“Before his death, Rabbi Zusya said, ‘In the coming world, they will not ask me: “Why were you not Moses?” They will ask me: “Why were you not Zusya?”’”
I have always loved this quotation by Martin Buber. And lately, at 77 years old, its significance has taken on a much greater meaning to me.
I am an artist. On March 19th, 2020, the Director of Holistic Studies, Zvi Bellin, scheduled the opening of my art exhibition at John F. Kennedy University, San Jose, CA Campus. It was titled “Discovering Judi.” It would include 8 large tapestries (51”x58”) of mandalas that would express missing pieces of myself. To quote a line from the biography I was including: “Leaving a 30-year marriage was going to be the most difficult thing I ever did, or so I thought. What turned out to be even more difficult was in fact discovering who Judi is.”
I used the art form of the mandala to paint and uncover emotions that had been buried deep inside me. Since 1995, I channeled 250-300 of them. I never knew what would appear on the watercolor piece of paper. I would start to paint, and an image would appear at the completion of the process. The designs and colors were always different, and they amazed me, as I have no formal art training. After taking a course titled “Painting from the Heart,” I got in touch with my subconscious mind and just like Carl Jung used the process to heal himself from a major depression, I too used the technique to unburden my soul.
My anticipation for this exhibition to take place was extremely high and after sending out 100 invitations to friends and family alike, I could not have been more excited to share my art. The week of the event, I learned that my art show had been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There would be no public gatherings, and the scheduling of a future date was not even possible. I was devastated. As a believer in universal truths, I realized that something better was supposed to occur, but at the time, I had no idea what that would be.
And then this is what presented itself. I met a woman who invited me to paint some picket boards for a fence that she planned to install in front of her home. She gave me 4 picket boards, and I loved painting different designs on them so much, I asked for 3 more. In total, I painted 7 of them. I loved the process, as my mandala art form was getting too constricting for me. The whole idea of painting on wood presented an entirely new form of joy and freedom. And the timing of it could not have been more strategic, as the opportunity presented itself in early March, just when we were beginning to shelter-in-place. After completing the picket boards, I felt sad, and somewhat disoriented as my time at home alone was now becoming more and more difficult.
One day it occurred to me to go to Home Depot to see what type of wood would be possible to paint. But could I leave my home of safety and self-isolation? Was I taking a huge risk to satisfy an urge that might in the end kill me? These were questions that I struggled with for many days. When I realized my heart’s desire was stronger than all of the precautions in my head, I donned my mask and headed out to Home Depot. I figured if I went between 7 and 8 A.M., there would be only contractors and fewer individuals in the store. After asking where the wood was located, I headed for aisle 18. After perusing the different bins, I almost jumped with joy when I found 24”x24” of plywood stacked neatly next to each other. I took them all out and looked at the knots and whirls only to discover that I started seeing different animals in them.
I chose 3 of the plywood boards and could not contain my excitement as I loaded them into the trunk of my car. When I arrived at home, I immediately started the process of painting one of them. The image that appeared after the completion of it amazed and delighted me. The very first one had a reptile on the top half and a humpback whale on the bottom half. And just like my mandalas, they were providing me with messages from the universe, a continuation of the process of “discovering Judi.”
The spiritual meaning of reptiles or lizards are a symbol of independence, adaptation, solitude, freedom and most importantly, the symbol of the subconscious mind. The lizard animal totem is a reliable messenger from the spiritual realm. Lizards take excellent care of themselves, and they incite us to do the same. Wow! I read this interpretation and said to myself that I was definitely on to something! And when I looked up the spiritual meaning of the humpback whale, I found the whale spirit animal is the earth’s record keeper for all time. As a totem, the whale teaches you about listening to your inner voice, understanding the impact our emotions have on our everyday life, and following our own truth.
As a result of this amazing discovery, other spiritual animals that have appeared in my art are: bears, birds, owls, zebras, mandrills, parrots, turtles and donkeys. Most recently, I saw a duck-billed platypus that I have yet to paint. This process would never have taken place for me had the COVID-19 pandemic not occurred. I know that I would never have taken the time to sit down and be with myself in the way that it forced me to do that. I had to not only stay inside my home, but also had to learn to go inside myself. The outside world was a scary place for me and it still is, but my inside world is confidant, relaxed and happy. Every day, I look forward to a message of hope and resilience provided by these spirit animals.
I feel as if my sole purpose in life has finally been uncovered and presented itself to be shared with the world. And if Rabbi Zusya asked me if I was Judi when I passed over, I could honestly state with a huge smile on my face, that yes, I was Judi.
Submitted by Judi Rosenthal, Santa Clara County – San Jose.