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Jewish Journal

Innovative Teachers Educate With Art

by Sharon Schatz Rosenthal

May 8, 2003 | 8:00 pm

"Tsimtsum," a sculpture created by Milken Community High School students and artist-in-residence Benny Ferdman.

"Tsimtsum," a sculpture created by Milken Community High School students and artist-in-residence Benny Ferdman.

For Jonas Basom's students, a vocabulary lesson might involve a game of charades, and learning about the water cycle might entail moving around like an ocean wave and grumbling to mimic thunder. Instead of lecture notes, Basom's teaching tools include his trusty tambourine and a black "magic" hat.

At a time when many school arts programs are threatened by budget cuts, local Jewish arts educators Basom and Benny Ferdman, an artist-in-residence at Milken Community High School, are making a difference.

Basom, a West Los Angeles resident who also creates educational software using drama techniques, won a prestigious Bravo Award for arts education in March, presented anually by The Music Center of Los Angeles County's education division.

Three years ago, Basom began his stint visiting different Los Angeles Unified School District elementary schools to teach students academic subjects through theater arts. Besides drawing students out and allowing them to flex their creative muscles, Basom's aim is actually to train their teachers to use his methods.

"Theater accesses different learning styles and different intelligences," Basom explained. "Also, drama is the most powerful way of comprehending and retaining a memory of information."

In part, Basom attributes his passion for theater with his Jewish upbringing. "The Jewish faith I got from my mother definitely valued education and the arts," said Basom, also recalling his theatrical debut at age 10 in a Kadima youth group stage production.

Adding to Jewish art education community is Ferdman, the Los Angeles-based painter, sculpture and educator who, working with a group of students, recently completed a gigantic Leviathan sculpture titled "Tsimtsum," which now stands in a quiet garden area of the Milken campus. The first in a series of "rites of passage" themed sculptures, the redwood and metal piece depicts a mythical fish perpetually chasing its tail. The sea creature is the Jewish mythological symbol for protection and fertility.

"My goal is to reinvigorate Jewish culture as an artist," said Ferdman, while looking deeply at the sculpture, which is decorated with birth-related amulets created by the students. "To me, this is visual text."

Ferdman and his students expect to complete a second sculpture on the theme of adolescence by February 2004.

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