In 1903 Schatz suddenly began producing a series of reliefs on subjects taken from Jewish daily life in Eastern Europe. This burst of creativity dedicated to Jewish themes was most likely brought on by the traumatic attack on the Jews of Kishinev in the same year. The Kishinev pogrom was one of the turning points in Zionist history; for Boris Schatz, it led to an emotional and artistic transformation. Scene after scene, Schatz's poignant depictions of Jewish existence can be seen as a kind of salvage operation, an attempt to rescue cultural and communal memory and preserve a vanishing world, now threatened with violent destruction.

Yet the new series of works was not just a spontaneous personal response to the pogrom. It was also intended to raise Jewish national consciousness: Schatz made many copies of the original reliefs and sought to distribute them widely.

 

At this time, the cultural Zionism advocated by the Russian Jewish thinker Ahad Ha'am (Asher Ginzberg) offered a counter force to the radical political Zionists who focused on ancient Hebrew culture in the land of Israel and despised the Diaspora. Schatz shared Ahad Ha'am's appreciation of the intrinsic value of life in the Diaspora. In his artistic depiction of simple Jews performing the quintessential rituals that make up Jewish identity, Schatz sought to express the "national spirit" through scenes of folk life.

 


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