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When life and death imitate art

Eitan Dov Rosenzweig was killed in battle in Gaza on Nov. 22. But his talent was recognized well before his induction into the IDF.

SHARON ALTSHUL | May 22, 2024

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A new exhibit at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem (BLMJ) features the work of the late Eitan Dov Rosenzweig. Titled “Kuma,” it will be on view for the next six months.

Tragically, Eitan was killed in battle in the Gaza Strip on Nov. 22, 2023. But his talent was recognized well before his induction into the Israel Defense Forces. Having developed his skills as a student at the Neveh Shmuel Yeshiva High School in the Judean community of Efrat, he won first place in a national competition and an art-studies scholarship for his painting “Scroll of Jewish Fate.”

It is this 3.6-meter (nearly 12-foot) painting, exploring the collective Jewish consciousness, which is on display at the BLMJ exhibit. Created during the COVID-19 school closures, it begins with the biblical passage of “Lech Lecha,” progresses to the destruction of the Temple and ultimately to redemption.

Reminiscing about her son, Hagit Rosenzweig tells JNS that Eitan—the eldest of five brothers—discovered a 3,000-year-old stone during a class trip to the Elah Valley. The Bronze Age artifact also features in the exhibition. 

According to Hagit, Eitan’s thirst for knowledge and critical eye were uncharacteristic for a young child. 

“He devoured every book and encyclopedia that came his way,” she recounts. “Finishing the standard books for his age, he moved on to Egyptian and Greek mythologies, the histories of various peoples and later other intellectual pursuits, with a bookshelf that wouldn’t shame a university professor.”

She goes on to point out Eitan’s love of languages.

“He studied Italian and Arabic, and learned to read and write in ancient Hebrew script and Egyptian hieroglyphics” she says. “Sometimes, to challenge his teachers, he would write history exams in ancient Hebrew script, which usually earned him a special bonus.”

She describes how Eitan, at 16, began studying microeconomics, macroeconomics, psychology and sociology, finishing with excellence and receiving a special certificate of appreciation from the Ministry of Education.

“He always sought opportunities to enrich his inner world in various ways and diverse places,” Hagit recalls. “He regularly visited museums in Israel and abroad. When we were in London and took his siblings to different attractions, Eitan preferred to spend time at the British Museum. He was only 17 years old. He loved to delve into every piece of artwork, and would sit in the museum and draw his own interpretation of them.”

Hagit stressed that the world of Torah was important to him, as well, and led to a strong connection to Hasidism, books on faith, ethics and Talmud.

“All these worlds of content combined in Eitan in a wondrous harmony and settled within him into one multifaceted and stirring whole,” she says. “During high school, he would go to the nursing home adjacent to his place of study and have long conversations with the residents.  He could learn from everyone. And when he met a person with broad knowledge, and certainly one with experience and life wisdom, he saw in them a wellspring to draw and receive from.”

With “ideals and a well-founded faith in his path,” Hagit explained, “it was clear to him that he must simultaneously deepen his Torah study and contribute to the people of Israel through meaningful military service.” 

This is why, she explained, he opted to attend Yeshivat Hesder Yerucham after high school, and enlisted to be a fighter in the Givati Brigade in the Shaked Battalion, “although he wasn’t athletic and had to work hard to develop his physical fitness.”  

After completing his IDF service, Eitan was discharged. Immediately after the Oct. 7 massacre, however, he was called back to his unit. He was among the first forces to enter Gaza. After four weeks of fighting, he was killed in action on the outskirts of Jabalia.

“Our personal loss is immense,” says a grief-stricken Hagit. “His absence is felt every day. I know that his potential would have taken him far. He had exceptional talents and left behind a whole world that others did not manage to create even in 100 years. For me, the exhibition is a way to feel that Eitan is still with us, continuing to inspire, influence and pass on his knowledge in his own special way.”  

At the BLMJ event, Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, president and Rosh HaYeshivah of the Ohr Torah Stone network, which includes Neveh Shmuel, spoke with JNS about Eitan’s artistic journey. One of the 200 friends and family attending, Rabbi Brander highlighted Eitan’s ability to integrate his artistic talent with his high school education.

His former art teacher and curator of the exhibition, Porat Solomon, discussed Eitan’s unique integration of Torah, Mishna and Kabbalah in his drawings. He pointed to one poignant piece, “The Akedah/Hoshana Raba,” found in Eitan’s sketchbook, which includes a prophetic inscription about fiery judgment and sacrifice. A mere year later, Eitan’s ultimate sacrifice during the Swords of Iron War fulfilled this foreshadowing, as he died defending Israel.

The Rosenzweig family lauded Dr. Risa Levitt, CEO of BLMJ, for “believing in Eitan’s art and leading the project with a smile and a lot of courage, together with the entire museum staff who organized the exhibition in record time.” 

Read this article on the JNS Website

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