In Memory of Lillian Ben-Zion

photo Todd Weinstein
We went to visit Ben-Zion’s home in New York City. This time, Susan, and my two daughters, Sarika and Adina, accompanied me. And Todd, Ben-Zion’s friend and chronicler. It was Todd who opened the door to the story of Ben-Zion and invited me to enter.

I was delighted to tell Lillian, Ben-Zion’s wife, that the article that I had written about Ben-Zion had been accepted for publication.

You must send me a copy of the article, she said; I promised I would.

I will give you a copy of my manuscript before you leave. It’s my interpretation of Ben-Zion’s work.

Now I had been officially drawn into Lillian’s circle: Lillian, Todd, myself, a conventicle of devotees bound by some deep Kabbalah of connection to the vision of Ben-Zion. She went into one of her bureaus and pulled out a handwritten manuscript, in two volumes, entitled Reflections on the Works of Ben-Zion.

I made the cover out of a coat that Ben-Zion wore, Lillian said.

Inside the originals were photos and color reproductions of the works of Ben-Zion and a handwritten text. She had assembled the entire piece out of these color reproductions and her hand-written commentary.

This is the original, she said, I want you to have a copy.

She gave me a copy of the two volumes of the text in a black cover bound by red thread that she had knotted and tied by the four small holes punched into the paper.

I received the treasures. I wanted to cradle the pages, hold them on the ride home, refer to them at the stops along the way to assure myself that she had added something to what I had imagined of the work of Ben-Zion, the profound implications of his work explicated in poetry and song and verse within, not discourse, not academic, not the familiar but the intuitive whole, the inner world of Ben-Zion’s work articulated by his wife, his companion of half a century; I wondered just how she would speak the inner life of the vision of Ben-Zion.

She had not actually spoken of the particulars of Ben-Zion’s work or his visionary qualities since I had met her. I assumed that she could, that we shared that secret knowledge, that all the aspects of his work that drew me into his circle were too familiar to her to mention, but it was understood between us, it was, wasn’t it?

I admit that before I opened the hand-written pages and read from them, I thought perhaps I was assuming too much. I could have been wrong. Maybe she knew it but could not write it. I have seen this: to know and not be capable of writing. To know it and to write it are not always the same thing, though they are to me.

Her text was beautifully clear and well organized. It was the story of Ben-Zion’s process as well as his product, a description of his work environment — his studio, his home — and the objects that were present there that represented aspects of his art.

“You know, these things. . .” she gestured around her to the collectibles, the artifacts, the figurines, the rocks, the crystals, the iron implements, “they were not possessions to Ben-Zion. Ben-Zion was not a person of possessions, nothing possessed him, they were objects that he loved and he learned from. But they were not possessions. I don’t believe that Ben-Zion ever possessed anything. He learned from them.”