Monday Night Study Class

Are art dealers born or made? Perhaps a combination of both. I hope you will enjoy the following excerpt from The Emperor & the Motorcycle Mechanic by Sam Bernstein

Available  on Amazon in Kindle format. 

Monday Night Study Class


In 1962 my family belonged to Shaareth Israel the only Jewish congregation in Lubbock, Texas, with about 200 members out of a total population of 128,000. For a number of years, the congregation was so small that it was difficult to hire and retain a full time rabbi. The first rabbi turned out not to have been ordained and was let go. This caused some dissent among the members because the rabbi was popular among his supporters. Rabbi Alexander S. Kline came to us with his wife and life partner Eleanore to take over the needs of the congregation. What a team they were! Eleanore was his intellectual partner, fellow travel companion, managed his household and drove him around, since the rabbi had never learned to drive.

The white-haired rabbi had erect posture and a serious demeanor. He did, however, enjoy joke telling. My father would go into the rabbi’s chambers while he was putting on his robes before the Friday night service and tell him the latest jokes he’d heard on a recent trip to New York City. I was surprised when Dad and the rabbi exchanged some “off-color jokes.” The rabbi’s wife was garrulous and had a sparkle in her eye and a quick wit. Once before the Friday night services I asked the rabbi what God looked like. He thought for a moment and turned to his wife and said, “Darling, this is a question for you.”

Without missing a beat, Mrs. Kline looked at me thoughtfully and answered, “Sam, if God wanted us to know what He looks like, He would have told us.”

One year, around the Christmas holiday, the rabbi came to our home for a visit. In the living room was a tall tree with holiday lights and a silver Star of David adorning the top branch. There were wrapped presents under the tree. The rabbi stopped and stared at the gaily lighted tree. “Mrs. Bernstein, may I ask what is this tree?”

“Why Rabbi that’s our Hanukkah bush,” Mom replied.

“I don’t recall hearing about those,” the rabbi replied.

Rabbi Kline had a reverence and love of learning about great art. For him, religion and art were intertwined. This was part of his Hungarian upbringing in a reform Jewish family. During his studies at the rabbinical seminary he chose to write his thesis about the historical tension between Judaism and art. He began to assemble a collection of images of paintings and ceramics cut from books and magazines. He pasted them onto brown wrapping paper, then sorted them into bundles that he tied with string. As Hollace Weiner writes in Jewish Stars in Texas, Rabbi Kline believed that “Art is the eternal articulator of the soul of humanity … the permanent expression and record of his best experiences.”

The rabbi invited adult members of the congregation to meet at his residence on Monday evenings at 8 p.m. for a lecture on art topics. Each was carefully prepared and illustrated with the images from the rabbi’s collection of cut-and-pasted photos. I was ten years old at the time, but my interest was strong and I was given special permission to attend along with my father, who also served at the time as the president of the congregation. After the lecture, the adults were served a glass of wine with sliced apples, cheddar cheese and Ritz crackers. I was treated to a glass of cold apple juice.

The lectures sparked my interest in art and more importantly, indicated my acceptance as an equal by the adults in the Monday Night Art Study group. Rabbi Kline continued to lecture on art at the local university long after my family moved to Dallas in 1966. The Rabbi passed in 1982 and his collection of art images resides at the Museum of Texas Tech University where a room is named after him. Every time I sip apple juice, I recall those Monday Nights with the Rabbi and Mrs. Kline.


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