March 17, 2010
Last year, my mother invited me to travel with her numerous times, and for various reasons, I had to decline. Finally, last fall, sitting next to me in a class we take together once a month, she slid a printout of the JWA Sante Fe invitation across the table and asked, "what do you think of this trip--we could go somewhere we have both never been to celebrate your 50th birthday?"
I scanned the preliminary itinerary and immediately said, "YES!" I was thrilled to be going to Santa Fe because of all the natural beauty and Hispanic and Native American art and culture I knew to expect. But, I admit, that it struck me as a stretch to focus on Jewish women. The extent to which that turned out not to be a reach was the biggest surprise of my trip.
Admittedly, my enthusiasm waned during our eleven hour travel day from Boca Raton, Florida, to Santa Fe, via Houston and Albuquerque. I just kept thinking, I'll never do this again. But, by the end of the first evening, I was already hatching a plan to return with my daughters some day. From the moment we arrived at our hotel, everything about the trip was as right as it could be. When we left our first stop, Betsy Ehrenberg's incredible home and glass art collection, which had not even been on our itinerary, I was already satisfied that the trip had been worth the schlep. I also came home wearing earrings, ring and a necklace I have affectionately titled "my kryptonite," made by Betsy's son, crystal artist, David Leight.
At breakfast on the first morning, author/historian Lois Rudnick said, "art and culture teach us how to have non-exploitative relationships with our surroundings." From the wall in artist/poet Lorraine Schechter's home/studio, I copied down this quote by Frederick Franck: "Art is that which, despite all, gives hope." At lunch on Friday, author and teacher Nancy King, said, "courage is contagious." At our bittersweet farewell brunch, Michele Rosen said that what we had experienced throughout our visit illustrated that we are "expanding the margins of our community." Michele's comment could equally apply to the communities of women, Jews, artists, writers, archivists, or simply tourists. There is no doubt that our brief time in Sante Fe expanded our minds and opened our hearts in ways we had not foreseen. The symbiotic connections among the various cultures of the settlers of artsy, breathtaking Santa Fe contribute as much color to the feast it offers as the famous sunsets.
The only negative voice that I encountered during our entire visit to magical, mystical, magnificent, and endlessly charming Sante Fe commented that "there is no anti-semitism in Sante Fe because there is no semitism." In shock, I suggested that she better have a closer look at our itinerary. During our marathon three days, we experienced Jewish hospitality and talent, and proud Jewish identities from every possible angle. Three extraordinary New Mexico poetesses read published poems that referenced their Jewishness. The most divine meal we ate was presented to us by a chef who discussed her Jewish and Native American roots and childhood and how they impacted her food. The curator and founder of the New Mexico museum, Fran Levine, told us about incorporating the history of the Jewish settlers into the exhibit. Historian Stan Hodes told us how he almost accidentally became an expert on the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico. At the end of his presentation, Susan Berk, told us that in recent years she'd seen two original theatrical productions in Sante Fe on the subject. And everywhere we turned, we met another Jewish woman artist, gallery owner, or collector.
I don't think I have ever visited anywhere in the world that the expression "pride of place" came to my mind as frequently as during my days in Santa Fe. All the transplants we met shared their stories of discovering Santa Fe and deciding to move there, with an expectation that the same would happen to us. During our private tour of the Georgia O'Keeffe Research Center, we were accompanied by a curator and a security officer. Repeatedly, during the docent's narration, the security guy would interject a detail or an opinion about O'Keeffe and her work. I overheard someone in our group say about the beefy, uniformed guy, "He's proof that you can't judge a book by its cover." At the end, I asked him, "Did you come to work here because you were passionate about O'Keeffe's work, or did you develop this enthusiasm working here?" His barrel chest seemed to inflate a bit more as he shared, with obvious pride, his experience of coming to work there as a security detail and falling in love with the art and the artist. He also shared with us that his boss, the head of security for the O'Keeffe museum, is recognized as a leader in the movement to encourage the security staff at museums to be more knowledgeable and passionate about the art. He was very happy to tell us that the officers all get a tour by the curator of every new exhibit so they can be as knowledgeable as possible.
Among all the astonishing talent we met, my two favorite new Santa Fe friends are not artists of any traditional medium. Susan Berk and Betsy Ehrenberg are the epitome of "social artists." This expression, introduced to us by Susan, was coined by Santa Fe feminist graphic artist, Maureen Burdock. It describes perfectly these two women who promote the art, culture, and tourism of their chosen retirement home town through their passion and the connections they make.
For Susan and Betsy and every new friend from JWA and Santa Fe, I share this:
"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."
Last, but never least, my infinite gratitude to my mother for this extraordinary adventure and for all the blessings she bestows every day!
About the Jewish Women's Archive trip to Santa Fe
For 100 years, artists have flocked to Santa Fe, attracted by its arid beauty and the chance to re-create themselves.
The work of those artists who are Jewish incorporates an understanding of their heritage and of themselves as modern Jews – some embrace and redefine it, while others rebel against or reject it – and with resonances that may illuminate a deeper struggle with the past than is obvious on first glance.
On this trip, the Jewish Women's Archive will explore the rich mix that uniquely defines Santa Fe and provide participants with an inside view of this fascinating community.Read original trip prospectus >>