Three artists — Robert Aronson, Michael Daitch and Deborah Friedman — are Jewish and that background is an important part of their creative work.
Visual artists are inspired by thoughts, emotions, experiences and sometimes a desire to create images that tell a story through different media. For some, religion and religious identity is a source of inspiration or creative expression.
More than a year ago, Gail Katz, a board member of the nonprofit InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit and its Education Committee chair, began developing a program featuring artists of several religious backgrounds. They planned to exhibit their work at the Robert Kidd Gallery in Birmingham with an in-person artists’ discussion about the role of faith in their artwork.
When COVID-19 intervened, they decided to create a video featuring 10 local artists with examples of their artwork. The artists represent the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions, and an interviewer explores each artist’s creative, religious and spiritual roots.
Three of the artists — Robert Aronson, Michael Daitch and Deborah Friedman — are Jewish and that background is an important part of their creative work.
Deborah Friedman of Waterford grew up in Detroit and learned of the Holocaust through a friend’s uncle, who photographed the liberation of the concentration camps. This was Friedman’s first knowledge of the Holocaust and it affected her deeply. Years later, when visiting Israel, she researched her family and learned that 47 individuals of the same last name and native region of Romania as her family died in the Holocaust, a connection which has inspired some of her artwork.
Friedman was originally an advertising illustrator who later studied fine art, receiving an M.F.A. from Wayne State University. She has taught at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center and Oakland Community College. Her portfolio includes acrylics and colored pencils with both abstract and figurative work. Although “almost 80,” Friedman is an active painter.
Michael Daitch of Lathrup Village received a B.F.A. from Eastern Michigan University and has been well-known as a weaver of beautiful scarves and other wearable art for decades. He also worked at several agencies of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, where Harlene Appelman, former chief Jewish education officer, suggested that he expand his weaving to custom tallits. Daitch explored the possibilities of artistic tallit-weaving, talking to rabbis about what materials were permissible. He refined his techniques and began teaching the process to hundreds of local bar and bat mitzvah students.
Their tallit-weaving has become a family event. “The parents and grandparents participate by tying the corners and tzizzit,” Daitch explains. Since the pandemic began, he has taught, socially distanced, tallit weavers in their garages. Daitch has served as artist in residence for many temples and synagogues and taught tallit weaving to children with special needs at Camp Ramah. Now retired from Federation, he is a substitute teacher at Farber Hebrew Day School.
Robert Aronson of Bloomfield Hills has devoted 50 years to printmaking, using lithography, serigraphy and intaglio techniques, among others. He began making art as a young boy and received a B.F.A. from the Art Institute of Chicago.
Aronson creates evocative images of landscapes of Israel and Eastern Europe and more recently, a series of self-portraits made during the pandemic. He describes his artwork as “connected to his sense of Jewish memory,” referencing his connection with French priest Fr. Patrick Desbois who has spent years investigating the previously underexplored shooting deaths of millions of Jews and Romani in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust.
Aronson has traveled frequently to Israel, where he has family members, and Israel has been a frequent subject of his artwork. Retired from his position as CEO of Federation, Aronson continues as a philanthropic consultant.