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Authors of Our Own Story: The Spiritual Journey of Yisroel Juskowitz

Margie Pensak

A spiritual odyssey that took him from his Baltimore yeshivah to a secular university campus and back again is the backdrop of Yisroel Juskowitz’s canvas. It’s a picture in the making, of a young man whose goal is to harness his talents — in painting, writing, and music — for inspiration. With the release of his first CD, A Narrow Bridge, Yisroel shares his story: what brought him back, what keeps him going, and how beautiful and inspiring the destination — and the journey — can be.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Yisroel Juskowitz experienced, more or less, a typical Orthodox upbringing. He grew up in a warm home in Baltimore with loving parents, and was educated in day schools and yeshivah. He had lots of friends, liked sports, and enjoyed having a good time. What made him a little different from most of the boys at his school was that he loved to draw.

At first, he just drew caricatures of the teacher when he was bored in class. He would pass them around to friends during class and get some laughs. And soon found he had a product for sale, as his caricatures evolved into a business. In seventh grade, he sold his figures of famous sports personalities, from his locker, for the “right price.” Later he employed his talents to make banners for color war. His teenage creativity won him first place, two years in a row, for a “build your own menorah” contest; and a scholarship to a nonobservant sleepover camp (which he didn’t cash in on) for an essay on Israel, in a contest sponsored by a secular Zionist organization — to name just a few of his high school trophies.

But as Yisroel matured, so did his paintings. He was self-taught, and he learned how to use pastels to draw landscapes and portraits. More recently he switched to oils, which he says lend richer and more vibrant color to his work. But even before the oil canvases, his paintings were displayed and offered for sale at several art fairs. Between classes and shiurim, he would run to his room and draw and paint.

But an artist’s soul is never quiet.

“The older I got, the more religiously I felt confused,” admits Yisroel. “Judaism felt forced, sort of shoved down my throat. I guess I was never taught it in a way that spoke to me. My palette became my escape from what I saw as studying just a bunch of outdated texts. Eventually, I dropped out of yeshivah altogether and enrolled full time in university.”

Inside, says Yisroel, he was empty.

“I cared little about Yiddishkeit, let alone being frum. I still kept the bare minimum to make my parents happy, but inside I cared nothing for it.

“At first, I embraced my newfound freedom,” continues Yisroel. “I felt liberated from the shackles of religious dogma and ritual. Most of my friends were not Jewish, just people I met at college. College life is all about freedom, no boundaries. I still maintained some friendships from my yeshivah days but, overall, I felt alienated from them. I was heavily into music, and not the Jewish kind.”

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Yisroel Juskowitz experienced, more or less, a typical Orthodox upbringing. He grew up in a warm home in Baltimore with loving parents, and was educated in day schools and yeshivah. He had lots of friends, liked sports, and enjoyed having a good time. What made him a little different from most of the boys at his school was that he loved to draw.

At first, he just drew caricatures of the teacher when he was bored in class. He would pass them around to friends during class and get some laughs. And soon found he had a product for sale, as his caricatures evolved into a business. In seventh grade, he sold his figures of famous sports personalities, from his locker, for the “right price.” Later he employed his talents to make banners for color war. His teenage creativity won him first place, two years in a row, for a “build your own menorah” contest; and a scholarship to a nonobservant sleepover camp (which he didn’t cash in on) for an essay on Israel, in a contest sponsored by a secular Zionist organization — to name just a few of his high school trophies.

But as Yisroel matured, so did his paintings. He was self-taught, and he learned how to use pastels to draw landscapes and portraits. More recently he switched to oils, which he says lend richer and more vibrant color to his work. But even before the oil canvases, his paintings were displayed and offered for sale at several art fairs. Between classes and shiurim, he would run to his room and draw and paint.

But an artist’s soul is never quiet.

“The older I got, the more religiously I felt confused,” admits Yisroel. “Judaism felt forced, sort of shoved down my throat. I guess I was never taught it in a way that spoke to me. My palette became my escape from what I saw as studying just a bunch of outdated texts. Eventually, I dropped out of yeshivah altogether and enrolled full time in university.”

Inside, says Yisroel, he was empty.

“I cared little about Yiddishkeit, let alone being frum. I still kept the bare minimum to make my parents happy, but inside I cared nothing for it.

“At first, I embraced my newfound freedom,” continues Yisroel. “I felt liberated from the shackles of religious dogma and ritual. Most of my friends were not Jewish, just people I met at college. College life is all about freedom, no boundaries. I still maintained some friendships from my yeshivah days but, overall, I felt alienated from them. I was heavily into music, and not the Jewish kind.”

spiritual odyssey that took him from his Baltimore yeshivah to a secular university campus and back again is the backdrop of Yisroel Juskowitz’s canvas. It’s a picture in the making, of a young man whose goal is to harness his talents — in painting, writing, and music — for inspiration. With the release of his first CD, A Narrow Bridge, Yisroel shares his story: what brought him back, what keeps him going, and how beautiful and inspiring the destination — and the journey — can be.

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