Rabbi Norman Lamm, Chancellor, Yeshiva University:
“The author of this volume is doubly blessed - a brilliant and talented artist and a writer who manages, in few words, to illuminate the painting and offer his own ideas, often striking in their originality. The reader should not expect a history of the Holocaust or an attempt to evoke tears. There are others who have done so with varying degrees of success. But this work is more; it is one which masterfully engages your eyes and brains at the same time. The reader will learn something of the history of the Holocaust, and there will be enough to tug at his or her heartstrings. But Lebovic’s stunning achievement is a triumph of synthesis, blending art and intellect - and, in addition, with appropriate citations from the vast literature of Judaism, from the Bible to the Talmud to Hasidism, often accompanied by his own original interpretations.”
Dr. Michael Berenbaum, Holocaust scholar, American Jewish University:
"Stan Lebovic's, Black is a Color, is a truly original contribution to Jewish Art and post-Holocaust Jewish thought. His artistic works are a compelling and inviting confrontation with the Event of the Shoah and its implications for our religious life. The confrontation is powerful and open, probing and bold. His commentary is intriguing. Like most good theology after the Shoah, he asks more questions than he answers and invites the viewer and the reader to probe more deeply, ask more profoundly, and engage more completely. The ultimate question: how can one believe in a loving, personal God after the murder on European Jews? This is a brave work that confronts the problem, It offers insights that satisfy for a time but should embolden and deepen.
When I first began to wrestle with the question of God after the Holocaust, I remember reading one comment that intrigued me and another that infuriated me. One noted rabbi dismissed the struggle by saying “to the believer there are no questions and to the non-believer there are no answers.” Another Jew – a layman and writer -- had something much wiser to say: “the revolt of the believer is not that of the renegade.”
Last year, I was in dialogue with Professor David Weiss Halivni, the Columbia University and Jewish Theolgoical Seminary Professor, the Israel prize winner and Talmud luminary who is a child of Sighet, the town that Elie Wiesel made famous, and a survivor of Auschwitz. He recounted the story of his conversation with Moshe Maisels, the renown former editor of the Hebrew language weekly Hadoar. “Tell me something,” Maisels asked, “were you religious before the war?” “Yes” Halvini answered. “And now?” “Yes” again, Halivini answered. “So nothing has changed?”
“Everything has changed,” responded the survivor and Talmudic scholar.
Primo Levi, the sage survivor of Auschwitz, wrote:
If the Lagers had lasted longer, a new, harsh language would have been born, and only this language could express what it means to toil the whole day in the wind, with the temperature below freezing, wearing only a shirt, underpants, cloth jacket and trousers, and in one's body nothing but weakness, hunger and the knowledge of the end drawing near.
I kept thinking of all of these comments as I read Stanley Aaron Lebovic’s beautiful work Black is a Color by a survivor’s son, which combines his artistic drawings with two forms of commentary: words that are in dialogue with his art and its symbolism and an extended theological, philosophical essay that wrestles with God and Jewish history, with Jewish tradition and the existential situation that Jews confronted during the Holocaust.
The work is a brutally honest confrontation with the Shoah. Lebovic uses the tradition visually and textually to confront the abyss. As one who has studied that darkness and created in its aftermath, I recognize in Lebovic a kindred soul, one who is struggling with the evil and not finding and resisting simple or comfortable answers. You see it in his art, you witness it in his writing. Lebovic juxtaposes images of the Shoah with images taken from Jewish tradition and elsewhere for considerable impact. On the cover the arms of a young boy wearing Teffilin are held firmly by the arms of a survivor similarly wrapped in barbed wire reaching up. The result is imposing. Elsewhere we see the famed electrified barbed wire fences of Auschwitz as a Wagnerian musical score. Familiar images clash and merge; they force the viewer to see things a new, to consider what has not yet been considered. We see all the iconography of the Shoah, many of the resources visual and otherwise of Jewish tradition to illuminate the darkness. He is telling his own story and not merely doing homage to his father’s past. He emerges from the shadows, a brave and bold Jew.
Like Levi, Lebovic understands that after Auschwitz art must invent a new language to portray the events of the Holocaust; the conventional will no longer work, the acceptable is no longer adequate. He is using a far more traditional artistic vocabulary than Samuel Bak, a survivor of Vilna and the brilliant Boston-based artist for while both explore the language of tradition, Bak feels more free to go in a very different direction and Lebovic wants to retain and to reengage. Both use art as integral to their confrontation with the past and the present. Bak has Lawrence Langer to probe the meaning of his work. The brilliant and demanding literary critic has offered penetrating commentary on Bak’s work that breaks new ground in literature, art and theology. Lebovic does it all himself and the results are deeply troubling, which in the field of Holocaust Studies is another way of saying disquieting, probing and disturbing. The believer will find solace in Lebovic’s work. In his want to remain faithful to the tradition. He uses its tools, images and traditions to deal with the Shoah. The renegade will understand that even if he cannot accept Lebovic’s answers, he must respect his questions.
And like Halivini, Lebovic may say the same prayers, observe the same traditions, study the same text and wrestle with the same issues as the greats of the past, but he knows that everything has changed – everything.
Rabbi Berel Wein, Director Destiny Foundation
"Black is a Color is certainly an excellent example of artistic and literary talent. It presents the Holocaust in a unique and graphic fashion and gives the reader a deeper sense of that singular time and event of evil run amok. It portrays the quest for faith after all of the horrors of the Holocaust by its survivors and their descendants. It is deeply personal but it conveys broad and important ideas that can touch every human being trying to make sense of the completely irrational behavior that evil unloosed can engender. How to deal with God and self after such a tragedy is the question that troubles all thinking religious people. This book can help one grapple with that existential issue.
Stan Lebovic is a gifted artist. He also is an author of note and talent. He has combined these two talents in a hauntingly beautiful art book about the Holocaust entitled Black is a Color. The cover portrait of two arms holding up one another, one encased in tefilin straps and the other a numbered and tattooed arm wrapped in the barbed wire of the concentration and killing camps, is alone worth the entire price of the book. There is a great deal of undiscovered talent in the Jewish world and Lebovic, an Orthodox Jew from Baltimore deserves to be discovered and recognized, Stan Lebovic is the son of a survivor, a father who in spite of all the pain and tragedy that befell him retained his humanity and faith, and the experiences of his father – a microcosm of the Jewish experience of the time – are reflected in the paintings and prose of this book. But the overriding theme of the book – its prose and art – is the inexplicable resilience of hope and faith even after the crushing events that form the background story of the book. As Lebovic himself expresses it in his own words regarding his book: “It is the struggle to have faith in the midst of madness, and the unique Jewish response to it, that is the subject of Black is a Color, a collection of works rendered through art and prose that express how traditional Jews found – and still find – hope and faith in the midst of the deepest darkness. It is an illumination of man’s post-Holocaust spiritual stature; a search for the happy ending.”
Lebovic has also produced a “Holocaust” Hagadah for the Seder night of Pesach. It is entitled Out of Bounds: An Exodus of Existential Proportions. The artwork in that Hagadah is magnificent and the prose commentary is thought provoking and insightful. Lebovic’s books are superbly crafted and beautifully presented. There is very little graphic horror depicted in any of Lebovic’s paintings. Rather it is the mood of destruction and tragedy that these paintings evoke that accompanies the reader through the pages of the book. The power of the paintings, deliberately left vague and abstract but yet very strongly suggestive of the events that they portray and represent, is itself the very strength of these extraordinary books. These are not only art books but they are also books of history, of ethics and morality, of philosophy and thought and of hope and challenge. I certainly recommend that they be present in any Jewish home and be perused and studied there regularly. They are a necessary part of Jewish education for a post-Holocaust generation in danger of losing its spiritual and historical moorings. Aside from his unusually gifted talent, he is a great person to know and talk to.
Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President, Emeritus, Orthodox Union
"This book offers a highly unusual but very important and different perspective on the Holocaust, it's survivors, and their children. It does so in a highly unusual but brilliantly creative modality - an amalgam of art and poetry. It is a powerful and original work - worthy of publication !!"
Mrs. Ruth Lichtenstein, President and editor Hamodia
"Jarringly beautiful and profoundly moving, Stan Lebovic fuses multiple mediums - text, photography, and remarkable artistry - to create an eloquent visual masterpiece. Mr. Lebovic's work heightens the viewer's and reader's consciousness of the unique spirit that pervaded the Jewish experience of the Holocaust."
Rabbi David Fohrman, Resident scholar, Hoffberger Foundation
"In Black is a Color, Stan Lebovic, son of a Holocaust survivor, offers us a window into his personal quest to wrestle with the darkness that engulfed his father's world. His chosen medium is art -- and the works that he has created are, by turns, wrenching and profound; intimate and provocative; unnerving, revelatory, and, ultimately, redemptive. To see the Holocaust through Stan's eyes is to look at this cataclysmic event in a deeply personal way, and to wrestle -- vicariously, along with him -- with the really big questions: How one can relate to the God who allowed all this to happen; how one can integrate great suffering into one's life; how one can confront great fear and horror, and -- rather than turn away from it -- truly make black a color to be painted with in the palette of one's life."
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, Director of Interfaith Affairs, Simon Wiesenthal Center
"Art is powerful. Midrash is powerful. Successfully merging the two is overpowering. I was bowled over by this work. The haunting images are evocative and spellbinding in their own right, combining the darkest motifs of the Holocaust with imagery of the fullness of Jewish life. Together with the accompanying text, they are not only a profound response to the Holocaust, but a series of theological statements. I immediately thought of Marc Chagall's works of crucifixion-in-a-talit, and recognized this work as a far more traditional declaration of what an artist - himself the son of a survivor - came to understand and wishes to teach."
Mr. Albert Dov Friedberg, Philanthropist
"It's terrifying, but full of hope, harsh but at the same time sweet. The vivid colors highlight Evil and bring it shockingly close to us, in contrast to the generally dreary pictures of that time and place. In short, you have created an extraordinary experience. The artist's comments, framed as an inner dialogue, convincingly convey an ongoing struggle and fascination with the subject matter."