A Transformative Ride with Hanan Harchol: Jewish Food for Thought

Daily Life | love, fear, apology

February 12, 2015

Hanan Harchol, a multimedia artist, creates paintings, drawings, animations, videos, and installations that explore the human condition through family narratives. His Jewish Food for Thought series has been an inspiration to Fetzer staff and we share it regularly through our social media channels. Harchol’s animations, help deepen our understanding of topics like apology, kindness, love and fear, forgiveness, and humility through engaging, inspiring, and humorous conversations with his animated family.

What a joy it is to take a ride with your animated family in your Jewish Food for Thought series! Tell us about Jewish Food for Thought and what prompted you to create the series?
Jewish Food For Thought: The Animated Series came about after I began reading the Torah seriously for the first time at age 39 and realized that there are countless valuable teachings in the religious texts that are applicable and relevant to our contemporary daily lives. I was born in Israel and moved to the US at the age of two, however, like many Israelis I was raised in a very secular family and had never been exposed in a serious way to these texts. At age 39 I was invited to participate in an educational new media project created by Rabbi Leon Morris and funded by The Covenant Foundation, a prominent and highly respected Jewish education foundation. This is where I began discovering these gems of wisdom in the texts of my heritage.

I approached The Covenant Foundation with the idea of creating a series of animated shorts for adults and teens that would incorporate the wisdom and teachings of the holy Jewish texts into “everyday” conversations that would be relatable and engaging. I wanted to demonstrate how these ancient teachings on forgiveness, gratitude, kindness, etc. could be helpful in our contemporary daily lives. By mining the texts myself with the help of dozens of rabbis and Jewish text scholars, and incorporating the teachings into the animated conversations, I could provide a platform that would allow the viewer to benefit from the ancient wisdom even if they were not exposed to the texts directly. I am of course indebted to The Covenant Foundation for funding my work, to my brilliant teachers of Jewish wisdom, and to The Foundation for Jewish Culture and FJC for providing fiscal sponsorship.

In the “Love & Fear” videos, your “parents” tell you that “real love” requires you to take your ego out of the equation. How do you practice that in your daily life?
It’s very hard to do. We live in a society that emphasizes the “me” and it’s very hard to let go of that. I have found personally, that my study on Love for this animation and the teachings that come out of it have first and foremost made me more aware and conscious of how much I do focus on myself. That awareness has helped me to begin the difficult work of changing. As a result of my study, I also pay more attention to how significant and poignant it feels to give to someone in a selfless manner and take my ego out of the equation. When I do manage to leave my ego behind it is always through some type of action that involves giving of myself, whether it is parenting, or teaching a student, or listening to – and really hearing – a friend or loved one. There is a profound shift in energy when I am able to break out of the seemingly endless cycle of self-gratification and connect to a larger purpose of serving and helping. It gives me a glimpse of how much more meaningful and valuable my life becomes when I use my gifts to serve others rather than myself. But again, it’s hard to do and an ongoing process and challenge.

LOVE & FEAR (Part 1) - Jewish Food For Thought: The Animated Series, by Hanan Harchol

Video created with funds granted by The Covenant Foundation, with Fiscal Sponsorship by The Foundation for Jewish Culture and FJC.

One more thing, I’ve noticed that when I do succeed in breaking away from the ego, and acting in a selfless giving manner, it is easier to do it again. There is a famous Jewish teaching: “Mitzvah goreret Mitzvah…” translated: “a good deed begets (or leads to) another good deed…” The approach I try to follow is first and foremost to start – take action – I try to do something kind for someone else, without expectation or calculation, and then watch what happens.

In your video on repair, apology is described as a redemptive and almost creative or sacred act of self discovery. How has this perspective impacted how you apologize?
Through my research and study for the apology animation, I learned how important an apology is both for the person I am apologizing to, as well as for my own growth and development. There is something profoundly important in acknowledging and taking responsibility for something that I did that was wrong. Taking action, making a point to actually apologize and express remorse to the person I have wronged and making every attempt to correct the damage when possible is not just the right thing to do, it also feels good (even though it usually requires a healthy dose of humility). Probably the most significant way my study has impacted the way I apologize is the recognition that a major component of the process of apologizing includes self-reflection. This means looking honestly at myself and my behavior, recognizing what led me to behave inappropriately, and changing that aspect of myself so that I don’t do it again. This type of self-reflection and change are opportunities for growth that are not dependent on the other person and/or whether they forgive me or not. I now see apologizing as both an important responsibility as well as an opportunity for using my shortcomings as a catalyst for growth and self-improvement.

Repair (Theme: Apology) - Jewish Food For Thought, The Animated Series, by Hanan Harchol

Video created with funds granted by The Covenant Foundation, with Fiscal Sponsorship by The Foundation for Jewish Culture and FJC.

Harchol has exhibited extensively in museums and galleries across the country, and his films and animations have been broadcast on Channel 13 (WNET), Jewish Life Television, Shalom TV, and in nearly 100 film festivals worldwide.