Bible Inspired Legacy Thrones Created by Christian and Jewish Elders in Miami

A Letter of Appreciation to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on his visit to Israel

As a citizen of both Florida and Israel, I applaud your visit to Israel and thank you for being the most pro-Israel governor in America.  I appreciate that you brought with you Floridian businessmen, university administrators and faculty, religious leaders, and elected officials to work with their Israeli counterparts in developing collaborative Florida-Israel projects.

You would enjoy knowing about the collaborative Florida-Israel “Legacy Thrones” monumental art project created when I was dean of visual arts at New World School of the Arts in Miami.  I worked with my college students and elders from Miami’s Hispanic, African-American, and Jewish communities to create three twenty-foot high, two-ton thrones that visually convey the stories of each of the ethnic communities.

Through aesthetic dialogue between young people and elders valued traditions of the past were transformed into artistic statements of enduring significance. Together, young and old hands shaped wet clay into colorful ceramic relief sculptures collaged onto three towering steel and concrete thrones that stand facing Biscayne Bay in Margaret Pace Park. See photos of the project at https://melalexenberg.com/artwork.php?id=11.

In addition to being intergenerational and multicultural, the “Legacy Throne” project created a vibrant dialog between Christians and Jews. The Catholic Hispanic, Protestant African-American, and Jewish elders worked on each of the three thrones in one huge studio at NWSA. Working alongside each other and learning about each other’s cultures, they came to realize how much they shared in experiences and in values. The theme of the “Legacy Thrones” project became the biblical passage “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when we sit together” (Psalm 133).  Biblical images formed in clay adorned all three thrones.

The elders shared their commitments to living in freedom in America and to biblical values. Freedom from slavery and from the tyrannical regimes of Hitler and Castro shaped their reminiscences. Some women had heard first-hand stories of slavery on Southern plantations from their grandmothers. One Holocaust survivor spoke about having to bite the umbilical cord of her child born in hiding in an underground pit.  Cuban exiles talked about escaping the brutal oppression on the island they loved.

The ceramic relief sculptures could only be epoxied to the front of the thrones resting horizontally on the studio floor.  Completing the backs had to wait for cranes to lift them in place vertically and install them facing the bay. The long delay in finishing the park found me back in Israel.  My wife artist Miriam Benjamin and I worked with students at Emunah College School of the Arts in Jerusalem to create the relief sculptures to adorn the back of the Jewish throne.  They were shipped to Miami where our former NWSA students completed the throne with Israel-made ceramic Hebrew letters. The “Legacy Throne” project became the first collaborative Florida-Israel art project.

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Retiring after a decade as dean at NWSA, I returned to Israel to accept a professorship at Ariel University.  I was happy to see you honored by Ariel University and hear you say: “This recognition means a lot and I am humbled to be the recipient.  Let it be known that Florida will always stand with Israel, our greatest ally in the Middle East.” I am certain that the partnership that you forged between Ariel U. and Florida Atlantic U. will be rewarding to both universities.

The writer is author of Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media https://throughabiblelens.blogspot.com. Former dean at New World School of the Arts in Miami, professor at Columbia University, research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies, professor at Ariel University, and head of Emunah College School of the Arts in Jerusalem.