Chicago Murals: Bernard Horwich JCC mosaic highlights Jewish immigrants’ struggles


A mosaic on the Bernard Horwich Jewish Group Middle on the Far North Facet tells the story of Jewish immigration to america within the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Titled “Material of Our Lives” and created in 1980, its pictures and phrases painting challenges they confronted, coming to Chicago and elsewhere, sometimes from Japanese Europe, with little cash, no jobs and sometimes no grasp of English.

The 15-feet-tall, 13-feet-wide, glass-tile mosaic had suffered from the onslaught of a long time of Chicago winters however restored in October at a value of about $8,000 by Miriam Socoloff and Cynthia Weiss, the artists who initially had assembled the work in 1980.

“Along with our sturdy emotions for the themes of the mosaic, it was profoundly significant and satisfying to restore one thing,” says Weiss, 67, amid a yr marked by the coronavirus pandemic and loss. “2020 was such a tough yr. There was a lot devastation.”

The Horwich JCC, at 3003 W. Touhy Ave., is in a neighborhood that’s pretty closely Jewish.

One of many tenets of Judaism is that individuals ought to work to restore the world. That made it much more significant to painstakingly restore the mosaic, Weiss says.

After 40 years, the “Material of Our Lives” mosaic exterior of the Bernard Horwich JCC, 3003 W. Touhy Ave., was in poor situation. Artists Miriam Socoloff and Cynthia Weiss restored it in October.

Socoloff, 71, says the climate hadn’t broken the faces of any of the figures within the mosaic, however there was injury to some key components of the work.

For one factor, the letters had fallen away from an indication a lady bears that requires “a residing wage for all” — meant to signify the labor union motion of the early twentieth century, a time when many Jewish immigrants labored in sweatshops, toiling at duties reminiscent of stitching clothes for little pay. Socoloff says that’s a message that’s “nonetheless very a lot pertinent right now.”

Earlier than beginning work on the mosaic 4 a long time in the past, “I didn’t know the historical past of Jewish labor,” Socoloff says. “This was all new to me, studying in regards to the sweatshops, regardless that it was the historical past of my circle of relatives.”

Considered one of her grandmothers immigrated to america and lived in New York tenements whereas working in a sweatshop earlier than shifting to Chicago.

Weiss had a grandfather who lived in Philadelphia and helped Jewish immigrants there regulate to their new nation and discover jobs.

Artist Cynthia Weiss sits on the scaffolding used to repair the top part of the “Fabric of Our Lives” mosaic at the Bernard Horwich Jewish Community Center.

Artist Cynthia Weiss sits on the scaffolding used to restore the highest a part of the “Material of Our Lives” mosaic on the Bernard Horwich Jewish Group Middle.

The mosaic features a musician, a Yiddish theater actor, somebody holding newspapers representing the Yiddish press and a author, for the entire “sweatshop poets and intellectuals,” in accordance with the artists.

Sweatshop imagery takes up a giant portion of the art work. Three ladies are proven engaged on stitching machines, their material flowing into Maxwell Avenue, the historic first cease in Chicago for a lot of Jews coming from Japanese Europe.

A woman and a child make a purchase from a pushcart salesman at the old Maxwell Street market.

A lady and a toddler make a purchase order from a pushcart salesman on the previous Maxwell Avenue market.
Kyle Brown / Solar-Instances

Maxwell Avenue — the final of which was destroyed in a Mayor Richard M. Daley-era transfer to create the brand new College Village close to the College of Illinois at Chicago, a lot because it had been chopped up a long time earlier to make approach for the Dan Ryan Expressway — was house to many Jewish immigrants within the early twentieth century and, persevering with lengthy past that, to its eponymous, bustling open-air market.

The mosaic additionally affords one other nod to Maxwell Avenue with a scene of a lady and a toddler making a purchase order from a person providing his wares from a Maxwell Avenue pushcart.

Alongside the bottom of the mosaic is the road: “From deep inside my soul’s despair arose a striving reaching excessive.” That’s repeated in Yiddish.

Three women working in a sweatshop in the “Fabric of Our Lives” mosaic outside the Bernard Horwich Jewish Community Center.

Three ladies working in a sweatshop within the “Material of Our Lives” mosaic exterior the Bernard Horwich Jewish Group Middle.
Kyle Brown / Solar-Instances

There are also symbols of Jewish papercuts — a type of people artwork that includes slicing pictures and sayings from paper — that embody non secular symbols and the instruments of laborers, like a hammer and tile nippers.

“These three concepts of tradition coming from on a regular basis expertise, mutual support and organizing for a residing wage for all — these are the three concepts which can be actually significant to me,” Weiss says.

Artist Miriam Socoloff when she was working on restoring the “Fabric of Our Lives” mosaic 40 years after its creation.

Artist Miriam Socoloff when she was engaged on restoring the “Material of Our Lives” mosaic 40 years after its creation.

Weiss and Socoloff — who’ve recognized one another since they have been neighbors in Chicago within the late Nineteen Seventies — have been attempting one thing new after they created “Material of Our Lives.”

“We had by no means made a mosaic,” Socoloff says. “So in a approach, the entire thing was an act of religion.”

Click on on the map beneath for a number of Chicago-area murals

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