Prayer explores Hebrew language through art

A piece of Dvora Barzilai's art exhibit called Prayer.

Israeli-born, Vienna-based artist Dvora Barzilai is one of many talents who are showcasing their work in Toronto this winter through the second annual Spotlight on Israeli Culture.

The two-month showcase that is running until March, features the best of Israeli music, theatre, film, dance and visual arts, and brings together a number of local organizations, including Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs of the Consulate General of Israel in Toronto, the Aga Khan Museum, Ashkenaz Foundation, and Austrian Cultural Forum.

Barzilai, a mixed-media artist who made her work available for the event in Toronto despite not making the trip to the city herself, said having her art on display in another city without her reminds her of the famous poem by Yehuda Halevi, a medieval Spanish-Jewish poet.

“He says, ‘my heart is in the east, and my body in the west’, so I can say the same because I am in Vienna and my art is in Canada. I hope people like it,” she said in an interview with The CJN from her Austrian home.

“This week I got a very nice letter from the Israeli consul and he wrote that he enjoyed it… so I’m happy.”

The exhibit, called Prayer, which explores the Hebrew language in prayers, liturgy, songs, contemporary Hebrew proverbs and forgotten texts, and utilizes materials including gold leaf, tempera, sand, cement, ashes, oils and canvas, has been on display this month at the Miles Nadal JCC.

Barzilai said she’s been working as an artist “since I’ve known myself.” 

She explained that there are a number of artists in her family and her father worked in Tel Aviv’s art scene when she was a child.

“My father was working in the port of Tel Aviv [Namal], so as a child I would go and see the painters, and that for me was very inspiring… When I was a child I used to come with my father to walk on the port… if someone brought an exhibition to Tel Aviv, I would go with him to see that everything was alright, and it was also a part of my inspiration… Until today, I go there to sit and think about the art,” she said.

Barzilai said that she trained with a number of Israeli artists while she grew up in Tel Aviv, before she moved to Vienna in 1992 with her husband and children.

“The reason we moved to Vienna was for my husband because he learned cantorial music in Tel Aviv and he got a job at the main synagogue in Vienna, so we moved the whole family,” she explained.

“I started painting there, but we lived in a very small apartment and there was no room, so I took a pencil and I opened the Bible and started to sketch things about the Bible.”

That paved the way for much of her artwork, which falls under the theme of religion and Jewish tradition.

Although she draws much of her inspiration from living as an observant Jew in Vienna, not all of it is based in religion.

For example, one of the pieces in her Prayer exhibit features the lyrics for Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah

“Sometimes it is modern, sometimes it is songs or text that I like. I can’t say it is only religious,” she said.

Barzilai’s work and outdoor installations have been displayed internationally, in places including Moscow, Romania, Bulgaria, and Austria. 

For more information about her work, visit