Dear Potters, Ceramic Artists, Ceramists, and Clay Lovers,
If I could, I would boil some water on the stove, and we would begin with the usual: weather, kids, work, and, of course, clay. I would make us both a cup of tea in one of the handmade mugs in my beloved collection, purchased from you, my pottery friend, my old student, my artistic inspiration. We would marvel at how lucky we are to be alive in a time when we can form friendships with people who live near and far, and share wisdom and experiences with a worldwide community of ceramic artists. There’s a moment of quiet as we both sip our tea and then I take a leap to tell you about the thing that has been weighing so heavily on my heart.
Regardless of how you label yourself within the ceramics community, we share a space. We share the joy of creating, the love of connecting with others like us. We value community and art. We see eye-to-eye on so many things, and I am sure we disagree on so many others, but isn’t that just one of the wonderful parts of being human? We are not machine-made, exactly like those around us. We are unique and individual. I only know a little about you, just what you have shared with me. I am a potter, just like you. I am a religious Jewish woman, I am a mother, a wife.
I see you, I respect you, differences and all. Do you see and respect me?
There is a word in Hebrew called גלות, galut, and its direct translation is “exile.” As a word alone, it doesn’t mean much, but as with most things in Judaism, there is more to the word than just the word. It is said that the תורה, Torah – the Old Testament – can be studied, delved into, and translated in over seventy different ways, making its interpretations infinite. One such interpretation of the word galut is that until the days of the משיח, Messiah, the Jewish nation will not know true peace.
I don’t intend for this to be a history lesson about the Jewish people, so I will start and end by saying that since nearly 2000 years ago, the Jewish people have been in exile; we have been killed for being Jewish and expelled from our homeland, and then country after country, endlessly. We hold our history close, talk about it often, have rituals and holidays that commemorate the experiences from as far back as biblical times to as recent as the Holocaust. It is our past, and it is also our present. Not in the way of victimizing ourselves, but rather in the way of remembrance, honoring those lost, and keeping the flame of our nation and its history – both beautiful and tragic – alight.
One of the most commonly spoken-about concepts within the religious Jewish world is that we experience the baseless hatred of those across the globe because we are in galut. It is a reality that we accept, even when it causes us so much pain and makes no sense.
With that being said, one would think that active anti-Semitism would not surprise us. We should expect it, what with all of this talk of galut and the understanding that this is our lot. Unfortunately – or fortunately? I don’t really know – after the horrors of the Holocaust that ended just seventy-eight years ago, a film settled on our awareness. Our grandparents said, “Stay vigilant; don’t forget,” and we forgot. We got comfortable. We see and feel the rise of anti-Semitism now, and there is a morbid sort of satisfaction as we remove the film that we’ve allowed to settle – we peel back layers of dissociation and denial and reveal what we knew, what our grandparents knew all too well. We are still in galut, in exile. The world may have changed, but this has not.
We are still sitting cozy on the couch, each under a blanket, as we watch the snow fall and warm our hands on the mugs we are admiring. I am so grateful you have let me get this far; you have listened so intently, and I feel a bit more at ease, calm enough to dive in.
My dearest ceramics community, I have to be honest with you. I am so grateful for our friendship, I am so grateful for the shared space that we are a part of. The ceramics world is incredible. I feel so many parallels between the community we have and the Jewish community that I have always been a part of – continuous support and love all around. I value you and all that we have shared. I am feeling so much pain and hurt right now, and I need to communicate it with you so that we can move forward and continue this beautiful relationship that we have.
Call it naive or call it optimistic, but I never thought I would experience the overlap of baseless hatred of the Jewish people within the ceramics world. I thought, “We are artists! We stand for creativity, and joy, and expression, and connection! We leave politics out of it!” By we, I realize now, I meant me. I leave politics out of it. I save this space for wholesome experiences, and safety, and love. I have never held myself above others regardless of religion, ethnicity, race, gender, or skill level. I have always understood that there are artists who take inspiration from world events and politics, and their entire vision is based on this. As a whole, though, I saw the ceramics world as a space outside of reality. Was that silly of me?
When the horrors of October 7th occurred in Israel, I was ready for and expecting the silence that was present in the pottery world. It aligned with what had happened in the past – if it didn’t personally affect you, you weren't saying anything. It, absolutely, personally affected – and continues to affect – me, my family, my friends, and my brothers and sisters in Israel. So I shared a bit, here and there, about how I was feeling. Some people responded with wonderful messages of support, and some people responded with less-than-wonderful messages of hate. That was the moment I should have realized that my two worlds would never truly be separate. I am in galut, after all. Overall, people were quiet, sharing ceramic content as usual. As expected.
I was on this very couch that we sit on now, crying for hours every day, and so many were silent.
Then Israel responds. War is ugly. News outlets, bloggers, influencers, and TikTokkers begin sharing their thoughts. Then the silence of the last few weeks gets a little louder as people start to formulate an opinion and rumblings begin. Based on some of the more aggressive conversations I have had, many people are doing all of their education in ninety-second clips online. Suddenly, everyone's an expert, and everyone is sharing their thoughts on the conflict. I thought it would be like before. I thought that if you had nothing to gain and nothing to lose, then you would continue to be as silent as you were on and after October 7th. I have been studying Judaism all my life, and I don’t pretend to understand all of it. I have wanted to live in Israel all my life, and even in preparing for that, I have never once pretended to understand all of the ways the country works. In a matter of weeks, though, so many people understood everything clearly and chose a side. I thought the ceramics community was neutral territory! I thought I was safe here.
We don’t have to see eye-to-eye on everything. I don’t want to live in an echo chamber. I am living and breathing this conflict, and I still do not pretend that I understand it all fully, or agree with it all fully. I thought that if people would take a stance, it would be the stance of peace. When so many chose a side, it was loud and clear and very much unexpected for me. You may vehemently say that your choosing a side has nothing to do with the Jewish people, but let me assure you that because of our history, I am not inclined to feel that to be true, whether intentional or not.
Before this conversation that we are having now, did you talk to any Israeli potters? Did you hear their perspective, what they are experiencing? Did you speak to Palestinian potters in Gaza or Israel and hear their experiences? Ceramics is our common ground; it is the built-in bridge that allows you to cross all borders. You are a clay lover, I am a clay lover, we know where we align. Do we know where we differ? Did you take what information you could gather over the course of a few weeks and decide that what you’ve learned on the internet is enough for you to pick a side?
How could one possibly oversimplify it? How, when so many decided to take a loud stance after weeks of silence, weeks where I and so many other Jewish and Israeli potters were feeling isolated and alone in the ceramics world, did those people not decide that their stance should be Potters for Peace?
We are artists, creators, makers of beautiful things. We sit calmly, we work with intention and thoughtfulness. In those moments, though, it feels to me as if mindfulness went out the window. Choosing a side between two groups of people who are in tremendous pain is only helping to polarize our beautiful community.
When I was young, I would ask my parents the questions that so many young people wonder: "Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do we watch people we love suffer?" Often, the answer I was given was that we will never truly understand the why. We are in galut, in exile, and God has a plan. We don’t know the plan, and as we live and breathe, we will never understand the plan. As an adult, faith offers an incredible amount of relief from the burden of the unknown. I believe in God, I believe in a better world that we are working towards. I believe there is a plan in motion that is so complex that my brain hurts trying to concoct reasons for the agony we are experiencing, so I don’t.
I carry the pain of what the Jewish people around the world are feeling right now. At the same time, I carry the pain of the innocent Palestinians who are being torn apart in every way by this war. Had you not sat down with me today, shared tea and an open mind and heart with me, you would not know this. There is so much suffering, but my sincere hope is that we can find joy again through love. Through kindness.
We share so much in common, you and I. I have loved watching you succeed, and your skills thrive. Your beautiful finished work has brought me joy; your broken greenware and crawling glaze have frustrated me as much as they have frustrated you. We hold each other up in this ceramic bubble of ours. We lift, and we teach, and we respect, and we care. You ask me about my throwing technique, and I share. You ask me about my parenting experience, and I share. You ask me about my home studio space, and I share. You ask me about my favorite clay or glaze, and I share.
You have not asked me about my pain since October 7th. Please ask me. Please ask your other Jewish friends. Please ask your Arab and Muslim friends. Let us share.
We might not all agree; we might not see eye to eye, but we can still hold each other in this. You can formulate an opinion with a perspective that you can’t come to alone, or maybe you can withhold formulating an opinion at all and just stand with anyone who is in pain. We are artists. We may not be neutral, but we can remain a space that offers safety to all.
Our tea is cold now, but my heart is full, and my burden feels lighter. Thank you for listening, for allowing me to unpack a little of what I have been carrying with me. I am not upset anymore, and I think after this conversation I feel even closer to you than I did before.
I am a religious woman, a Jewish potter, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend. I can feel now that you see me and respect me, differences and all.
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