Late artist's work steeped in peace, healing, 'common ground'

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PITTSFIELD — For Judaica textile artist Wendy A. Rabinowitz, her work represented peace, healing, the earth and women's issues.

"We can meet on common ground through our art," she told The Eagle in 2006. "When darkness appears, just watch for the light."

Rabinowitz, who died in a traffic accident Tuesday at 72, grew up on Chicago's south side, where she liked to watch the sun rise over nearby Lake Michigan. Her father, Sam Rabens, was an accountant who had changed the family name; her mother was Geraldine Bielsker, a homemaker.

For more than 30 years, Rabinowitz worked at her Living Threads Judaica studio at the East New Lenox Road home she shared with her husband, Jeffrey Borak, arts and entertainment editor of The Eagle.

They were introduced by a mutual friend at Temple Anshe Amunim on Oct. 5, 1986, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and were married in September 1989.

On her website, she wrote that her ancestors included Sephardic rabbis and women in a large weaving community in Bielsk, Poland. Her work, widely exhibited in the Berkshires and far beyond, was in mixed media — such as metals, fabric, paper, papyrus and silk — and she was a weaver of brightly colored tapestries.

Rabinowitz studied at the University of Chicago, was trained at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, Maine, and became immersed in Jewish teachings by several rabbis and at the Kabbalah Centre in Boston.

Her work has been displayed in galleries, including several in Berkshire County, private collections in the U.S. and Israel, synagogues, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., and at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago, where she had studied early in her career.

Rabinowitz spoke of art's healing power in January 2007, as 18 of her three-dimensional, woven-fabric pieces went on display at the United Nations in New York for an exhibit titled "Illuminations: Color and Light for Peace."

"In creation, it can help an artist move past personal pain," she said. "In viewing, it renews the spirit, births a new outlook and can serve as a catalyst for change."

Passages from the Torah — the law of God as revealed to Moses and recorded in the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures — and representations of the mystical Tree of Life informed her work, as well as Hebrew icons, calligraphy and prayers.

"Art has a connective ability," Rabinowitz told The Eagle. "It has the ability to touch us on a deep level, moving us beyond any place we fear, past a paralysis of action. It opens up our humanity; I've seen it in myself. I can be moved to act."

Until a chance meeting in 1972 with a religious artist at a co-op on Mount Desert Island in Maine, she had been largely disconnected from her faith. Already devoted to nature and art history, she became convinced it was time to reconnect with her roots.

"I really started to see the experience of God in art," she recalled.

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Devoted to the positive powers of art on the body and mind, Rabinowitz also expressed concern for the future of the planet.

"We're at the tipping point, environmentally," she said back in 2007.

A few months earlier, one of her works was installed at Pittsfield's City Hall after a number of swastikas were found throughout the city.

In a Berkshires Week profile five years ago, she summed up the central themes of her work rooted in the psalms and stories from the Old Testament: Healing the mind and body, healing the planet, environment, and feminism.

In the summer of 2012, her "Women of the Wall" went on display at Hancock Shaker Village, based on the western wall of the second temple in Jerusalem, the sacred place where Jewish pilgrims from across the world come to pray.

Rabinowitz recounted how visitors from Berkshire County and from distant points such as France, Japan and Ghana wrote so many responses that she had to collect them and bring fresh paper.

As Kate Abbott, editor of Berkshires Week at the time, wrote: "She feels an energy of creation — an active, alive voice — in every tree and every blade of grass."

"We are both living and spiritual," Rabinowitz said. "Creation begins with nature."

Quoting from the Book of Job, she expressed a deep conviction: "Look to the earth, and it shall lead you."

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Roche Funeral Home is handling funeral arrangements. There are no calling hours; services at Temple Anshe Amunim will be held on a date to be announced.

Survivors include her sister, Barbara Wenk, of Chicago; her first husband, Doug Munson, and their children, Sara Munson of Stone Ridge, N.Y., who works for Casey Family Programs, and her husband, Dave Sagerties, executive director of the New York state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities; and Joanna Munson Perales of Cheverly, Md., an attorney for the federal public defender office, and her husband, Olegario Perales, also an attorney.

Rabinowitz leaves four grandchildren, Addysen, 11, Jasper, 9, Pablo, 4, and Rafael, 2.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com and 413-637-2551.


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