Hebrew Bible as Art; Visual History at Bethesda Museum

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Byline: Karen Goldberg Goff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Old Testament is celebrated in art at The Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum in Bethesda. Adam and Eve are there, sculpted in iron and clay, and Noah and his ark are represented by a 3-foot-tall pyramid of animals. The stages of Moses' life are rendered in paint, and a dramatic sculpture shows Moses parting the Red Sea. Huge blue-green swirls of water tower over the man, making visitors stop and think about the enormous power of faith.

The museum opened in 2000 as a collaborative effort by local artist Phillip Ratner and his cousin Dennis, founder of the Hair Cuttery chain. The two men opened the Israel Bible Museum in Safed, Israel, in 1984. That museum houses many of Phillip Ratner's works.

The Bethesda museum is a chance for local people to enjoy art that celebrates the Hebrew Bible, says Marcy Kostbar, the museum's executive director.

"The Ratner family thought this would be a way for them to give back to the community," Ms. Kostbar says. "They wanted to establish a place to inspire the love of the Hebrew Bible through the visual arts."

Phillip Ratner, 65, studied art in New York and Washington and was an art teacher here for more than 20 years. In addition to the works at the Israel Bible Museum and in Bethesda, Mr. Ratner also has created works for the Ellis Island Monument and the Statue of Liberty in New York, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Smithsonian and Georgetown University Law Center.

The museum primarily attracted Jewish visitors in its early days, Ms. Kostbar says, but now visitors are more evenly distributed among followers of different religions.

"The museum appeals to anyone with some sort of faith," she says. "Or anyone who can appreciate the artistic basis of the exhibits."

The main part of the museum houses the permanent collection of Mr. Ratner's work. Dozens of pieces tell the story of the Old Testament through sculpture, drawings and paintings. One section is devoted to cabala, a mystical movement. There are sculptures of the sons of Jacob, including Joseph and his coat of many colors, as well as a menorah celebrating Jacob, Rachel and Leah.

The second floor contains a gallery that houses temporary collections of art from other artists and also a library. The books include art reference books, Bibles, Jewish art books and a wide children's collection.

A small building behind the main museum holds more for children. …