Ina Golub would have turned 77 on Oct. 28. If life had unfolded as she wanted, the celebrated Judaica artist would still have been traveling, walking with her dog around her home in Mountainside, and — most important of all — making beautiful works out of wool and linen, threads and fibers, beads and sequins.
To her great frustration, that was all cut short by illness. She died on Oct. 20 after a five-year struggle with tongue cancer that robbed her of her ability to speak.
But Golub left behind a legacy that testifies for her, in synagogues, museums, and homes across the United States, and in Israel.
According to the catalogue issued seven years ago when The Newark Museum mounted an exhibition of her work, Golub’s textile works are featured in 40 synagogues. They include nine ark curtains and 450 Torah mantles, wall hangings, and wedding canopies. She also created rabbinical garments and prayer shawls for lay worshippers, and elaborately beaded ceremonial objects like Sabbath candle holders and Havdala spice containers.
Presiding at her funeral at Temple Emanu-El, the Reform synagogue in Westfield where she was a member, Rabbi Emeritus Charles Kroloff, who — together with senior Rabbi Douglas Sagal — was a long-time champion of her work, asked, “Does anyone feel Ina Golub in this room?”
Indeed, the curtain across the sanctuary ark — with its shimmering colors, Hebrew lettering, and archetypal Jewish symbols — was designed and made by Golub. Her artwork also adorned the walls.
Kroloff said, “Ina was a sponge of a learner of Jewish artistic tradition — with all of its limitations, which she respected. After all, she had to work without the images which Michelangelo could express, and with a keen respect for the diverse, pluralistic nature of Jewish life.”
He concluded, “We shall never again see the likes of Ina Golub. Of all the artists of ceremonial Judaica of our time, Ina Golub stands at the pinnacle of achievement.”
Her younger sister, Myrna Wertheimer of Livingston, told NJ Jewish News she remembers Golub’s creativity from their earliest childhood. They grew up in Newark and Irvington; their father, Irving, was a distinguished musician and a talented artist. “I witnessed my sister’s golden hands, and that extraordinary talent inside her,” Wertheimer said. “She has left a legacy of beauty that will be in synagogues and the Jewish community forever.”
Golub attended Weequahic High School in Newark, studied art at Montclair State University, and did her master’s at Indiana University. While art was part of her life from the start, she came to Jewish study and observance later in her life. Searching for expression that was authentically Jewish became a driving motivation.
Golub wrote: “Slowly and consistently, I have developed a deep understanding of the meaning of my tradition. Its spiritual beauty has become the expressive power of my art.”
She found it in images of the pomegranate, the Tree of Life, Sabbath depicted as a cherished bride, in Hebrew lettering, and Torah commentary. That passion gave focus and inspiration to her career, and she in turn expanded the scope of Jewish religious art for both worshippers and fellow artists. In 1996, Yeshiva University Museum in New York City mounted a 30-year retrospective on her work. Among her various honors was the prestigious Philip and Sylvia Spertus Judaica Prize in 1998.
Her weaving and beadwork are also in the permanent collection of the Jewish Museum of New York.
Golub and her husband, Herb, a concert pianist and Kean University music professor who died five years ago, never had children. It was something Golub mentioned with sadness when this reporter interviewed her some years back, but her husband suffered from decades of intermittent illness, which, she felt, ruled out the possibility of having a family.
Her nephew David, one of Wertheimer’s two sons, recalled at Golub’s funeral how his aunt let him use her top-quality coloring pencils when they visited her home in Mountainside. “Ina, my mother, and I all inherited some of my grandfather Irving’s creative genes — Ina most of all, by far, but enough trickled down that Ina saw her lineage in me and welcomed my explorations and curiosity.”
Her creativity graces his New York City home. He said, “I am honored to possess a variety of Ina’s works…. They are among my more cherished personal belongings.”
In addition to Myrna Wertheimer and her husband, Marvin, and nephew David Wertheimer and his wife, Amy, Golub is survived by her nephew Jeffrey Wertheimer and his wife Josey, and four great-nephews.