Hiddur Mitzvah: Enhancing Values with Art

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Kim’s art at Glimmer, photo by Tara Luz Stevens of TLS Images.

In December Keshet had a chance to work with Kim of Hebrica Judaic Art. Kim’s story—she’s a convert to Judaism who grew up in the segregated South—made quite an impression on me, so I welcomed the opportunity to chat more with the artist. We started our conversation with a question about why working with Keshet made sense for Kim’s Jewish (and artistic) values. “I feel very strongly about Jewish togetherness,” she shared. “All Jews, either born to it or having chosen it, all levels of observance, all walks of life. The Torah and all the holiness of Judaism belong to all Jews, equally.”

Kim’s personal story is intertwined with her discovery of Judaic artist. Her journey started in the segregated American south and involved converting to Judaism in order to find a new way of expressing herself.

Growing up in the segregated South, color and class distinctions were finely drawn, but Judaism was scarcely on the radar. I had Jewish friends, but I don’t think Judaism was well understood in the “buckle” of the Bible Belt. I didn’t really have a religion myself. And art was just something I did for my own amusement, or for friends.

All my life, I had always done some kind of art…pen-and-ink, pencil, charcoal…everything in black-and-white.

And then I converted to Judaism. Overnight, literally, I began working in color…paints, watercolors, pastels. It was so odd to me. I had always been such a black-and-white kind of gal (ask my husband; he says I don’t see any shades of gray). Where did this come from? Why did I suddenly start seeing the world in color? The truth is that I have no idea. I only know that it happened.

And then I went to Israel; Jerusalem, actually, for the first time, for a month. You might think there’s not much color in Jerusalem. After all, it’s in the Judean desert. And all the buildings are made from this kind of sandstone that goes from a light blond in the morning to blazing white in the heat of the day, to a golden glow in the afternoon. But colors, not so much. Yet, I saw them.

Jerusalem wasn’t Kim’s only source of inspiration. The idea of “
hiddur mitzvah
,” or doing a commandment beautifully, informs her art, as well as the texts themselves.

The sacred texts of Judaism inspire my creative work. The first time I saw a page of Hebrew, I was captivated and made up my mind to learn the language. The shapes of the letters are so beautiful, from the very precise Torah style to looser ones and even fonts I sort of invented.

Kim's art at Glimmer, photo by Tara Luz Stevens of TLS Images.

Kim’s art at Glimmer, photo by Tara Luz Stevens of TLS Images.

The pursuit of art draws me deeper into the text. That’s how I learn, and a papercut becomes almost a meditation on the subject. Some people are great at praying, or visiting the sick, or cooking for the oneg, or teaching in the religious school. I cut paper. And I hope that, when a piece is done, someone will look at it and say to themselves, wow. That really touches me. Or, I should look into that a little more.

Kim Phillips was certified in pararabbinics at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and studied at Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. There, she found the creative spark for Hebrica, her Judaic art. Visit
her website
to see more of Kim’s art.

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