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Queens Chronicle

Exhibit seeks to help heal after synagogue shooting

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Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2019 10:30 am

Born out of tragedy, a new exhibition at a Forest Hills cafe — a collaboration between a group of artists from Rhode Island and two local entrepreneurs — attempts to help restore peace and harmony in the universe.

The “Tree of Life” exhibit, which opened on May 1 at the Red Pipe Cafe on Austin Street, is a direct response to the Oct. 27 mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which left multiple worshipers dead or wounded.

“It weighed heavily on my heart,” said David Chatowsky, proprietor of a self-named gallery in Portsmouth, RI. “I felt moved. I felt compassion to help in any way I can.”

Serendipity stepped in, as area historian Michael Perlman found himself in Chatowsky’s gallery, where, according to the artist, “We struck up a conversation,” leading Perlman to promise he would try to assist Chatowsky in finding a venue in New York to display his work.

That was in September, just about a month prior to the massacre, Chatowsky recalled in a recent telephone interview. Perlman introduced Chatowsky to Rene David Alkalay and Ofer Kertes, owners of the cafe, which has become something of a cultural mecca, its laid-back vibe providing a welcoming atmosphere for not only creators of fine art but for poets and musicians, as well.

“We hit it off,” Alkalay said. “David wanted to help the community in Pittsburgh rebuild.”

At the exhibit’s opening, Chatowsky explained the inspiration behind his creation of the Tree of Life series of paintings, which he started four years ago.

“I started to think of what was the purest part of my life,” he said, wanting to capture the “wonder and joy” of a time long past. The paintings, which feature plenty of trees, lush greenery, murmuring brooks and more than a few animals — horses, a buck, and a doe among them, reflect his memories of growing up in the woods.

Now, those paintings, along with other artworks by Chatowsky’s family and friends, are available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds earmarked to help families of the victims. They include oils, acrylics, marine botanical pressings, fish printings, photographs and mixed-media works.

That Chatowsky and Red Pipe would come together seemed inevitable. Not only was it at the Tree of Life Synagogue where the incident took place, leading to the Tree of Life exhibit, but Alkalay oversees another local enterprise called — yes — the Genesis Tree of Life Yoga & Wellness Center.

When Chatowsky first heard the name, he had to ask Alkalay to repeat it, believing his ears were playing tricks on him.

“It gave me the faith to continue,” Chatowsky said. “I had to do it on the faith that it was the right thing to do.”

To make it happen, Chatowsky had to overcome multiple obstacles, not the least of which was the three-and-a-half hour drive from his home state. It took him until 4 o’clock one morning to set up the exhibit. It was “a big endeavor,” he said.

The exhibit is particularly meaningful for two patrons of the cafe who said they stop by at least twice a week for the lentil soup.

Dan and Betty Korb of Forest Hills happened to be at the Tree of Life Synagogue a year ago, where they found the people to be “very welcoming.” The shooting, they said, “was particularly heinous,” and they agreed the exhibit is a “beautiful concept.”

According to Chatowsky, there has already been interest in more than one of the paintings.

Putting it all together was “a big stretch for me,” he said, but he believes it was worth it. “I really want to make a difference,” he said, hoping to bring people together through art and creating a better future for all.

‘Tree of Life’

When: Indeterminate; at least

the next two months

Where: Red Pipe Cafe,

71-60 Austin St., Forest Hills

Entry: Free. (718) 224-8359,

redpipecafe.com

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