The Chabad Boys

Whoa, hey! Long time, no see, friends! The studio has been very busy this summer with plenty of visitors. There have been a couple Hollywood Painting Emergencies, too! Nancy was even in LA recently for the Grace and Frankie wrap party. Whoo-hoo!

This week, we're going to tell the story of the neighborhood boys that sparked Nancy's interest and inspired an on-going series of portraits started half a decade ago.

Every Friday, we are greeted with the neighborhood Orthodox boys who go to school at the Lubavich Mesivtah (Jewish High School for Boys) around the corner. The school and it's dormitories are peppered down California Ave and they are seen walking up and down the street to class or back to their dormitories to sleep and study.  They are all incredibly dedicated to their schoolwork and their religion. The boys of the Chabad have a mission to spread the teachings of the Torah and to make other Jewish people as devout as possible. So, every Friday during outreach around 12:00 pm 2 to 3 boys come in to the studio to give Nancy shabbas candles and Jewish Insight pamphlets.

Nancy with Yehuda Gerber, the first boy to pose and be painted by Nancy.

Nancy with Yehuda Gerber, the first boy to pose and be painted by Nancy.

Around five years ago, Nancy decided to introduce herself because her middle son, Leo, told her that she should open her windows to the neighborhood to let her creative presence be seen.  One day, Nancy was in her studio and she noticed one of the boys from the Chabad walking to class on the other side of the street. She saw this moment as her opportunity to introduce herself.  So, she crosses the busy avenue, with her neighbor Karen Bark running close behind and introduces herself. She says, “Hi, I’m Nancy. I’m the artist across the street there.” and the boy responds flatly, “I know.”.   She extends her hand for an introductory handshake and out of the blue Karen quickly slaps it away “You can’t touch him!!!”, she exclaims, panicked.  Orthodox Jewish boys aren’t allowed to touch or be touched by a woman that isn’t their mother until they are married. Nancy often describes herself as ‘Jew-ish’, meaning that she respects the her roots, but doesn’t devoutly practice religion... she does more yoga than prayer. Anyways, the boy went into his pocket, pulled out a Nature Valley Granola bar, and reached out to her with it politely.   She grabbed the bar and and they shook granola together. Now formally introduced by way of a semi-nutritional breakfast bar, Nancy then told the boy she wanted to a series of portraits of him and his classmates and asked if it was OK. He told her that he would have to ask his principal.  

A couple of weeks later, Nancy saw a pair of boys from the school and ran over to ask if the permission had been granted.  They looked at her sheepishly and said, “You don’t understand. We are ultra, ultra orthodox.” and she asked if she could speak to their principal.  They said yes and proceeded to basically run away from her; which is what Nancy wanted to do when she saw their principal- a very stern-looking bearded orthodox man, who in reality is very kind, but takes his responsibilities incredibly seriously.

 Still a little bit too shy to talk to the principal, Nancy decided to do some research among her more Jewish friends. They told her it would probably never happen. Until one day, Nancy was teaching a class in the back of her studio and one of the boys comes in and yells out, “Anybody in here Jewish?”, like an eager beaver little kid, Nancy emerges from the back waving her hand, “ME, ME! I’m Jewish!”.  Since this boy was different Nancy took another stab at getting this project off the ground. She said to him “I really want to do this series of portraits of you boys.” to which he replied, “Sure”.  

 After some negotiation, Nancy and the Chabad boys came to an agreement that the portraits would be from photographs taken by Nancy’s husband David, but that David would have to get wrapped in tefillin after the photos were taken. Tefillin are a set of small, black leather boxes with straps containing scrolls of parchment with verses of the Torah.  There are arm-tefillin (shel yad) and head tefillin(shel rosh) and it is considered quite an honor to be wrapped in and blessed with the tefillin, also for a jewish man who hasn’t been bar mitzvahed this is the equivalent.  With this clever trade-off, the deal was made and thus began the beginning of a mutual, beneficial neighborhood relationship and a series that hangs in the front of Nancy’s studio and on the walls of her studio. As the boys matriculate,old ones go off on their way and new ones come in with shabbas candles asking for their portraits to be made.

David Rosen being wrapped in the tifillen.

David Rosen being wrapped in the tifillen.

You can see Nancy's studio in 360 if you click the 'Studio' tab on her website and then click on 'Google Studio Tour'

Here's the link to the Lubavich Mesivtah: