Artist and innovator in Jewish art education, Temima Gezari was born Fruma Nimtzowitz in Pinsk, Russia, on December 21, 1905. She immigrated to the United States with her family as an infant and grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where her father, Yisroel, and her mother, Bella (Cohen) Nimtzowitz, raised Temima along with her sister, Etta, and brother, Ruby.
Gezari discovered her interest in both Jewish education and art at an early age. She graduated from the Brooklyn Girls High School in 1921, from the Teachers Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1925, and from the Master Institute of United Arts in 1930. She also studied at Parsons New York School of Fine and Applied Art, the Art Students League, Columbia University, the New School for Social Research, and the Taos School of Art in New Mexico. In March 1995, she received an honorary doctorate of letters from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
While serving as artist-in-residence on Kibbutz Mishmar ha-Emek in Palestine, she met Zvi Gezari, an industrial engineer, whom she married in Tel Aviv in 1938. They had two sons, Daniel (b. 1942) and Walter (b. 1944).
Gezari became director of the department of art education at the Board of Jewish Education (BJE) in New York in 1940, when she was hired by Dr. Alexander Dushkin. As a resource to New York-area teachers in Jewish afternoon and day schools, the department provides programming and workshops for art teachers. Each year, the department sponsors citywide exhibitions of children’s art, which have been shown in the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of the City of New York, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Jewish Museum in New York. The BJE also publishes Brush and Color, a bulletin for art teachers. Gezari continues in her post as director at the age of ninety-nine. In addition to BJE work, Gezari has taught in a variety of settings. Mordecai Kaplan, then dean of the Teachers Institute, appointed her to the institute’s faculty in 1935, and she taught art education and art history there for forty-two years. Gezari also taught in the Clinic for Gifted Children at New York University and lectured across the United States on the philosophy of art.
Gezari has painted and sculpted worldwide and has had solo shows in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and Jerusalem. Her murals have adorned the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in New York, and a 1938 mural, originally done for Cejwin Camps in Port Jervis, New York, was restored and reinstalled in the library of Yemin Orde, the children’s village on Mount Carmel in Israel. Lament, a bronze sculpture, was commissioned by Yad Vashem. Much of Gezari’s art work is done at her studio and home in the town of Rocky Point, Long Island, where her bronze sculpture “The Peace Totem” was dedicated in September 2000. A gifted artist as well as educator, Gezari has combined her talents in a number of publications. She illustrated several books, including Gateway to Jewish Song, Children of the Emek, Hillel’s Happy Holidays, and Dovid’ll. She is the coauthor of The Jewish Kindergarten and the author of Footprints and New Worlds: Experiences in Art with Child and Adult. She has also produced numerous filmstrips. Art and the Growing Child won the Silver Reel Award from the Film Council of America (1957) and the Scholastic Award (1957). Her articles on art and education have appeared in magazines such as Art in Childhood, The Reconstructionist, and Jewish Education Magazine.
A trailblazer, Temima Gezari has had a profound influence on the course of American Jewish education. Her philosophy of using art to teach about Jewish holidays and customs has left an indelible mark on countless schoolchildren. After more than sixty years in the field, she is a legendary presence in Jewish education.
Gezari, Daniel, ed. The Art of Temima Gezari (1985); Gezari, Temima. Footprints and New Worlds: Experiences in Art with Child and Adult (1964); Josephs, Susan. “Where Life and Art Meet.” The Jewish Week, February 16, 1996, 16–17.