What is the Meaning of Life? OTS Art Majors Explore the World – and Themselves
For Hallel Fuchs, the opportunity to devote significant time to dance throughout high school was a major factor in her decision to attend Ohr Torah Stone’s Oriya High School for Girls.
Now a high school senior completing a major in dance, Hallel relates, “Being able to dance helped me express myself and gave me confidence, and it made coming to school fun.”
Through its Ann Belsky Moranis Program for the Arts, Oriya offers five distinct majors: Classical Art, Theater, Dance, Film and Graphic Design. Students in these tracks learn both theory and technique, and are empowered to explore deep philosophical, spiritual and existential questions through creative expression.
Over the course of February, 12th grade students in four of the five tracks, who have spent the past three-and-a-half years intensively honing their talents and skills, presented their final matriculation projects to their peers at school as well as to the broader community.
Reflecting on the Most Important Questions in Life
Under the banner “To Life and Not to Death,” students in the Theater track presented two seamless productions to packed audiences – one telling the tale of two sisters in hiding during the Holocaust; the other shedding light on the lives of four women undergoing chemotherapy. While the connection between the two plays’ storylines may not be immediately apparent, both productions enabled students to grapple with the questions of what makes life meaningful, what choices we make and how our relationships with others create meaning – ever-pertinent issues that are perhaps even more relevant as the world marks two years of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The hours I spent in the theater track were a gift,” declares Noa Altman who, in addition to majoring in Theater, also majored in Biology. “This opportunity was one of the reasons I so enjoyed coming to school. The subject matter was so compelling that I didn’t even feel the pressure of the grades or of matriculation marks. We explored major issues in a very deep way, we learned how to express ourselves, and through the works we created we also encouraged others to reflect alongside us on the most important questions in life.”
Connecting the Physical and the Spiritual
In her introduction to the final performances of students in the Dance Track, Oriya principal Yonat Lemberger noted the importance of the Ann Belsky Moranis Program for the Arts. “Through the creative process, the use of imagination and self-expression, students connect the physical to the spiritual, uncovering the Shechina (Divine presence) during the process of creation,” she said.
“Each student at Oriya has the opportunity to express herself is so many different ways,” she continued. “The emotions, thoughts, ideas, hopes and protests which drive human existence are expressed more strongly and powerfully through the arts; a thousand words cannot take the place of a painting, and a thousand silences cannot express the power of the dance.”
Each dance student was responsible for choreographing a dance, which was performed by members of the class using different techniques and musical styles. One, called “Layers,” was performed to the lyrics, “You are strong, powerful, and valuable. Just read about the women in the Bible.”
The experience of creating, expressing their views and performing was an incredibly empowering experience for students. “It wasn’t just the physical process of learning to dance,” explains Hallel. “It was an emotional and spiritual journey, as we considered the topic we wanted to explore and figured out how to represent it meaningfully to an audience.”
A wide range of media and technique for a wide range of questions
“With all knowledge at our fingertips through Google, do we really need to know everything”? This was the question asked by Art track major Perele Frieberg; the result of her exploration was a striking oil painting on wood depicting herself as a young child, at a time when she wasn’t expected to know everything. By breaking up the outer parts of the painting into smaller blocks and mounting them on a black background, Perele depicted the lack of knowledge and lack of connection that exists in a world when we can research any topic with the click of a button.
Other majors in Art used a wide range of media and technique to create varied projects exploring myriad significant themes such as intergenerational connections; what happens after death; societal perceptions of beauty; watching good friends fall into addiction; the cacophony of disagreement; giving and receiving; the various stages of mourning; and even an expression of criticism toward certain IDF operational guidelines.
From concept to reality
For their matriculation projects, students in the Graphic Arts track were tasked with identifying a challenge in the public sphere and, after conducting investigations and market research, creating a fictitious company through which to provide a solution. Seven teams created original logos and precise branding for products such as the “Beach Buddy” to safeguard young children near the ocean; a nonprofit organization enabling people who are blind to tour and hike; a theft-proof suitcase; and an app to help drivers find parking.
“We created a company called ‘Common Language’ because it’s a subject very close to our hearts,” said new immigrants from England, Malka Brown and Chana Kanterovich, in their moving presentation. The pair admitted to still struggling with Hebrew acquisition, and expressed their desire to create a product that would help new olim like themselves overcome the obstacles created by an international move. “We both felt the same kind of loneliness and we experienced similar difficulties,” they said. “We decided to develop, design and brand a company that helps new olim learn Hebrew and become accustomed to Israeli culture through games, a club for events, gifts and a website.”
A lasting impact
“My experience at Oriya showed me two things: the importance of art in helping each child develop, and the tremendous influence teachers can have on their students,” says Carmel Cohen, who graduated Oriya in 2015 with a major in Art.
Today, Carmel is an art teacher herself, teaching techniques to her young charges at the Reisheet Elementary School in Gush Etzion and encouraging each student to use her imagination to express herself. Carmel regularly attends continuing education classes related to both art and education to help her most effectively foster creativity and self-esteem amongst her students.
“I love what I do,” she relates. “I am so grateful that I was able to turn art into my profession, and I’m thrilled to be taking what I gained at Oriya to influence an entire new generation of students.”