Hillel Smith


Sharing my vision of what Jewish art can be is central to my artistic practice, and I am always excited for the opportunity to share my passion with new communities around the world. Over the last few years, I've had the privilege of traveling to both teach art workshops and speak about Hebrew typography and the history of Jewish art and design. Often the weekend will coincide with a show of my work in a gallery space in a synagogue or community center. Communities I have been honored to spend time with include Sabes JCC (Minneapolis), Osher Marin JCC (Bay Area, California), and the National Havurah Committee Summer Institute (Rindge, New Hampshire)

Contact me for more info and pricing. Some topics of lectures and programs I've given in the past are listed here, and I'm happy to customize a program around your communities' interests and event themes.

Speaking Topics

A Brief History of Hebrew Typography
Covering the 4000 year development of the Hebrew alphabet from invention to the present. That's a lot of ground to cover in an hour! I also offer deeper dives into topics touched on in that program, including:

Scratches in the Sand
A look into the earliest invention of the Hebrew alphabet. Where did the alphabet come from?

Revisionist Typography
This text-based study session uses Talmudic sources as a guide to discover what our sages knew — and didn't know — about the alphabet written on the original Ten Commandments, and try to figure out how they understood Jewish history and the nature of change. I often add in a shortened version of the Hebrew talk above for context.

What in G*d's name?
All about the writing of divine substitutions and how that illustrates evolving ideas of what is holy. Jews use all kinds of things to write God's name, including two yuds, three yuds, the letter he, G-d, and many more, in a tradition that goes all the way back past the Dead Sea Scrolls. What are the origins of these different symbols? How have these traditions evolved over time?

Information Technology and Jewish Practice
Information technology has affected Jewish life long before the internet. How have the technologies available to us, from the scroll to the codex, the invention of paper and the printing press, to the inventions of the modern era, changed not only the way we study and practice as Jews, but how we fundamentally approach Jewish identity and tradition?

Types of Jews
Language, alphabet, and script are powerful expressions of cultural affinity and identity. What do the ways we write say about how we think of ourselves as Jews and our relationship to other communities and the world at large? Nationalism, assimilation, romanticism, and cultural exchange all factor in to something as ordinary as writing.

[Not] Your Grandfather's Hebrew
Forgotten Hebrew scripts, and some that lasted, focusing on the cultural and geographical factors that led to the rise and disappearance of these scripts. This is a simpler version of the Types of Jews talk that can be done in 30 minutes instead of 1 hour.

Expressing Jewish identity Through Art, Past and Present
For as long as there have been Jews, we have been engaged in producing Jewish art and design. A closer look at that creative output — from ancient synagogue mosaics to contemporary graffiti — reveals much about what we value and how we see ourselves in relation to the world around us. What does Jewish art look like, and how do we mark ourselves as Jews through visual expression?

Art Workshops

Jewish Street Art
My most popular class is a spray paint stencil workshop with a Jewish edge. We begin with discussions about art as a way of expressing personal and communal identity, and Jewish approaches to art throughout history, before learning how to design, cut, and paint our stencils. I supply all materials and safety equipment and can tailor curricula to any thematic focus. Please allow at least an hour for best results. This program can also extent to multiple sessions so participants can try different techniques and design larger and more sophisticated pieces. This program is best for tweens, teens, and adults, and can be modified for younger artists. See more about this class here.

Text as Texture
Explore the use of letters and writing as an artistic element. Participants use a variety of media to create typographic art informed by inspiration both Jewish and not.

Experimental Hebrew Calligraphy
What makes a letter a letter? After demonstrating some fundamentals of Hebrew writing, participants create their own inspired versions. This class is suitable for anyone who can hold a brush.

Hiddur mitzvah
Jewish tradition holds that ritual is elevated by using objects that are physically beautiful. After a presentation on Jewish ritual objects throughout history, we'll use historic Jewish art techniques to create our own Judaica.