The artwork titled "Rabbi Alexander" was created in 2018 by Deborah Addison Coburn. The image is a charcoal drawing of a young Rabbi with pale skin and dark hair, wearing a religious black robe and hat. The young man holds a book stares off to the distance. The backdrop is a vivid bright blue interlaid with newspaper clippings, old photographs, and geometric shapes. The artwork is a charcoal drawing on paper mounted on canvas with collage and kosher string, 26 inches by 33 inches.

“Rabbi Alexander,” Deborah Addison Coburn, 2018, charcoal, collage & Kosher string on paper mounted on canvas, 26″ x 33″

The works by Washington, DC artist Deborah Addison Coburn interweave two generational threads in the tapestry of her personal family history. Both works are charcoal drawings on paper mounted on canvas, but the first also adds collage and kosher string and the second adds fabric and buttons. The first, “Rabbi Alexander,” is the artist’s great-great-grandfather, Rabbi Joel (Yoel) Alexander, from the town of Posen, in Prussia. He studied at the Yeshiva in Munster and was subsequently ordained as a rabbi by the “great rabbis of Posen and Rabbi Marcus Adler, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom.” Coming to New York during the mid-century immigration wave of central European Jews, mainly from Prussia and Austro-Hungary, he was appointed as the first fulltime rabbi at Baith Israel—known as the Mother Synagogue of Brooklyn, as the oldest Jewish congregation in the borough—and subsequently served as rabbi of the first synagogue in Memphis, during the last four years or so of his brief life: he died in Memphis at the age of 43, and is buried there.

The portrait by his great-great-granddaughter offers a handsome, somewhat stern face, surrounded by markers of his passage through the world—from small images of the Old World rabbis who trained him, to various texts, including public documents in German and English referring to his accomplishments; to a picture of the Baith Israel congregation’s second independent structure, a landmark building known as the Boerum Place synagogue, built in1862 not far from Brooklyn’s city hall; to an image of the old, neo-Islamic-Romanesque-styled synagogue in Memphis, with is monumental keyhole arch main doorway; to the Memphis gravestone that tells us that he lived form 1823-66, and offers an inscription extolling him for his righteousness and justice, and declaring that the “entire nation of Israel eulogized him as a loyal shepherd.”

Deborah Addison Coburn is a painter, printmaker and collage artist in the Washington, DC area. She received a BFA in painting from Cornell University, where she studied with Friedel Dzubas, Gillian Pederson-Krag and May Stevens. After post-graduate study in painting, graphic design and illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art, she worked as an advertising art director at agencies in Baltimore, MD and Dallas, TX. Returning to painting, Ms. Coburn studied at the Corcoran School of Art with William Christenberry, Steven Cushner and William Willis. A member of Studio Gallery DC, her work has been exhibited in solo and group shows in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Ms. Coburn’s work has been included in McLean Project for the Arts’ prestigious juried show Strictly Painting, and she has been a Bethesda Painting Awards finalist. See more of Ms. Coburn’s art at her website as well as