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Robert Abzug, Director CLA 2.402, 305 E 23rd St B3600, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-475-6178

The Jewish Community Center's Gallery at the J presents 'Jews of Color: In Color!'

Posted: September 14, 2011
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The Jewish Community Association of Austin's Gallery at the J kicked off its 2011–2012 season with a provocative and fascinating exhibition from Scattered Among the Nations.

In partnership with the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies and Texas Hillel, the Gallery at the J presents “Jews of Color: In Color!”—an exhibition of more than fifty vibrant photographs not previously shown in Austin. The exhibition opened September 1; the JCC held a free artist reception and program with curator Bryan Schwartz on Sunday, September 11. The exhibit will run at the Gallery at the J until October 3, when it will move to Texas Hillel.

“Jews of Color: In Color!” challenges stereotypes of the Jewish people, portraying five communities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America whose populations share the outward appearance and lifestyles of the people who surround them, with one major difference: they are practicing Jews. Featured communities include India’s Bene Israel community, India’s Benei Menashe community, Mexico's Venta Prieta community, Ghana’s House of Israel, and Zimbabwe's Shona Jews.

In 2003, Schwartz founded the non-profit organization Scattered Among the Nations to support some of the communities in their struggles to exist or in their embrace of the Jewish heritage.

"I had visited the Inca Jews of Peru in 2001," Schwartz said. "They had no recognition at all, and they wanted to emigrate to Israel. No Jewish organization considered this group under their umbrella."

The Inca Jews, as they are commonly known, had only taken up Judaism in 1966 and faced prejudice and discrimination in their Andean town of Trujillo, as well as a lack of knowledge of and teachers about Jewish practices and rituals. While close to 300 of the group managed to emigrate to Israel in 1990 and 2001, it wasn't until a decade later the another segment of Inca Jews was formally converted and allowed to emigrate.

"I don't approach these groups with an agenda," said Schwartz, who works now with writer and photographer Jay Sand and Sandy Carter. "My goal is not to impose any kind of agenda but to engage the community. They take me in and treat me like family. We're not trying to change them but to encourage them."

Above: David Ahenkorah, leader of a synagogue in Ghana.

Some of the groups Schwartz has visited prosper and succeed on their own, indeed after hundreds of years, while others, he said, "are still evolving. Sometimes they reveal incredible levels of ingenuity and accommodation and incredible marriages of cultures. They have learned over time, and sometimes through hardship, to adapt to their surroundings." Often these local and specific transformations of rituals and practices "are beautiful and amazing."

The September 11 event featured a reception with a multimedia presentation by Schwartz. Schwartz, an Oakland-based civil rights attorney and a widely-published writer/photographer, has photographed and documented the world’s most far-flung Jewish communities. He visited thirty countries on five continents in recent years while working with Jay Sand and Sandy Carter on their book, also entitled Jews of Color: In Color! This exhibition, like other Scattered Among the Nations exhibitions, has shown in galleries, museums, synagogues, and Jewish centers across the country, from New York to the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Jews of Color: In Color!” will run through October 3, before it moves to Texas Hillel. Check out more photos from the exhibit on the Schusterman Center's Facebook page.

For more information on this exhibition and the Gallery at the J's new season, contact Pam Prais at (512) 735-8034 or pam.prais@shalomaustin.org. In addition, check out www.scatteredamongthenations.org for more extensive information on the non-profit organization, as well as a selection of articles regarding isolated Jewish communities.

The JCC Visual Arts Committee is made up of community members with a background in art and an appreciation for the significance of sharing art with the community.  If you are interested in participating on the Visual Arts Committee or for information on exhibitions, please contact Pam Prais at (512) 735-8034 or pam.prais@shalomaustin.org.

Above: A woman in Ghana stands beside depictions of a menorah, the Torah, and the Star of David.
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