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As I sat there and watched this man, I knew that I had to paint him. I felt compelled.


“Hineni (Dirceu Braun)”
 

2/14

Oil on linen
36″ × 24″

I met Dirceu Braun at Beth Emunah Synagogue in 2000. He was blowing the shofar for the High Holy Days. Since I was raised Christian, the whole concept of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur was new to me. I had no preconceived ideas. I did not understand the enormity of the process of soul-searching that Jews undertake at this time. I was impressed by the solemnity of the occasion, the liturgy, and most especially the corporate repentance. In Christianity, we usually repent independently. In Judaism, the underlying principle is the unity of the people. The prayers say, “We have sinned, forgive us.” And if one dare start the process feeling holy and not in need of repentance, the rabbis take you through steps which bring you to a state of humility.

It was this aura of humility that I saw upon Dirceu Braun as he prepared himself to go up to the Bima to blow the shofar. He clearly understood his task: the weighty responsibility, the honor of being chosen. He seemed to go deep within himself, setting himself apart from the congregation, yet simultaneously covering us with the mantle of his holiness. When he went up to the Bima, before he raised the shofar to his lips, he looked upward, as if beseeching Adonai Himself for grace.

Everyone in the congregation sensed the Shekinah, the Presence. When he blew the shofar, everyone was riveted. Dirceu and his shofar symbolized the High Holy Days.

As I sat there and watched this man, I knew that I had to paint him. I felt compelled. After Yom Kippur, I asked Dirceu to come to my art studio and pose for me. He came the day after Yom Kippur. The Gates were closed; we had been written into the Book of Life. We were ready.

I set out my paints, while Dirceu posed with his shofar. I played inspirational Jewish music; the mood was set. My intention was to portray Dirceu blowing the shofar, but again, as at the synagogue, he paused to look upward. His eyes searched heaven, as if to say, “Hineni, Lord, here I am,” just as Abraham did in Genesis 22:1–18.

And I knew that was the painting. Not the blowing of the shofar; rather, the surrender of oneself to the service of the Lord. Having gone through so much repentance, and failing and sinning again, one can only offer oneself, Here I am, this is all I have. Knowing that you cannot maintain perfect Holiness no matter the effort, no matter how many S’Lach Lanu’s, no matter how much fasting, you will fail. Thus, the humility, the fear and trembling. This is what my friend Dirceu embodied, and why we all loved him so much.

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Hineni (Dirceu Braun)

[click to enlarge]


This year, when the time came for the High Holy Days, Dirceu was too ill to attend services. It was the first time he was unable to blow the shofar at the synagogue. A group of us from the synagogue, including the rabbis, went to see Dirceu the Shabbat after Yom Kippur. We took turns telling him how much he meant to us, and how much we missed hearing him blow the shofar. At the end of our visit, he summoned his strength, and to our amazement, blew the shofar. It was the last time. Dirceu passed away four days later.

Yet I cannot be sad, only grateful that I had the privilege to know such an honorable man. And it was only after his passing that we all learned what a generous man he was, because he was quiet about his giving.

As we were inspired by Dirceu, I hope that all who view the painting of him will also be inspired.

♦ ♦ ♦