If you are a Shtisel fan, you can’t help but recognize the main character of “Kiva” in the real-life Zalman Glauber. However, if you are among the random few who didn’t binge watch the show on Netflix, let me familiarize you with the plot. The TV series is a melodrama surrounding a chasidish family living in B’nei Brak with all the restrictions, problems, happiness, devastation, lost dreams, and betrayal as any other family. Handsome and uber-talented Kiva is a lovesick artist with a turbulent relationship with his father and his artistic expression.
Zalman Glauber was born and raised in a tight-knit chasidic community in Brooklyn, New York, with very little exposure to art other than paintings of grand rebbes. His entry into exploring art was attempting to make Sukkos paper decorations. He soon developed his craft with elaborate panoramic scenes that took months to prepare. At 18, when all of his community was “shidduch ready,” he decided to attend Baruch College where he later successfully received his BA. Sensing a need to develop and advance his artistic skills, he asked his rabbi if he could learn how to sculpt. With permission and instruction on halachah, he studied with renowned sculptors and found an expression of his own that lovingly glorifies acts of Judaism.
My firm belief in teaching, writing, and lecturing about the balance between art and faith is my purpose. The two worlds, which seemingly clash, are really meant to live harmoniously. As the creator of The House of Faith N Fashion, my mission is to have spirituality and materialism dwell side by side with no boundaries of judgment or mistrust. I asked Zalman Glauber several questions that I often ask other artists and designers.
Tobi: How has faith impacted your art? Some pieces are obvious, and some are not.
Zalman: Faith is the foundation of my life and upbringing. So naturally, everything I do will be impacted by it. Maybe losing my father at a very young age (14) was one of many things that strengthened my faith. As long as I can remember I had a strong pull to study Jewish history (Tanach). So I would say that most of my art would be connected to that foundation. Some pieces are more from a philosophical nature and of contemplating the hard questions of life and its meaning.
Tobi: How do you handle the fact that art is not a staple in religious homes?
Zalman: I think if we go back in time, art was a big part of our existence. In the Torah we see that Hashem sent Moshe to Betzalel to get him to help build the Mishkan, and we see how valuable it is, and how all the artifacts and the paroches (curtains) were magnificent pieces of art. Unfortunately, during galus, the Jewish people did not have a home and did not live in one place for too long. So without a place, security, richness, and abundance, there was little opportunity or possibility for collecting and enjoying the fine arts. It is interesting to note that in the time of the Beis Hamikdash, the Leviim were in charge with the art of music and song, a form of art that has never been ripped away from our tribe. We sing during prayers and the Shabbos seudah; maybe this is a type of art that was not hard to travel with when we were exiled from place to place. Not long after the printing press was invented hundreds of years ago, a beautiful Pesach Haggadah with lots of beautiful art and illustrations was printed. And of course, decorating the sukkah is not a new invention. But today, baruch Hashem, in America, Israel, and different parts of the world, Jews live and prosper, and as time goes on I think more and more people will enjoy art with a Jewish gefeel (feeling).
Tobi: Do you appeal to collectors outside of the Jewish community?
Zalman: I cannot dictate where my art will end up. I only hope and wish for it to be in a home where it can touch people in a positive and meaningful way.
Tobi: Was your creative talent a natural gift from Hashem?
Zalman: I think each and every one of us has the divine spark. So naturally everything we do comes naturally from Hashem. We are made by the Creator to be creative, everyone in their own way. The creativity and ideas I feel come from above. Technicality, and to perfect the art, takes some practice. For some people it is more natural and easier to learn. In my case I learned and am still learning art (professionally) for the past eight years. I cannot say it came easy. Hard work and consistency and learning to enjoy the journey are some of the things I learned along the way.
Tobi: If your art could talk and compose a prayer, what would that sound like?
Zalman: “Hashem, gather all the lost Jews from all four corners of the Earth, and return us to our home, where You will dwell amongst us b’m’heirah v’yameinu.”
For the artist, art is a vital expression of self whose talent is given to the neshamah by G-d Himself. It’s a gift, calling, and purpose that must be utilized in order to lead a life of fulfillment.
I believe that Rav Kook, z”l, said it most brilliantly: “Literature, painting, and sculpting are able to bring to fruition all the spiritual concepts engraved in the depths of the human spirit, and so long as one brush is missing, which is stored away in the depths of the spirit – which ponders and feels – but has not been realized, there is still an obligation on the purposeful work to realize it.”
Tobi Rubinstein is a retired fashion and marketing executive of 35 years who currently produces runway and lifestyle events for NYFW, specializing in Israel’s leading artists and designers. She is the founder of The House of Faith N Fashion, fusing culture and Torah. Tobi was a fashion collaboration and guest expert for ABC, Geraldo Rivera, Huffington Post, Lifetime, NBC, Bravo, and Arise. She hosted her own radio and reality TV series. Tobi is a mother, wife, dog owner, and shoe lover.