July 24, 2008
Like many young and passionate rabbis, Yitzchok Moully is constantly searching for ways to make Judaism and Jewishness more accessible. The 29-year-old native of Australia, who leads the Chabad Center of Basking Ridge, hit upon an interesting way to do outreach: his own artwork.
Imagine Andy Warhol as an Orthodox Jew. Moully is always conjuring up an image — usually taken from one of his own photographs — that finds its way onto a silkscreen, an art form that the 1960s counterculture icon helped popularize.
Yitzchok Moully, the Andy Warhol of the hasidic community.
Photos courtesy Yitzchok Moully
But Moully doesn’t go for just any image. His work considers decidedly Jewish themes: a Tree of Life, a Crown Heights streetscape, a dreidel, a rabbi at prayer, and dancing hasidim are just some of his subjects. Take a quick peek at his Web site (www.hasidicpopart.com) and you’ll find imaginative use of color and design, all with an overt message.
“There’s a dichotomy of being in the modern world yet committed to the Old World,” said Moully, who is married with three children. “But my camera was always my form of expression. And one night, I was on the computer and, literally, just sort of bumped into silkscreening and thought, I could do this in a way that would allow me to express this dichotomy.
‘I strive to make Judaism relevant and more palatable.’
“So my artwork is classic Jewish and hasidic, and there are Old World images, but expressed with a modern feeling.”
Moully has found other ways to get his point across. One example is his pink kipa, which he wears in hopes of getting congregants (and prospective congregants) and their kids to look at things a little differently. “I see it all as part of my role which, as a rabbi, is to connect people to their Jewishness. This gives people a chance to think. People don’t expect a rabbi to wear a pink yarmulke or to be painting.”
‘Learn and grow’
Tackling dichotomies comes naturally to Moully, whose parents were hippies in the Australian outback and wandered — literally — into an Orthodox synagogue and lifestyle when he was four years old. En route to a trip to Israel a year later, they made a stop in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section that lasted five years before they returned to Australia.
“The rebbe [Menachem Mendel Schneerson] had urged us to stay and so my parents did,” Moully said. “And then he indicated when we should return, but not before I had a chance to learn and grow. And I later decided to become a rabbi as a way of giving back.”
He has been on that path ever since, attending yeshiva and then the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, which is how he wound up in Basking Ridge and with a full-time commitment to his shul. Still, he said, he tries to find the time for his artwork as often as possible. “This was probably three years ago now when I decided to try silkscreening. I just practiced and practiced, and it probably took me six months to a year to really perfect my first image.”
In a relatively short time, Moully has met with some success. Initially, his work was displayed at one Jewish community center and then another and another. “Those are good places to start,” he says. “They often need something for their hallways.” By last year, however, his trademark hasidic pop art was hanging in a gallery in the Chelsea section of Manhattan and has since found a semi-permanent home at ArtisZen Arts, a gallery in Lambertville, where it sells for between $350 and $2,000. “I was just walking around the town, having crossed the bridge from New Hope [Pa.] with my family, and saw the gallery and walked in, and my work is still there.
“And it’s very satisfying to having accomplished this. I haven’t been doing silkscreening for very long. But I really do see it as more than artwork. I strive to make Judaism relevant and more palatable and, hopefully, the work is thought provoking. And, yes, I am having a lot of fun.”
Ed Silverman is the editor of Pharmalot.com.