Illuminating Experience

Orange County was the original home of the Arthur Szyk Society, displaying the works of the caricature artist who illustrated a Haggadah characterized by a rich diversity of colors and detailed presentation, using the medieval and renaissance traditions of illumination of manuscripts with interspersed contemporary elements.  It is also the home of 26-year-old Alex Rajic, who was inspired by a book about Arthur Szyk he received from his grandparents.  He was so taken with Szyk’s work, in fact, that he has done that kind of illustrating in FunWithChalk, a street fair in Mission Viejo, for 12 years, and he also developed Szyk’s penchant for Judaic creations.

Rajic, whose book, The Alefbet Illuminated, is coming out in November, credits his grandparents, Enid and Don Dunkleman “for inspiring me to never settle for anything less than amazing. Although they never got to see the book completed, I remember them every time I paint a stroke or write a single word.”  He is quick to praise his mother, Fern, and father, Michael, for their help and support.

The Alefbet Illuminated, published by Cenozoic Press, has been a four-year project that, according to Rajic, fills a need for alefbet books while representing the culmination of a long and wonderful journey for the artist.  Rajic, who could be the boy next door, learned to read and write Hebrew in the third grade as preparation to become a Bar Mitzvah at Temple Beth Sholom. Initially resistant to the idea of attending Hebrew school, he developed “an ever-growing wonder and passion for an extraordinary heritage.”

In the introduction to the book, Rajic said, “I wanted to continue the tradition of Jewish book-making, and inspire Hebrew literacy in both children and adults. I found that learning Hebrew, even at the most basic level, is possibly one of the most essential and unifying acts of becoming a member of the Jewish community.”

According to the artist, the book combines “paintings, letters, and words in hopes that the reader comes to share this same passion for Jewish heritage and the larger human heritage of learning and creativity through language. Even as an artist, I believe a picture may be worth a thousand words, but a single word can be worth a thousand ideas. With that in mind, I hope this illustrated book helps bring the reader closer to the Hebrew language and the world of ideas that it embodies.”

Rajic’s book uses drawings of and words about animals to teach the Hebrew alphabet.  In addition to the colorful drawings and whimsical words, there is a Hebrew alphabet and a glossary at the end of the book.  Working with an Israeli friend as his Hebrew language consultant, Rajic came up with an animal for every letter, a transliteration, and even an archaic word for “sheep” when he found that there was no animal beginning with the Hebrew letter resh.  It took him about two years to write the poems in the book.  About six months ago, he put the paintings and writings together.

“Writing the book was the easy part,” Rajic said.  “Then there’s a whole labyrinth of things to do for a self-published book, including finding a printer, marketing, and promotions.”  On the other hand, he can do these things at this own pace.

Rajic keeps busy with other things – and both sides of his brain – too.  A graduate of UCI with a degree in anthropology, he started out by teaching and thinking about getting a Ph.D.  Currently, he is a part-time post-baccalaureate student at Chapman University, taking science classes in preparation for applying to medical school.

Now that the book is coming out, Rajic has developed a companion coloring book that is free to download online.  He just may develop a following of his own.

Rajic will speak about his book and the journey toward creating it at a Friday night service at Temple Beth Sholom on Friday, November 19, and then at the congregation’s Chanukah Fair on Sunday, November 21.

The Alefbet Illuminated will be available at the Golden Dreidle, the Temple Beth Sholom gift shop, and online.

For more information on The Alefbet Illuminated (ISBN: 978-0-615-38180-0; copyright © 2010 by Alex J. Rajic, published by Cenozoic Press, Orange CA), see these web sites: www.thealefbetilluminated.com, www.cenozoicpress.com, and www.alexrajic.com.

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