Tuesday, November 30, 2021

At a festive melave malka at Philadelphia’s Politz Hebrew Academy on November 13, a “Chandelier of Light in Memory of the Kedoshim” was dedicated to the memory of martyred relatives and survivors of the Shoah from communities adjacent to the school. The brilliantly designed chandelier is the creation of Israeli artist Edna Dagan, who resides in Oakland, New Jersey, with her husband, Dr. Jacob Dagan.

The connection between artist and school took place serendipitously at the wedding of the daughter of Politz Hebrew Academy’s Director of Development and Marketing Karen-Krebs Wellerstein. Bearing in mind the mission of Politz’s founder and Head of School Bessie Katz, a child of survivors, to remember the holy martyrs and survivors of the Holocaust within the walls of her school, Wellerstein was intrigued to learn that her new son-in-law’s aunt was an outstanding artist and a child of survivors herself. “I explained to Edna what we were envisioning and she came up with a magnificent design,” Wallerstein shared. “It took many months to complete, but her vision came through. The chandelier perfectly symbolizes darkness to light.”

The chandelier, which hangs in an alcove at the junction between the school’s three buildings, is created with 126 gold plaques engraved with the names of Jewish souls who perished in the Holocaust. Each plaque is hung on copper wires from the top tier of the black, wrought-iron fixture. On a lower tier below the gold plaques are 48 silver plaques engraved with the names of survivors. All of the names represent relatives of the Politz Yeshiva community. Candle-shaped bulbs shed light on the plaques and bounce light off of the ragged barbed wire encircling the fixture. A black, wrought-iron Star of David fills the circle of the bottom tier. “Since its installation,” said Wallerstein, “the parents, faculty and students are in awe of it. They actually spend time reading the names, and that is what we wanted.”

Dagan, whose Polish-born father was the youngest of nine brothers and the only one to survive, was raised in Haifa. Her first career was as a classical pianist and teacher of piano, and included studies at Julliard in New York. In the 1970s and 1980s, while she and her husband raised their three children in the United States, Dagan studied painting and drawing. “My background as a classical pianist has a strong effect on my work, though I find inspiration in every thing and every day,” she said.

Dagan is a multimedia artist who creates in clay, marble, wood, pastel, oil and bronze. In 1997, she won first prize for sculpture in a competition at the New Milford Art Center. Between 1998 and 2016, her works were exhibited in the Javits Center in Manhattan, the Artist’s Gallery in Ridgewood, the Bergen Museum in Paramus, and the Hertz Corporate Center in Ramsay. She made six commissioned paintings for an auction, held in Ridgewood, in support of Hurricane Katrina victims.

After a 10-year return to Israel, the Dagans moved to New Jersey to be close to children and grandchildren. Dr. Dagan is a pioneer in telemedicine and a leader in the bio-technical sector, with 35 years of success in healthcare management and corporate and product development in Israel and the U.S.

In her passionate address at the dedication of the “Chandelier of Light,” Dagan said: ”As an artist, I feel compelled and absolutely driven to complete this sacred, holy piece. Sacred, because it honors the memories of those who were tragically taken far too soon, as well as the survivors in this beautiful community, who struggled to live on and contribute their efforts to the continuity of our strong Jewish people.

“My family tree, as well as my husband’s, is riddled with stories from the Holocaust—betrayal, death, luck, survival, and the ultimate will to live. I derive great meaning and purpose in shedding light on the Shoah’s abundant messages of hope and resilience.

“We need to memorialize terrible events so that we can behold with our own eyes a representation of the past, especially events of unimaginably monumental devastation,” Dagan continued. “Then we are free to go forward with pride in our courageous survival and pass on our positive Jewish values to future generations.”

Politz Hebrew Academy is a 400-student Orthodox elementary school founded in 1982 with the mission of providing a quality Jewish education in both Judaic and general studies. With a faculty of more than 50, the school’s goal is to insure the academic, social, emotional and spiritual well-being of each child according to his/her abilities. Politz serves students from Philadelphia, Northeast Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, Bensalem, Lower Merion, Elkins Park and Bucks County.

Edna Dagan’s 200-plus sculptures, paintings and three-dimensional pieces can be viewed on her website at www.ednadagan.com. She can be reached at 201-470-7965 to arrange a personal tour of her gallery located in Paramus.

By Pearl Markovitz

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