Food insecurity

Visual Response


Hillel Smith

What Sustains Us

Jewish Street Art Festival Passover 2021 – Contemporary Plagues

Repair the World/JCC Harlem (New York City)

On view now.


Current circumstances have exacerbated the existing crisis of food insecurity in this country.  Meanwhile, an unexpected consequence of the pandemic has been reconnecting us to how and what we eat as we spend more time at home. In Hillel Smith’s paired murals, What Sustains Us, he was inspired by the two quotes bracketing the beginning and end of Birkat Hamazon (the traditional prayer said after eating): “Hazan et hakol” (thanking God for sustaining everything and everyone) and “Na’ar Hayiti v’gam zakanti v’lo raiti tzadik ne’ezav” (I have been old and I have been young yet I have never watched a righteous person forsaken…) He has designed a language of faces and body parts built out of utensils and food itemsspoons, forks, knives, fruits, and veggiesthat offer fun and whimsical encouragement to think about all that connects our bodies to what we eat.

Hillel Smith

Hillel Smith is an artist and designer focused on re-imagining the potential of Judaica by utilizing contemporary media to create new manifestations of traditional forms. He has painted dynamic Jewish murals in Southern California, Atlanta, Virginia, Minnesota, Jerusalem, and at the Fendi headquarters in Rome. He revitalizes ancient rituals with online projects, including the Best Omer Ever: GIF the Omer counter and Parsha Posters, encouraging creative reconsideration of religious practice. Seeing Hebrew as the visual glue that binds Jews together across time and space, he also teaches Jewish typographic history, using print as a lens for Jewish life and culture. Making fun and engaging content is similarly the crux of his work as a designer for clients including HIAS, PJ Library, and Patton Oswalt.

Jewish Street Art Festival Passover 2021 - Contemporary Plagues is produced by Asylum Arts and Hillel Smith, in collaboration with LABA, and made possible with the generous support of CANVAS. Murals have been created in New York City, Charlotte and Toronto. In Toronto, Bareket Kezwer’s mural at the Miles Nadal JCC engage with the plague of binary thinking, and is in partnership with the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. Mike Wirth’s mural in Charlotte at the Queens University of Charlotte in partnership with the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens University of Charlotte, makes visible the plague of housing insecurity. Hillel Smith’s paired murals in New York City, at JCC Harlem and Repair the World NYC, engage with food insecurity. Maya Ciarrocchi’s mural at the 14th St Y in New York and the video installtions at ZAZ10TS in explores the plague of grief and loss.

Written Response

Michael W. Twitty

Please find the written response “When I was Ruth” here

Michael W. Twitty is a culinary historian and food writer from the Washington D.C. area. He blogs at He’s appeared on “Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern,” “Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates,” and most recently “Taste the Nation” with “Top Chef”‘s Padma Lakshmi. HarperCollins in 2017 released Twitty’s “The Cooking Gene,” which traces his ancestry through food from Africa to America and from slavery to freedom, and which was a finalist for The Kirkus Prize and The Art of Eating Prize and a third-place winner of Barnes&Noble’s Discover New Writer’s Awards in Nonfiction. “The Cooking Gene” won the 2018 James Beard Award for best writing as well as book of the year, making Twitty the first Black author so awarded. His piece on visiting Ghana in Bon Appetit was included in “Best Food Writing in 2019” and was nominated for a 2019 James Beard Award. His next book, “Rice” with UNC Press is currently fresh off the presses. “Koshersoul,” his follow-up to “The Cooking Gene,” will be out in 2022 through HarperCollins. Twitty has a hit spice line based on “The Cooking Gene” and has a special guest appearance on Michelle Obama’s “Waffles and Mochi” show on Netflix.