Peretz Wolf-Prusan was born in 1954 in Los Angeles, California. He grew up in a sign shop run by his grandfather, hand painted signs and gold leaf, and his father, who made neon signs. LA in the 1960’s and 70’s was the home of Sister Corita Kent and her screen printing workshop at Immaculate Heart College. Her social justice poster art, along with the work of Ben Shahn, had a profound influence on Peretz and he took up screen printing, making posters against the war in Vietnam and in support of the Soviet Jewry.
Peretz came to the Bay Area to teach screen printing at UAHC Camp Swig and to study printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute (1976-1978). He is of the last graduating class at the Center for Experimental and Interdisciplinary Arts at San Francisco State University (1985). His CEIA final project was a performance piece incorporating spoken word and art, “Storytelling for Anatoly” was produced in 1982 at the Judah Magnes Museum in Berkeley.
From 1974 to 1984 he created Ketubbot (Illuminated Jewish Wedding Documents). His work is included in Ketubbah: Jewish Marriage Contracts of Hebrew Union College, Skirball Museum, and Klau Library, by Shalom Sabar. The Skirball Museum acquired drafts and copies of his Ketubbot and presented an exhibit, “Leaping Letters,” in 1981. Peretz published A Guide to Hebrew Lettering, UAHC Press, 1981.
His love for Hebrew letters and texts led him to change course, close his studio and enter the Rabbinic program of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. His 1990 rabbinic thesis was “Hiddur Mitzvah: The Rabbinic Esthetic Imperative.”
Camp Swig Poster Workshop 1973-1977
From 1990 to 2010 Peretz served Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco, as rabbi and senior educator. In 2002 he was awarded the Covenant Award as “An Exceptional Jewish Educator who has had a significant impact on others, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the transmission of Jewish knowledge, values, and identity." In 2004 he became a Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute.
Since 2010 Peretz has been the Rabbi-In-Residence at KehillahSF and served on the leadership team and teaching faculty of Lehrhaus Judaica, now known as HaMaqom.
He has recently stepped away from leadership responsibilities at KehillahSF and at HaMaqom to make room for independent teaching and printmaking.
With Rabbi David Hartman z"l
Personal Statement by Peretz Wolf-Prusan
It's not like I wasn't warned.
When I told Arthur Kurzweil, author of “Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz,” that I would be visiting Rav Adin Steinsaltz on Sunday, June 23, 2013, in Jerusalem, he warned me that meeting a living Tzadik is a disturbing and unsettling experience. It is easier to engage such a person in a book, especially when they are long dead. So be prepared, he cautioned, to be rattled, shaken, and to have an unhappy experience.
I ignored his warning.
With happy anticipation I came from Haifa up to Jerusalem on the appointed day. My 7:00pm appointment was squeezed between his preparations to travel to Russia and his departure that very evening.
I had also been warned that it could be difficult to find the Steinsaltz Center. I ignored that, too. Have you ever tried walking from the Central Bus station trying to find number 6 HaRav Iraqi Street in the Nachalot neighborhood of Jerusalem? The instructions include a hidden pathway and an unmarked street. It's nearly impossible. No one knows where it is. The streets barely connect.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz z"l
I finally arrived on the hour and was ushered into his office, a room familiar to me as it is served as the location for several live webinars we had conducted between Rabbi Steinsaltz in Jerusalem and the collected student body of the Lehrhaus Bay Area Community Talmud Circles. Knowing this he put down his pipe and looked at me and said, "You know who I am so tell me who are you."
I commenced to tell him my practiced story, my typical bio, my standard resume. Before I got deep into it, just about the point when I say that at age 19 I came to Israel in 1973 as a volunteer on Kibbutz following the Yom Kippur war and then lived in Jerusalem and studied Hebrew lettering but did not become a Sofer STaM ( a Jewish scribe who makes Torah Scrolls, Tefillin, and Mezuzahs), he stopped me.
"Why did you say that? Why did you say you did not become a Sofer STaM?”
I said, "Well for the next 10 years I made Ketuboth and prints and posters, all involving Hebrew lettering and illuminations, but I did not reach the heights of being a Sofer STaM."
Impatiently he waved his pipe at me and said, "Torah Scribes copy texts exactly as they are found in front of them, letter for letter, word for word, until the thing is done. You want to be creative. You want to do unique and different things, why don't you say that?"
This was “my story,” how I always explain myself. If this part was wrong, what else was wrong? Did I know myself?
I began again with my story of why I left art and set out to become a Rabbi.
He looked at me and said, "I don't take North American rabbis very seriously. They don't take themselves seriously. I think they should all be tested annually for proficiency and see how they have grown year-by-year or at the very least check to see that they are still as proficient as they might have been when they graduated."
I begin to explain that I had indeed continued my studies at the Shalom Hartman Institute.
He quickly cut me off and said, "North American Rabbis give entertaining sermons. I've never heard a sermon that was intelligible or useful. Why don't Rabbis in North America teach a text? Are you a serious person, a creative person? Are you teaching seriously? Are you being creative”?
Now I knew what Arthur was warning about. This is not going well. I was not happy with myself. I was uncertain that “my story” and my true self matched, that I was serious about being a rabbi, that I was part of the Jewish world worthy of Rav Steinsaltz’s respect. I truly believed I was wasting this man's time... in every possible way… and then our time was up. He stood up to leave his office and prepare for his trip that night.
He turned to me and said, "Nice meeting you. I have great hope for the Russian Jewish community. I think many of them are very serious. Continue your work." He smiled.
I was ushered out of the room and then out of the building onto HaRav Iraqi street. I am continuing my work, without the old story.