Temima Gezari made a lasting impact on Jewish education through her vivid artwork, illustrations of children’s books, and many years of teaching. Gezari earned degrees from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1925 and the Master Institute of United Arts in 1930, before becoming director of art education for the New York Board of Jewish Education in 1940. For over sixty years in that post, she created workshops and resources for Jewish educators and organized exhibitions of children’s art. She also taught art education and art history at JTS from 1935–1977. A painter and sculptor, Gezari had solo exhibitions throughout the United States and Israel and was commissioned to create a mural for the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in New York and a sculpture for Yad Vashem.
Early Life and Education
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.
Career in Education
While serving as artist-in-residence on A voluntary collective community, mainly agricultural, in which there is no private wealth and which is responsible for all the needs of its members and their families.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 provided programming and workshops for art teachers. Each year, the department-sponsored 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 published Brush and Color, a bulletin for art teachers. In addition to BJE work, Gezari 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 painted and sculpted worldwide and had solo shows in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and Jerusalem. Her murals 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 was 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 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 was the coauthor of The Jewish Kindergarten and the author of Footprints and New Worlds: Experiences in Art with Child and Adult. She 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 appeared in magazines such as Art in Childhood, The Reconstructionist, and Jewish Education Magazine.
A trailblazer, Temima Gezari had a profound influence on the course of American Jewish education. Her philosophy of using art to teach about Jewish holidays and customs left an indelible mark on countless schoolchildren. With more than sixty years in the field, she was a legendary presence in Jewish education.
Gezari passed away on March 5, 2009, at the age of 103.
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.