Anna Finchas born Letchworth 11 April 1950 died Edgware 17 November 2010
Anna Finchas belonged to that undeclared tradition of Jewish women who hold the fabric of Jewish life together. Such people remain quietly in the background, doing good deeds and repairing the world. Following a diagnosis of breast cancer at the age of 32, she made a decision to divert her life’s work into these channels. This was acknowledged by the hundreds of people from all walks of life who accompanied her coffin from her home in Edgware en route to her final resting place in Jerusalem. Each had their own story and memory of Anna.
Her tremendous contribution to both individual and communal life began in Letchworth where she had grown up amidst a unique community of wartime evacuees, led by Rabbi Solomon David Sassoon and his family. It was an open door community that combined tradition with tolerance and propagated a love of learning. Her early passion for Israel developed into an identification with those Jews who fought to leave the Soviet Union. She led an active campaign for the Lapidus family whom she visited in Moscow the early 1970s.
Her embrace of ultra-orthodoxy gave her spiritual commitment and contentment. But it was a chance encounter with the sculptor, Chaim Gross, upon whom the writer Chaim Potok based the teacher of Asher Lev in ‘My Name is Asher Lev’, that led her to a fine art course at the University of Hertfordshire when she was in her forties. She easily balanced her strong religious beliefs with her fascination for the world of art. Her spirituality interacted with her creativity and she evolved into an acknowledged conceptual artist, admired and respected by both the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds. She was a unique blend of non-conformist and traditionalist. Even within her self-definition, she remained outside convention.
I don’t see myself as a Jewish artist or as an Orthodox artist or as a woman artist. You don’t have to be Jewish to understand my work; I do not use Jewish symbolism but the Jewish concepts which form the basis of my art can be understood universally. I try to think outside of the box and represent my ideas in a way that is communicated in a contemporary form.
Her exhibition ‘Shulchan Aruch’, named after a sixteenth century codification of Jewish law, followed her award of ‘Jewish Artist of the Year’ for sculpture in 2001. Her exhibit ‘Solo’, a one person show at the Ben-Uri gallery in 2007, was characterised by a lapping expanse of grey water, washing upon the shores of the Galil. This symbolised the solitary duty which she took upon herself to do good in the world, to change it for the better.
Anna believed that an inner struggle had to be waged to reach a higher moral level. In the introduction to her MA thesis on the Golem she wrote:
In each creation, there is an element of the golem. Without a soul, the golem remains inanimate, but with one, it can become ‘alive’. If its original purpose is misconstrued or its concept misinterpreted it could become uncontrollable.
At the inception of her recent illness, she said that she had no regrets. As illustrated in all her artistic endeavours, she viewed life as a journey and regarded its end as part of a whole. She said that it is not the number of years you live, but how you use them. Many say this, but few turn such words into actions.
She is survived by her father, Derek Pollock, sister Jean Shindler who devotedly cared for her during her illness, husband Asher, sons, Yehuda, Yonatan and Yoel and eight grandchildren.
Jewish Chronicle 8 March 2011