By Deb Silverthorn
Artist Ruth Litwin has brought the phrase v’yehe or, “let there be light,” to many places in the Dallas Jewish community. For example, a ner tamid, eternal light, hangs at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum and both The Legacy Midtown Park and Willow Bend.
Litwin’s art, shown in galleries locally and around the world through the U.S. Department of State Art in Embassies program, also includes paintings, prints, sculptures and more.
A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Litwin moved to San Antonio as an infant with her parents Lena and Morris Forbes, her brother Daniel, they of blessed memory, and sister Sara (Shipper), who is now a neighbor at The Legacy Willow Bend. She grew up in San Antonio at congregations Agudas Achim and Rodfei Shalom.
It was at a Hebrew Free Loan Association meeting that Ruth Forbes met Martin Litwin, then serving in the United States Air Force, who would become her husband of just short of 68 years until his passing in January 2020. After spending the earlier parts of their marriage living in Kansas and in Missouri, they moved to Dallas in 1962. They were longtime members of Temple Emanu-El, and he was devoted to Jewish Family Service, serving on its board for years and ultimately as president. After he passed away, Ruth initiated the Martin and Ruth Litwin Fund at JFS, supporting all its efforts.
The Litwins created a family with their four children: Brenda (Don Wolman) Nibert, Linda Fowler, Bennett (Gayla Wilson) and Stuart (Sandra) Litwin. Filling in the family’s canvas are grandchildren Ross (Rachel) Fowler, Gena (Robert) Kelly, Aaron (Erika) Keswick, Adam (Rhonda) Litwin, Melissa (Chris Carpenter) Litwin, Tamara (Colin Berkley) Litwin and Hana (John Parks) Litwin and Joel (Andie Hadad) and David (Sophie Nemes) Nibert, and great-grandchildren Elijah Fowler, Collin, Kaitlin Madeleine Kelly, Lena, Andrew and Aubrey Keswick, Cameron, Troy and Zander Litwin, Hadar and Maya Litwin-Berkley and River Nemes.
In her home, her artworks include a sculpture depicting the family’s annual poker game, a tribute to her mother’s funeral, a sculpture of young children, many of couples showing affection.
“I love the process of art, whatever I’m working on at the moment,” said Litwin, who only began taking formal art classes once all her children, four born in five years, were in school. While they were growing up, she was busy with school activities and at Temple Emanu-El. “Creating comes easier at some times but I love the process of making something meaningful.”
At the request of Mike Jacobs of blessed memory, Litwin created a sculpture, ultimately named “Grasping for Life,” for the original Dallas Holocaust Museum when it opened in 1984 at Dallas’ (then named) Jewish Community Center. The two discussed first his vision of flames, and she convinced him to add a hand reaching up. She cast it of her own hand, wanting to represent hope.
The sculpture was first built of wax and paper before it was cast. During the process, Litwin felt tremendous responsibility to communicate the atrocities it represented. When she saw the response to her art, she said she knew she had reached people.
At Jacobs’ request she then designed and created the ner tamid for the Museum.
“Ruth’s work, the first thing seen as anyone enters the Memorial Room, is striking,” said Sara Abosch-Jacobson, the Museum’s chief education officer. “On the walls you see names of those who perished who were less than a year old, and others who were over 90. The moving atmosphere is deepened by Ruth’s combination of the light that will never go out and the human hand reaching up to God in appeal.”
Litwin’s daughter Brenda, a former CPA, became a docent at the museum four years ago.
“When I retired, I wanted to volunteer where I could be hands-on and connected to the mitzvah. It’s an honor, full of personal meaning, to give tours of the Museum that include Mom’s work, to be able to share what she was thinking when she created the pieces,” she said. “While we were children, Mom did everything for us and the minute the four of us were in school, she found her passion, and it’s just meaningful and beautiful.”
The Litwins were among the first residents at The Legacy Willow Bend, moving into one of the property’s villas in 2008 only after Martin promised to build his wife a studio on-site. More than 12 years later, Litwin is still creating.
“The Torah calls the gift of artistic skill given to Bezalel, who crafted the vessels for the mishkan, chochmat lev, wisdom of the heart. Ruth puts her heart and soul into her artistic gifts,” said Rabbi Michael Tevya Cohen, director of Rabbinical Services and Pastoral Care at The Legacy Senior Communities.
“The eternal lights soar, and hold the center of each of our sanctuaries, drawing us all toward the light of Torah,” continued Rabbi Cohen. “Ruth truly made these gifts to The Legacy, as described by God to Moses, nedivat lev, contributions of the heart. We’re blessed to have her in our community.”