in the project are leading contemporary Jewish artists who have exhibited in all the big museums around the world. To make a baseball reference, this is the Show. I set my expectations low. And anyway chances are good that I'll never hear from her again. A week later I get an email that the curatorial committee has met and they want to invite me to participate in the project and when can she drop off the parchment...That was a Thursday. The next evening is Shabbat and the portion of the week is Balak. Timing is everything.