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Brooklyn’s Hasidic Art Scene Expands with New Gallery

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The Brooklyn art scene is getting another retro infusion — this time from Crown Heights.

The throwback references here depict a simpler time, when families were large and lived in the Old World shtetls of Eastern Europe. It’s not quite Soho, but on Empire Blvd. and Kingston Ave., situated next to a laundromat, The Betzalel Gallery is expected to officially open on Thursday.

“There is a tremendous love of art over here,” said Shumel Pultman, the director and curator of the gallery, which caters to Hasidic Jewish and Judaica art.

Pultman said the Jewish themes -- rabbis, Talmudic scholars and scenes from Israel -- make the art “Judaic.” The paintings can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There is some debate in the Jewish art world about what exactly constitutes Judaica art.

“Rembrandt wasn’t Jewish … and I believe what he painted, when it was Jewish-themed, was a Judaica painting,” Pultman said.

Others say the art must be created by Jews.

Pultman recently moved his gallery from Borough Park to Crown Heights, because that is where more of his clients live.

Shumuel Pultman, director and curator of The Betzalel Gallery (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Zev Markowitz has run the Chassidic Art Institute in Crown Heights since 1977 and said The Betzalel Gallery is the first of its kind to open in his neighborhood. He was skeptical that it marks any increase in Jewish art sales, but admitted, “more is better.”

The Betzalel Gallery will open with an exhibit of art by Itshak Holtz, whose work ranges from felt pen drawings of shtetls, to a bucolic lighthouse, to a lovingly rendered old man reading a newspaper.

“You can find many specimens of Judaica silver, but art that is two-dimensional paintings and drawings is not a very old art form. Maybe the reason is because they were always on the move. To carry a painting around is not a simple thing,” Pultman said.

Flatbush resident Yossi Segel passed the gallery a week ago and stopped in to buy a painting, even though the gallery wasn’t officially open.

“The fact that it’s my culture makes me like it that much more,” Segal said.

Paintings by Itshak Holtz on display at The Betzalel Gallery (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

The Betzalel Gallery is located at 567 Empire Blvd. The exhibition, Itshak Holtz: A Personal Vision Drawings and Watercolors, opens on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and runs through June 10.