Clara María Goldstein is an artist living in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She was born Catholic in Nicaragua in 1961 and at 21 years old, she moved to Miami with her one-year-old daughter. She learned English, went to college and graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1997. While in law school, she married a Jewish man, Jason Goldstein, and converted to Judaism. To her surprise, in learning Judaism, she gained a deeper understanding of Jesus since he was a Jew. The couple had two sons whom they raised Jewish. Altogether Clara María has been painting since 1988. In 2005, she left her practice of law to fully pursue her calling for art.
Having both Christian and Jewish children, she found inspiration in the paintings of the crucifixion by Marc Chagall, in which he stresses the Jewish identity of Jesus. She believes that when paintings of Jewish Jesus would become popular, most antisemitism sprouting from the literal interpretation of the New Testament would be stopped at its roots.
Growing up as a Catholic child, she felt resentment towards Jewish people from listening to the priest read from the New Testament, presented as the word of God, how the Jews killed Jesus. She knows from first-hand experience how forgetting that Jesus himself was Jewish opens the door for the literal interpretation of the many antisemitic passages contained in the New Testament. It is her theory that images of a Jewish Jesus are necessary to prevent the antisemitic feeling that the New Testament generates in people who forget that Jesus was a Jew.
And why do people keep forgetting that Jesus was Jewish? Because images are stronger than words. When she thinks of Jesus, even though she possesses the knowledge that he was Jewish, none of the images that come into her mind have any Jewish symbolism. She believes that for a Christian who remembers that Jesus was a Jew, the literal interpretation of the antisemitic passages in the New Testament don’t make sense. For example, in the New Testament, John 8:31-47 states that Jesus tells “the Jews” that their father is the devil. A literal interpretation wouldn’t make any sense to Christians who remember that Jesus himself was Jewish, as it would literally mean that Jesus is the son of the devil.
She believes that had there always been paintings of Jesus depicted within Jewish symbolism from the start, there probably would not have been so much historical antisemitism from Christians. None of the following would have occurred: the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, pogroms in Eastern Europe and Russia, or the Holocaust. She feels an urgency in making these paintings. No one is editing out the literal antisemitism in the New Testament that has fueled antisemitism in the past, that continues to fuel antisemitism in the present, and that will likely continue to fuel antisemitism in the future. These paintings need to be done. That is why in 2005, she left her law practice to dedicate herself to painting them. She has done more than 100 oil paintings so far.
In 2006, she was asked to remove her paintings of Rabbi Jesus from a hospital gallery because they were controversial. This news story was translated into different languages for newspapers around the world through the Associated Press (AP), and the United Press International (UPI).
Although nobody likes to have their paintings rejected, this spurred a reactive wave in her favor. Some nearby churches invited her to show her paintings, which in turn generated additional media attention from newspapers, radio, TV, online and in magazines—all of which provided more opportunities to remind people that Jesus was Jewish. The local newspaper, the La Crosse Tribune, has always been willing to write updates about her new paintings and often displays them on its front page.
One year for Christmas, she painted Jesus, not in a nativity scene, but with a menorah and playing dreidel with his mom. Another year, after learning that it snows in Israel, using her artistic license, as she often does, she painted him making a snowman and shoveling. On a more somber note, one year for the Holocaust Remembrance Day, she painted him on the cross in a concentration camp. The thought behind that painting was that had he lived in Nazi Germany, he would have been in a concentration camp for being Jewish.
She gifted one of her paintings to Pope Francis and another to Rabbi Abraham Skorka as a token of appreciation for their joint book, On Heaven and Earth. It’s a book that inspires respect between Christians and Jews.
She believes in the power of art as a medium of social improvement.