By Lee Chottiner
With the country entering what will likely be the darkest months of the coronavirus pandemic, a local Jewish educator and musician has been contracted to develop programming to help the community through this time.
Jeff Jamner has signed a six-month contract with the Jewish Community Center of Louisville (JCC) to be its “creative consultant for arts and ideas.” A grant from the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence (JHFE) is supporting the position.
Among his tasks, Jamner will chair the planning committee for the next Yom Hashoah program and assist with the work of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
But his marching orders go much further than that. As infection and death rates from the coronavirus and COVID-19 continue to surge, Jamner is charged with finding ways to keep Jewish Louisville emotionally and spiritually connected.
“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” he said. “As we enter this winter, it could be a winter of despair. How can we do something to help our community?”
One approach Jamner has crafted is a program called “Time for Transformation: Thriving in the Winter of COVID,” which kicks off on Jan. 7.
Guest presenters – artists, teachers and therapists – will facilitate sessions designed to give participants ways to express what they are experiencing and prepare them to emerge from the pandemic when it finally beaks.
Jamner said the program is based on the Jewish teaching of tikkun olam (mending the world). In this case, it focuses on the idea of first mending one’s self to find the energy for more worldly work.
Jamner said he approached Cantor David Lipp of Adath Jeshurun, asking him if Jewish teachings support such an idea.
“He immediately went to the three famous questions of Hillel: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Jamner said.
Time for Transformation will be divided into eight sessions:
• Jan. 7 – “Self-compassion,” with jazz pianist/motivational speaker Harry Pickens;
• Jan. 21 – “Design and Assemble Your New Journal,” with fabric artist/art therapist Pat Sturtzel;
• Feb. 4 – “Creative Journaling,” with Pickens;
• Feb. 11 – “Making Art while Reaching Out,” with Sturtzel;
• Feb. 18 – “The Art of Listening with Compassion,” with Holocaust studies teacher Fred Whittaker;
• March 4 – One-to-one sessions with other participants;
• March 11 – “Envisioning What’s Next in the Post-Pandemic World,” with Pickens, Sturtzel, Whittaker and Jamner.
During the eighth session, which is set for sometime in April, the “New Beginnings Quilt,” a group project designed as a sunrise and made with Sturtzel’s supervision, will be unveiled. Pickens will perform themed music for the event and participants will share their reflections on the four-month experience.
All sessions will run from 7 to 8:15 p.m. on Thursdays.
It’s no accident that written and spoken words figure heavily into the project.
“The idea is we’re starting something new, and there’s a through line in all this, which is that one of the first parts of transformation is giving words to it,” Jamner said.
Each presenter has an expertise that is essential to expression. Sturtzel, for instance, is a fabric artist and art therapist who works with “sensory” materials, as Jamner describes them. Her role is wrapped up in helping participants with their journal covers and the New Beginnings Quilt.
Pickens, an award-winning performing artist, composer, educator, workshop facilitator and life coach, received the 2009 Governor’s Award for arts in education.
Whittaker, a teacher at St. Francis of Assisi school with connections in the Jewish community through the Holocaust class, teaches his students to listen with empathy and presence, a critical skill in times like these, Jamner said.
For himself, Jamner has been directing education programs at Kentucky Performing Arts (formerly The Kentucky Center for the Arts) for 22 years. He previously worked in educational outreach at the Manhattan School of Music and was the founding artistic director and executive director of Concorde: The Chamber Music Society of Westport in Connecticut.
In addition to JHFE, the Goldstein-Leibson Cultural Arts Fund helped support Time for Transformation.
Jamner sees the project as a portal through which participants can be empowered by their own expression.
“If you look at the opening of Genesis – Bereshit – there was chaos and there wasn’t the separation between light and dark until God said the words,” Jamner said. “Putting your feelings into words is very powerful.”
Want to participate?
“A Time for Transformation: Thriving in the Winter of COVID,” runs from Jan. 7 to April. Sessions will be held on Thursdays from 7 to 8:15 p.m. Participants will receive two fabric kits: one for their new journal, one for the New Beginnings Quilt. All sessions will be recorded. The course fee is $36. To register, visit jcclouisville.org/transformation. Contact Jeff Jamner at email@example.com with questions.