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Calligrapher plans illuminating weekend
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Calligrapher plans illuminating weekend

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Mordechai Rosenstein said the essence of his work is the alef-bet: “The flowing forms of the letters have been an inspiration to me since my youth.”
Mordechai Rosenstein said the essence of his work is the alef-bet: “The flowing forms of the letters have been an inspiration to me since my youth.”

The flowing colors and shapes of Mordechai Rosenstein’s Hebrew calligraphy make it instantly recognizable to those familiar with his work. 

His brightly illuminated verses from Torah and other Jewish texts grace the walls of many Jewish offices, homes, and institutions, as do his tapestries, silkscreens, paintings, and murals. Many a Jewish attorney has received a version of Rosenstein’s Deuteronomy 16:20 (“Justice, justice thou shall pursue”) upon graduating law school.

Rosenstein, now 80, told NJJN that just as his style emerged organically, it continues to evolve over time. “Otherwise, I’d still be reproducing the first piece of art I ever made,” he said in a phone conversation from his home in Elkins Park, Pa. 

Rosenstein will serve as artist-in-residence at Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville, Thursday-Sunday, April 24-27, concluding the synagogue’s 90th anniversary celebration year.

During those days, Adath Israel’s Rabbi Daniel Grossman will exhibit Rosenstein works from his own collection. 

Rosenstein’s career was launched 50 years ago when, as a young artist and graduate of the Philadelphia College of Art, he was moved to add color to Hebrew calligraphy. “I guess it grabbed the imagination,” he said. At that time, “There was no color in any Jewish bookstore. You could have calligraphy in black and white. Now, you go into a bookstore and it’s a mechaya. You see color everywhere, in baby names and ketubot and sayings. The whole thing has changed.” 

He’s the first to admit he wasn’t alone in recognizing the need for color in Jewish text. But he also knew how to sell his work. “I knew you can’t sit in a gallery in Philadelphia and wait for someone to wander in every four hours. We went on the road,” he said. 

In 1979 he took three of his works to a show at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills, where United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (then United Synagogue of America) was having a national convention. His art was a hit. 

Rosenstein, a graduate of the first class of Akiba Hebrew Academy in Merion, Pa., said he was also influenced by abstract expressionist Franz Kline during his studies.

Rosenstein’s stay at the synagogue will include an interactive art project and conversations about art and the Sabbath and the connections between art and peace.

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