Years of study and months of work culminated for the students of Atara Girls High School in an exhibition entitled “Words Build Worlds” on Tuesday and Wednesday, Apr. 20-21, 2021. The exhibit, which occupied three rooms and a hallway on the ground floor of the school, combined Hebrew quotations, artwork, and texts written by the students to explore the power of words — largely for good, but also acknowledging the power of words to wreak evil. It was open to the community by appointment during those days and on a walk-in basis in the evenings.
The entire school had participated in planning, writing and constructing the exhibits and their accompanying texts, under the leadership of the Seniors. The students were divided into three groups, one in charge of each room. The exhibit was well attended. There were occasional waits since only one household unit at a time was admitted to each room due to Covid precautions. This reporter was welcomed warmly and given a personal tour by students who had worked on each of the rooms.
The first room was devoted to Creation, since “with ten utterances the world was created.” This quotation, in Hebrew, from the Pirkei Avot and other texts, adorned the sign at the entrance to the room. The room was divided into seven compartments, one for each day of Creation: three each on the left and right and the seventh in the center. This room was ‘read’ from right to left, like a Hebrew text. The first day represented the light of mitzvot [comandments], and the words for different mizvot adorned the walls of the first compartment on the right. The subsequent compartments represented the things created on each of the following days in Beresheit: waters of heaven separated from the waters below; grass, trees, and mountains; stars and galaxies; birds (represented amusingly by a giant stuffed penguin) and real fish in a small tank on the floor; animals and man; and finally in the back center of the room, a display of Shabbat candles, wine and challah for the seventh day on which G-d rested.
The second room was devoted to the Patriarchs. The entryway represented a synagogue, with shelves of interactive books and pop-up displays that had scenes of the Patriarchs and of t’fillah (prayer). The progress through this room was through a series of three tents representing each of the Patriarchs. The first tent, Abraham’s, was dimly lit, since he is associated with the morning prayers; it had scenes recalling that he had welcomed people into his tent, and the burning of Sodom represented evil speech in his life story. The second tent, Yitzchak’s (Isaac), was brightly lit for the daytime prayer; he was shown praying in the fields and the camel from which Rebecca fell when she saw him. Speeches of impatience represented negative speech in this tent. The last tent, Yakov’s (Jacob), was dark since he is famous for the night prayer; his ladder was part of the display, but also Esau trading his birthright (words) for a meal.
The third room represented negative or evil words. The initial display was of a train station, since evil speech, once set in motion, cannot be turned aside, and like a train destroys whatever is in its path. The posters on the wall of the station had admonitions against negative speech; one, for example, reminded viewers that “14 positive commandments are violated when speaking lashon hara [derogatory gossip] — Think before you speak.” Examples from the Torah of wrong speech occupied the second part of this room: Moses separating from Zipporah; Moses saying he was unworthy before the burning bush; the spies speaking ill of the land of Israel; Balaam intending to curse the Israelites.
Other two-dimensional examples of the power of words adorned the walls of the hallway that linked the three rooms. A display illustrating that words can build someone’s world or can break someone’s world showed Legos emerging from the mouth of one silhouette to form the words “My Life” but a wrecking ball emerging from the mouth of another silhouette on the other side to smash that saying. Other silhouette figures showed a mother and child at a path dividing into positive and negative words, since it is necessary to teach each generation to choose the right path. Another scene depicted Moses rebuking the Klal Yisroel [the Israelite people] before his death, since rebuke is also a necessary type of speech but must be done gently and with love. Finally music was represented in the hall since this is a special type of speech that touches the heart and connects the listener to G-d.
The displays and the texts that accompanied each of them demonstrated profound knowledge of Torah, Talmud and other Jewish learning, and the design and execution of each exhibit evidenced ingenuity, artistry and hard work on the part of the students. They well deserved the praise and support shown them by the families and community members who turned out to see the exhibit.