When Rivka Vardi was appointed director of the fledgling Oman [“Artist”] School of Higher Education for the Arts, she dreamed of a place in which ultra-Orthodox artists like herself could be true to their faith and to their creative impulse. In other words, she didn’t set out to change ultra-Orthodox society, but she did want to let the power of self-expression open new doors and opportunities for its members.
Today, there are 75 ultra-Orthodox women studying in Oman’s joint bachelor-degree program with Jerusalem’s renowned Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. And as they can attest, new doors and opportunities are definitely opening all around them, some they never even knew existed.
The Oman-Bezalel program for ultra-Orthodox women offers two degrees, one in art and the other in architecture. Courses are taught jointly by professors from both institutions, all of whom not only teach artistic expression, but also express the views and values of the world from which they come. Students are encouraged to respect the religious boundaries their community has erected, but at the same time to push artistic boundaries to the limit — and beyond. It’s a challenge, but one Oman’s faculty and students are determined to take up.
Indeed, for them it makes perfect sense that the Hebrew word for “faith” comes from the same root as the word for “art”: Both faith and art are universal languages, through which we can all find a way to communicate.