A mosaic that illustrates how the community feels about antisemitism was unveiled by the Jewish Federation of Edmonton at a Jan. 12 virtual event, featuring Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and artist Lewis Lavoie.
Shine a Light on Antisemitism features a large hanukkiah over top of 613 small tiles of art, representing the number of laws in the Torah. It was funded with a $10,000 grant from the Jewish Federations of North America
The artwork was a culmination of the federation’s Hanukkah antisemitism awareness campaign.
The tile artists, including Sohi himself, Senator Paula Simons and students from Edmonton’s Talmud Torah Jewish day school, were asked to illustrate how they feel about antisemitism and hate.
Sohi said when he spoke with Jewish students about their experiences of antisemitism, it reminded him of the discrimination he experienced in the 1980s as a young immigrant from India.
He said his tile represented “feeling lonely [and] trapped in isolation” as an outsider.
“When we started talking about that, I found there’s so much commonality between us,” said Sohi.
“That’s how we can do anti-racism work—diverse groups of people coming together, sharing our stories and really tapping into a sense of community that allows us to learn from each other, that allows us to grow together and face these challenges together.”
Lavoie, the artist, said the Hanukkah story, with its symbology of the menorah’s light during a dark time of persecution, provided immense inspiration for his work.
He also situated his work in the context of tikun olam, or repairing the world.
“The world’s broken into pieces, so when I’m putting these murals together I see it as a community. Everyone’s trying to say something, and so trying to put the pieces together is such a great metaphor and description of how these murals are,” said Lavoie.
“When you look at them close, they’re not all perfectly fitted together. There’s little gaps and little pieces in between, and sometimes the colour doesn’t go right. But overall, it’s kind of what I feel a community is. Sometimes you can’t even find a tile in there because it blends so well with the others, and other tiles just jump out at you and scream, ‘Here I am!’”
Jared Paull, a federation board member, said when we discuss antisemitism, there’s often a semantic debate over what it means—what is or isn’t antisemitic.
“But when you place it in art, you discuss the emotions and experience of the thing,” said Paull. “You can’t argue with those things. Those things are real.”
Federation intends to place the mosaic in a public spot where it can be viewed, but the timeline is uncertain because of COVID. In the meantime, for a closer look at the mosaic and some of the artists behind it visit the Jewish Edmonton website and watch the video below: