Just before winter break, as many Brown/RISD Hillel students were packing their bags and saying goodbye to their friends, two sophomores were fretting about their artwork.
Campus art studios were closing for break, meaning Mira Goodman, 20, and Thalia Bonas, 19, would need to lug their seven large oil canvases off campus and through an airport.
For Bonas and Goodman, both of whom are studying visual arts at Brown University, painting these canvases was part of an effort to make up for lost time. After months of pandemic isolation, the artists channeled their pent-up creativity into artwork last fall.
Now, they had captivating paintings and nowhere to put them.
The students had a thought: Maybe Hillel could store their artwork. They reached out to Molly Goldmeier, the assistant director of Brown/RISD Hillel.
“We said ‘Wow, this is an awesome opportunity for an exhibit,” Goldmeier said. “So our Hillel became a gallery.”
She said many students would never expect Hillel to transform into an art gallery. Beyond Shabbat dinners and holiday gatherings, Hillel can enrich Jewish life by elevating student passions, Goldmeier said.
“We’re always looking to add value to the student experience,” Goldmeier said. “Even if it is just as simple as storing art. We’re a very creative Hillel with a lot of spirit on our team.”
Brown/RISD Hillel opened the exhibit in early February. Over the next six weeks, Goodman and Bonas received texts from friends who visited the Hillel exhibit.
Bonas said working with Hillel to exhibit her art was an amazing experience.
“It was so kind of them to offer to store and showcase my work,” she said. “I really appreciate all the help and effort they provided to help make it happen.”
The artwork was diverse, ranging from depictions of Jewish celebrations to various romantic relationships. One of the paintings depicted a family seder. Multiple students said the grandfather depicted in the painting looked like their own grandfather.
“Hillel has consistently been a supportive environment for me as an artist,” Goodman said. “So for them to suggest creating a show out of my pieces showed how much they care about encouraging local artists like me to create and display work.”
The pop-up exhibit fostered connectivity between Jewish art lovers, and inspired more students to envision their work on the gallery walls. Motivated by the success, Brown/RISD Hillel organized two other art exhibits featuring depictions of Jewish spiritual objects created by more than 30 students.
Goldmeier is looking forward to more art-inspired events at Hillel, which she hopes will bring more Jewish students together.
She said, “Artwork brings out emotion in people and touches everyone in a different way.”
Rachel Bernstein is a senior at University of Southern California.