Monday, July 15, 2013

Zvi Ribak: A Jewish Artist

I was doing some research in the Kripke library for Tisha B'Av and I came across a book about the Jewish artist Zvi Ribak.  I looked him up on Wikipedia and there was no article about him.  The man was not only a great artist, but a Jewish hero in so many different ways.  It was one of the most inspiring biographies I have ever read.  
I was inspired to register as an editor for wikipedia and to write an article about this great man.  I wrote a rough summary of his extraordinary life and hope to periodically update the article once I figure out how to get it up.  I encourage everyone to try and get their hands on this book (not available on!  I found it here at Abe Books) and learn more about this incredible artist and this incredible man!

Zvi Ribak (Zhitomer, Ukraine 1910 - Israel 1994) was a Jewish painter. He grew up in Radomsyl in a family of religious Jews. He lived a life of relative leisure until the age of 7 when a pogrom came to his ton and killed 880 people. This was at the beginning of what came to be known as the white terror

After the pogroms his family relocated to Kiev where Ribak, age 8, was already recognized to have extraordinary talent. He was given permission to attend an art studio that housed artists such as Kipnis, Pinchuk, and Reznikov. 

During the winter of 1919 Marc Chagall came to visit and took interest in young Ribak's paintings. He offered to take Ribak with him to Paris, but Ribak's father did not allow him to go. 

At the age of 14 he joined the Bubarikin studio. Ribak was told that he could have his livelihood assured as a painter if he would paint portraits of Soviet leaders. Ribak refused saying that this would be worse than eating pork. 

So he decided to learn another profession to support himself. He applied to study architecture at the Kiev Polytechnic but was rejected because he didn't belong to the proletariat or to the Communist Party. He was similarly rejected from the Leningrad Academy of Art.

 Having no alternative he traveled to Dombas where he found work as an electrician in a coal mine. From there he went to the technological institute in Kharkov where he studied nuclear physics under Lev Davidovich Landau, who later won the Nobel Prize in 1962. 

After he graduated he applied to a higher academy of advanced art in Moscow and he was accepted despite the fact that he was a Jew. After the war broke out with Germany he enlisted in the red army. 
"I didn't even know how to fire a gun, but reports of the horrors being perpetrated by Germans against Jews had reached us. We knew what they had done in Warsaw. I was filled with feelings of vengeance. With all my might I wanted, in my own small way, to stop the annihilation of the Jewish people." 
His father was killed by Nazis in the Kiev Ghetto on Rosh Hashanah 1940. 

Ribak served on the Central front under the Jewish General Tschernikhovsky (I aslso could not find a wikipedia article about him, but he sounds pretty amazing as well).. He took part in the conquest of Prague, Warsaw, and Berlin. He was among the group that captured Hitler's bunker in Berlin. 

He ended the war as a Russian officer and recipient of eight decorations, among them "Hero of Russia", "Cross of Lenin", and the "Cross of Stalin". 

After the war Ribak set up the organization of Jewish artist, survivors of the Holocaust. In 1946 Ribak married Batia Waisman. 

In 1948 Ribak came to Israel, a long time dream fulfilled, and joined the fight for independence. He participated in the battles on the Eastern front near Netanya as a member of a religious company. 

After the war Ribak found employment first as an engineer and later as an architect for the city of Tel Aviv. Despite the cities secular nature, Ribak always maintained a religious lifestyle. In 1952 he met the great Rabbi the Hazon Ish and was persuaded to move to Bnei Brak, then a developing city. For ten years he worked as a city planner in Bnei Brak and today his fingerprints can be seen in every corner of the city. 

He had three sons and a daughter. 

All the years in Israel he never neglected his talent and he painted at every spare moment. Many of his works focus on Jewish subjects from the world that had been destroyed. In 1990 Jay Weinstein from Sotheby's edited a book called ""Zvi Ribak: A Jewish Artist"" Weinstein wrote of Ribak's paintings, "He did not paint the candelabrum, he painted the flame."