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“To Show The Simple Things Of Life”
Profile Of Artist Reb Daniel Weinberger

By Chana Katz


The wars of Moshiach wage on in the most far-flung places, with a little victory here and a little victory there, all adding up to the ultimate Redemption.

Take the case of Daniel Weinberger, 49, an artist from Antwerp, Belgium, whose controversial style gained him growing fame by the ‘80’s as one of Europe’s “wild painters.” Had Weinberger continued his climb in the decadent art world, he would have had fame and fortune. Then again, he reckons, it also may have cost him his life.

Weinberger made the cut from the traditions of his grandparents when he entered art school at the age of 15 to study theater and jewelry design. His travels around the world, searching for that perfect picture, that perfect mood, introduced him to the wild lifestyle of the world’s art scene. This wild life led him on a wild chase; yet the more he searched, the less he found.

It was the Lubavitcher Chassid, Rav Yankel Friedrich of Antwerp, who slowly brought Weinberger back to Yiddishkeit. Rav Yankel made the final breakthrough – the soul connection – when he shared a quote about art by none other than the Rebbe Rayatz.

As Weinberger tells: “The Rebbe Rayatz wrote that ‘art is the light of the moon on the water and the wind in the wheat field.’ That is art – that which cannot be grasped.”

Weinberger remembered his own journeys in places such as Thailand, where he was “crying, crying, just to grasp the light painting the sea.” Then he heard the Rebbe’s quote and “knew that the Torah was everything. And I gave myself over completely.”

That meant emptying out his treasured (but non-kosher) wine cellar, packing up his easel, and heading to Kfar Chabad in Eretz Yisroel to learn Chassidus. “I didn’t understand anything,” he says, “but my neshama was happy, absorbing everything.”

Within a year after that, during his first visit to Crown Heights in 1984, Weinberger was introduced to Machon Chana student Reva Remer. He took his young kalla, a native of Ohio, back to the intoxicating, klippadik art world and foreign culture of Belgium, where they brought nine (bli ayin ha’ra) kinderlach into the world, all young soldiers of Tzivos Hashem.

There, they have been fighting the “wars of Moshiach,” some hair-raising battles at times, with letters, advice and brachos from the Rebbe. “I’m just a soldier. The Rebbe is the leader,” emphasized Weinberger in an interview with Beis Moshiach during a visit to Tzfas.

Some artists who have become baalei teshuva change their lifestyle in order to work and live exclusively in the frum world. Weinberger, with guidance from the Rebbe, kept his earlier jobs and connections in the art world, choosing to bring the light of Chassidus and the power of “Yechi” into the pits of the art houses and glamour of the galleries. After all, how many artists wearing a yarmulka and tzitzis can talk about Moshiach and G-dliness in such an environment?

It hasn’t been easy...

* * *

Weinberger’s return to Yiddishkeit did not fit well within a European establishment where the fascist, anti-Semitic parties were gaining in stature. The two art schools where Weinberger taught, bringing him a large percentage of his parnasa, were completely non-Jewish. His sudden absences on the Jewish holidays and the doctors’ notes he brought only at certain times of the year angered the school’s directors. They wanted him out. And they made his life very difficult.

The constant summons to the office, the harassment, the threats, weighed heavily on Weinberger for more than a decade. It affected his health, his family, his peace of mind.

He’d win one battle and barely had time to catch his breath before another would start. He faced threats from angry administrators, such as the one who told Weinberger that he could go to the chief rabbi of Jerusalem and he’d still have to work on Jewish holidays.

Weinberger instead went to the Nasi HaDor, the Rebbe MH”M, for a bracha, and a very strange thing happened. The next year, that school director suddenly quit.

Ah, relief. But not for long...

“Then there was a new director,” continued Weinberger, “who was worse than the first one. We used to be friends back in art school together. But from the first moment, he didn’t want me to take leave for the holidays. He started to check up on me and to destroy me completely. He came into class screaming at me all the time. He really wanted me out. They were terrible – those years with him.”

One might ask Weinberger why he didn’t quit, why he didn’t just get away from the non-Jewish schools and leave that entire environment. The answer was simple. This was his work, and he wasn’t going to be intimidated just because he had begun to live like a Jew. He wasn’t going to allow them carry on the work of the Nazis that wiped out almost his whole family a few decades earlier.

Meanwhile, the director tried to convince Weinberger to take a sabbatical leave and use the time to find another job. Weinberger refused. He threatened to assign him to a smaller district school – where he’d have to work on the Sabbath – and harass him until he weakened and fell ill. Then he carried out his threat.

Weinberger reported back to his commander, the Rebbe, who gave him a clear bracha. Weinberger hired a lawyer and sued the director for blatant anti-Semitism. Then something strange happened, Weinberger says. The director who had wished sickness upon him, himself came down with meningitis and was required to take off the entire year from the school. The new temporary director, already familiar with Weinberger, not only promised to change the Sabbath decree, but got the very director who had issued it to cancel it.

“It’s like Purim,” reflects Weinberger. “Everything they wanted to do to the Jews happened to them!”

He remembers sitting in the large City Hall chambers, where the mayor and governing body were shaken that a Jew was suing the city for anti-Semitism. “I felt like I was in the Inquisition. I had to defend that I was a Jew, that Shabbos was Shabbos and Yom Tov was Yom Tov.” Weinberger won that battle, too, and received a paper from none other than the mayor saying he could have the days off. “The vicious director left, another director came and although it was completely illegal to take time off for the holidays, it was okay because the mayor approved it.

“Of course, I didn’t do this; it’s the Rebbe,” says Weinberger. “I’m just a soldier standing firm.”

Somehow, through all his battles, Weinberger managed to keep his creative side alive, that spirited, impulsive, impassioned vision that is, after all, what makes an artist an artist. That same year, Weinberger had an exhibit in the school’s art gallery in which he included pictures of the Rebbe and “Yechi.” One big picture of the Rebbe ended up in the school’s annual newsletter!

The turnabout continued....

Weinberger recently got the idea to have the works of his art students displayed in local shops in the almost entirely non-Jewish community as a means of publicity for the school. The school’s former director had never approved that idea. Weinberger went back to the City Hall where he had been interrogated for being a Jew and convinced his new ally – the mayor – that it was a great idea for a joint community project between the city’s art school and some 70 local merchants. Now he smiles when he remembers how the mayor — in that one-time “Inquisition Hall” — was now congratulating him for his wonderful project.

* * *

Beginning his teaching career at the age of 27, not yet frum, Weinberger had been warmly received by the non-Jewish directors of the schools, where his role as “a clown” made him gain in popularity. “When a Jew wants to be a non-Jew, he goes overboard. He will do anything to be special,” he says.

But six years later, as a baal teshuva, he realized it wasn’t easy for a Jew to be a Jew. All in all, the battles took some 15 years of his life. In each case, the brachos and help from the Rebbe pulled him through one Purim-like story after another.

Once, when his boss, screaming, summoned him to the office, instead of getting flustered or intimidated, Weinberger looked him in the face and said, “Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu v’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach L’olam Vaed” three times.

While Weinberger juggled up to three jobs, he didn’t find relief at the other schools either...

At one school, when French neo-Nazi political leader, LaPen, was gaining popularity, an anti-Semitic secretary, who had befriended Weinberger before he did teshuva, suddenly – and relentlessly – began taunting him that he would soon be out of a job.

Blessed with a growing family, Weinberger was constantly under threat of having his parnasa cut. During this time, Weinberger remained in touch with the Rebbe and gave extra tzedaka and tefilla and...

“This evening school changed from private to partly public, and the secretary that kept telling me I’d be kicked out because I was a Jew was thrown out because of fraud.” One by one, the entire board of directors, who made his life miserable at the school, was disbanded. And a bonus: the school, which had been a long ride for Weinberger, was moved to a mere few minute walk from his house.

In the secular world, when the battles are over, the soldiers are discharged. But in the wars of Moshiach, the battles aren’t over yet. In Antwerp, things might have calmed down on the school front, but the Rebbe’s admonition to “do everything you can do” to bring the Geula weighed heavily on Weinberger.

If he carried out his dream of moving his family to Eretz Yisroel, or if he used his creative energies to design Shabbos candles or even to paint pictures of the Rebbe, Weinberger feared he might not be doing everything he could do to bring Moshiach...

There was a very big art world out there – a large part of it Jewish—waiting to be elevated, waiting to be kashered. With his newfound strength as a baal teshuva, and with the constant encouragement of the Rebbe, Weinberger has returned to the art world that almost consumed him to illuminate it with the light of holiness.

“Their paintings might reflect genius,” he says, “but their lives are messes.” Now he struggles to reconcile the two worlds in order to illustrate that a Jew, a servant of Hashem, can still harness the freedom of the creative spirit.

For example, a famous fashion designer, made an art exhibit in Florence, Italy. The hall was huge and she invited 80 of her most influential friends to contribute a small piece to the exhibit. Weinberger’s contribution was a ring with a picture of the Rebbe and “Yechi.”

Another time, the city of Antwerp asked all its art teachers to make flags for public display. Weinberger’s flag said “Moshiach Now!”

Then came the day when Weinberger completely reunited with his past, making his first major exhibit in more than 20 years. You can imagine the strain that making the exhibit was placing on Weinberger. He was returning to the very art world that he left behind at the pinnacle of his career, and was about to be under the microscopic scrutiny of his former colleagues and art society in general.

His form of art was called “an installation,” and he was given an entire house in which to express himself. 400 guests attended opening night in the house, which happened to be in an Arab neighborhood.

The exhibit was held in a somewhat rundown house. Weinberger spent weeks beautifying it by, among other appurtenances, hanging fancy curtains and wrapping the old staircase in white nylon. As people approached the house, they would hear music played by a trio of Leviim singing their special praises to Hashem, which continued throughout the exhibit.

He closed off all the windows in the house so that when one entered, it was as if he or she were entering into Weinberger’s own personal life. From the outside of the house, he made the windows appear as if they were a display case in a jewelry shop. He filled them with his artistic jewelry, fun pieces such as a necklace strung with 200 plastic soldiers – not exactly the gold and silver pieces he sold in champagne-sipping galleries to supplement his parnasa.

In the window of a neighboring house, he used a black light to shine on black-and-white photos he enlarged, such as one of his then young father standing in front of a burning Torah scroll, one of several destroyed during the Flemish riots and pogroms, r’l.

In one room, the “Galus Room,” he covered the walls with black velvet and hung his “clown doll,” a piece that captured Weinberger’s feelings of pain about the Galus. Although the doll was a clown, its whole body was wrapped with tefillin and he had a little tear in his eyes. On his heart was a small tefillin box and on its head was a little hat made out of an old tefillin box. At the entrance of the house a poster was hung depicting the Rebbe and the third Beis HaMikdash. On one box he hung an embroidery in white silk that said “Yechi Adoneinu.” On another box he displayed a necklace fashioned out of chrome and formed in a circle in which he carved out, ‘We want Moshiach now.” (This piece traveled to exhibits in America, Germany, and Czechoslovakia, and was featured in the promotional brochure along with a story about Weinberger’s return to Yiddishkeit.)

Another room was done entirely in red velvet and included strong, modern interpretations of the Holy Chariot; as you approach you could see the Rebbe sitting on the Chariot headed to the Beis HaMikdash.

The next room he covered with white cloth and included a 1,000-watt lamp with a large picture of the Rebbe entering his car on the way to the Ohel on Chaf-Zayin Adar. Music from the Leviim singing “Trust in Hashem” filtered through the room; a music stand contained a copy of the Rebbe’s prophecy of preparing for Moshiach. Then there was the imitation of a pinball machine, painted with wild and vivid colors, picturing the Leviathan and Shor HaBar under the glass and a big “Yechi.”

“No one left that place without being touched,” said Weinberger, whether it was the Belzer Chassidim, Lubavitchers, Misnagdim, or even non-Jews who entered. One non-Jew described the exhibit as “visual poetry.”

Some time before the exhibit, a non-Jewish journalist had written an article for the government’s art ministry quarterly, featuring Weinberger as an artist making a comeback, who was now creating artwork as a religious Jew. She concluded that only the Creator can create from nothing, and all that artists actually do is create something from something else.

With her permission, Weinberger printed this story on the invitations he made to invite the public to his exhibit and sent it to everyone in the art world.

This exhibit now behind him, Weinberger is busy planning another exhibit scheduled to open in October in Mechelen, Belgium, a city that once housed a concentration camp.

He wants one room to show pictures of his current family – his son dressed up in a Purim costume, his mother standing by her parents’ grave, “to portray a Jewish artist who is making quality art and showing the value of the Jewish family and Torah.”

By the entranceway to the room he wants to display an excerpt from Chapter 12 of Tanya explaining how a little light makes the darkness go away. He wants to include a necklace of rusty soldiers on rusty wires (symbolizing that the war is over), a picture of the Rebbe, and a picture of his own family dressed in their Shabbos clothes, with the music of the Leviim in the background and strong smells of fragrant oils adding to the atmosphere. “Just to show the simple things of life,” says Weinberger.

“The Rebbe, Torah, Yechi Adoneinu and Moshiach – this is what life is all about.”


Daniel Weinberger with his son Levi
“The Rebbe, Torah, Yechi Adoneinu and Moshiach – this is what life is all about.”

Installation Work



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