Moses Jacob Ezekiel is one of the greatest of American artists, and I must say that he has influenced my life. I cannot recall how I first found out about him, it may have had something to do with the book Killer Angels. But back in 1985, the National Museum of Jewish History had an exhibition of his works. It was titled: Ezekiel’s Vision: Moses Jacob Ezekiel and the Classical Tradition.
I never saw the exhibition but, in the mid 1990’s, I called up the museum and the lady I spoke to was very kind, and she sent me a catalogue that accompanied the exhibition. It explained much about his life and his works.
From time to time now, when I feel down about over our foreign policy, among other things, I pull out this catalogue and look at his works. His style was neo-classical and it far trumps neoconservative. If there is a neoconservative art form, it is about at the level of Rambo action-adventure, meaning imperial decadent.
But not Moses Jacob Ezekiel. He employed universal symbols that break the bonds of time.
Ironically, just this past week, I was checking out via the net the Confederate memorial at Arlington cemetery. It is a work of art created by Moses J. Ezekiel. The reason I was doing so is because Col. Lang’s novel has rekindled my interest (perhaps better worded as soul-searching) about the Civil War or War Between the States. As a Southerner with Southern roots (understatement), it is sometimes a difficult inquiry. But check out Moses’ work at Arlington at this website:
What jumped out at me was a Latin inscription on the base of the memorial: “VICTRIX CAUSA DIIS PLACUIT SED VICTA CATONI,” I looked it up and it translates into “The victorious cause was pleasing to the gods but not to Cato”—a reference to Cato the Younger. This quote by Cato refers to his stance in support of a republic and against an empire of Julius Caesar.
I think this Latin inscription supports the idea that, at least at one level, the South was fighting against what it viewed as imperialism. (And if you check out the Confederate Seal, you will note that at the center is George Washington on a horse). These are surprising finds.
But the work of Moses Ezekiel goes well beyond the Confederate memorial at Arlington. One of his most famous works is one dedicated to “religious liberty”. It is worth contemplating as well. At its base you will see that the sculpture is dedicated to the People of the United States, the Order of B‘nai B‘rith, and the, “Israelites of America”. Of course in this day and age, I could not help but reflect: who are the true Israelites of America today? Norman Pod? Philip Weiss? Satmar?
I am going to take liberty at this time and mention that Philip Weiss at his blog very recently had an entry where he wrote that his “spiritual” home was the United States. Very courageous stance. So it is easy to associate Ezekiel’s tribute to religious liberty with Philip Weiss.
Moses Ezekiel lived before the time that Jabotinsky’s Zionism reigned supreme, so when you study his works you are not fettered by the all the dilemmas that Jabotinsky creates. And he had a mystical bent. Good grief…with a name like Moses Jacob Ezekiel how could you not have a mystical bent?
I don’t know how to say this but I will give it a try. I apologize up front if it offends. I have spent much of my life as a “secularist”. But I didn’t understand the immense power of Jewish love until I saw the works he did of Christ. Moses Ezekiel’s secret may have been an empathy that transcended boundaries. And for that, I am forever indebted.
One last point. He lived a great life. I must say, he figured out the good life. By all means, check out the works and life of Moses Jacob Ezekiel.
Sidney O. Smith III