I will be participating in the Salon ha Cubia exhibit opening October 28, 2017, at 8 pm in Nayot in Jerusalem, as part of the city-wide Manofim project. Closing January 25, 2018. Hope to see you there. Invitation

Pleased to be participating in the exhibition HOME(less) at HUC-JIR Museum NY. Running through the end of June 2018. For details see post

Monday, June 24, 2013

The World Stage and Self Love: The President's Conference 2013, Part 1

The sudden passing of James Gandolfini at age 51 from an apparent heart attack is reason enough for pause.  His larger than life presence on any stage or screen was not due to his bulk, height or everyman look, but due to his incredibly nuanced acting skills, giving us a fitting viewpoint from which to observe the President's Conference of 2013.

One of my favorite all time movies included him in a role as a pacifist general who is part of a power play in the international scene.  A trailer from “In the Loop” is here,  but it is the overall concept of the movie that brings to mind the current doings at the International Convention center in Jerusalem.

A tempting menu of panel discussions and a host of movers, shakers, birthright participants, and a sprinkling of celebs will keep many of the 5,000 participants rubber-necking and picture taking on the impressive amount of gadgetry in evidence, but the not-so-surprising unstated agenda seems to be to reinforce the Weltanschaung of the birthday boy,  President Shimon Peres, who is celebrating his 90th birthday.

As in “In the Loop,” one can only wonder what is going on behind the scenes with so many great thinkers, deep pockets, and power insiders all in town at the same time.

With the entry of President Peres into his tenth decade,  it is worth considering the appropriate words of the bard:
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

"As You Like It," by William Shakespeare

At 90,   Peres is far from evidencing anything approach the seventh age.   Regardless  of whether one shares his dreamy post-national outlook of the world, one cannot fail to admire his remarkable fitness and zest for life.  He is not alone,  friends and fans  joining in this year's conference, a veritable salute to the President.

Also evergreen and a crowd pleaser, diminutive sexologist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, at 85, was a welcome change from the panoply of assessments of the changes in the region, ranging from the bleak to the absurd.
Panel  "Should We Wait It  Out?"
Panel "Should We Wait It Out?" photo by Heddy Abramowitz © 2013

It was a  a kalaeidoscopic feeling bouncing from panel to panel. My day started with an early exchange between former UN ambassador Dore Gold, a proponent of what he calls a realistic approach to peace negotiations comparing the qualities of a dove and a fox vis à vis the recent elections in Iran, and former US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, emphasizing the exposed derrière of an ostrich with its head in the ground and preferring the perspective of the eagle which can take in the broader scene from high above  and distant from the complexities below.  One can draw conclusions about their different perspectives based on where they and their children lay their heads at night.

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Alana Newhouse, Moderator of  Panel on Campuses, photo by Heddy Abramowitz ©2013

Hearing a panel moderated by Alana Newhouse, editor of Tablet magazine, on campus life as a crossroads for the Jewish student, featuring Natan Sharansky, praises were sung for the success of various programs bringing in knowledgeable students and activists to universities, with one member of the audience calling for the Israel Prize to be given to The Birthright Program. 

It was a telling moment in the Q & A period that Newhouse herself, needed the Hebrew name of the program "Taglit" translated for her.  If such a committed and presumably knowledgeable American Jew lacks the Hebrew vocabulary  to handle this level of communications,  what does that say about the priorities of the Diaspora?

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Natan Sharansky on Campuses Panel, photo by Heddy Abramowitz © 2013

Most impressive to me was Andi Gergely who is chairperson of the European Union of Jewish Students. She pointed out that, other than in England,  European colleges do not have campus life in the same sense as in the US with most students living at home.  Their groups of voluntary activists, typified as grassroots and small-budgeted,  recently successfully challenged Twitter in court in France to require them to reveal who or what organization is behind virulently anti-semitic hashtags.

Mark Yudof, president of the University of California, spoke of the importance of ensuring that First Amendment protected  freedom of speech continue on the campuses, despite the anti-Israel activities and voices,  saying:  "these kids are smart,  they will sort it all out."

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Gidi Mark, CEO of Birthright photo by Heddy Abramowitz copyright 2013

Gidi Mark, a former representative at the New York consulate for Israel, shared the impressive statistics for the Birthright program.  He stated,  amongst other significant information, that  the rate of intermarriage rate was reduced by 46 % amongst participants.  He went on,  like a kvelling (proud and happy) yenta, to point out the presence of a birthright grad who met her husband on the free trip, now heavily pregnant with her first child. A big "B’Shaah Tovah" rang out through the hall (literally meaning “a good hour,”  a traditional Jewish wish for the birth).  What better secondary agenda than a little match-making, Israel's unofficial national sport?

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, photo by Heddy Abramowitz ©2013
Dr. Ruth Westheimer, photo by Heddy Abramowitz ©2013

Back to Dr. Ruth.   After discussing the state of research on sexual practice of Americans, generally, she offered her opinion on a proposed medication to raise the libido of a woman artificially.  Basically, she said, a woman’s interest in sex is directly related to the state of the underlying relationship, and the “pill” she most preferred is the one she says always works, tell her she is the best. With onion rings as a lead-in topic (use your imagination), she, alone amongst my day’s choice of panels, assigned homework:  go home to your husband or wife and shake up the routine, and come back to report on your new discovery and report to her – she is always ready to learn something new.

Maybe she is on to something. “Make Love, Not War” was the theme of an earlier generation unhappy with the politics and choices facing them. Of course,  it takes two to tango.

As Dore Gold pointed out during question time,  it could be that it is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who is not interested in negotiating at this time of regional turbulence, a point of little concern to his co-panelists who see in the roiling changes glimmers of new opportunities, calling for Israeli inducements to negotiations such as another round of settlement freezes, something tried and failed.

So, are there two to tango?  Or are all these very knowledgeable seasoned diplomats again negotiating with themselves?

Awarding -winning actor and director Woody Allen, who has never visited Israel, may have an appropriate observation to address this concern:   "Don't knock masturbation — it's sex with someone I love."

This was originally posted on "Times of Israel" here:

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Underground Tremors at Shelter for Art: Women ON the Wall

Lea Laukstein, "Self-Portrait" concrete and flooring 45.5 cm X 45.5 cm
Rarely does an art exhibit get as underground as this. Literally housed in a below-the-ground bomb shelter, the “Shelter for Art” Gallery (Miklat L’Omanut) is itself somewhat of an earth-shaker. Located in the midst of Mekor Baruch, it is an apparent anomaly in the midst of a predominantly haredi neighborhood contiguous with the ultra-orthodox neighborhoods of Geula, Meah Shearim, which continue along the “black belt” swathe of communities through Romema and beyond.

Not exactly where you would think of going on a gallery hop? Despite the stereotype that these communities are impervious to culture and artistic expression, this refuge (another facet of the word “miklat”) for artists and art lovers was founded by Ika Yisraeli (1931-2009), a bohemian artist who found his way into the typically insular world of strict religious observance. Brother-in-law to 70's heartthrob Israeli movie star turned Haredi rabbi, Uri Zohar, Yisraeli was an influential “returnee” to religious observance for more than 30 years and found himself without a comfortable setting to enjoy art exhibits, to exhibit his own works or for other religious and accomplished artists to exhibit their works. In 2001, he founded what he billed as the "the only Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) gallery in Israel, in the world, in history."

If you are thinking that this is a venue for exhibitions of dancing Hasidim and kitschy souvenirs, think again. This “under the radar” venue, has quietly held exhibits for 12 years including names well integrated into the mainstream art scene, such as Leonid Balaklav, Shaul Schatz, Yael Scalia, Hanna Doukhan, Motte Brim, Chana Goldberg and Rivka Peled, just to name a few and, if that were not enough, also manages to house a room for art instruction within the confines of a standard-sized municipal bomb shelter.

Adele Dahan, "Waterfall" oil on canvas 35cm x 40 cm
Adele Dahan, "Waterfall" oil on canvas 35 cm x 40 cm
The current exhibit is comprised of seven religious women artists who found each other in a project directed towards similarly-situated artists. Each were participants in an award-winning art initiative called “Studio of Her Own,” founded by Bar-Ilan University doctoral candidate, Zipi Mizrahi, which she started in order to make a bridge for the professional religious woman artist into the art world.

Talent alone does not an art career make. Mizrahi felt that the stresses on religious women artists to suppress their creative aspirations in favor of more practical pursuits, as their up-bringing often dictated, put these women at a strong disadvantage as they tried hurdling from their studies into the art scene- a particularly difficult transition for them to negotiate without a stronger support system.
Tamar Rotem reported in HaAretz here,
"Mizrahi sought to pique the ambition of the young women by giving them studio space for a period of two years, together with the professional support of working religiously observant female artists. MATI, the Jerusalem Business Development Center, put together a course designed to give them the tools to promote themselves to collectors and gallery owners."
Mizrachi’s initiative, beyond the nuts and bolts of acquiring the skills, place, time and upping their awareness of an art career seems to have also bolstered another aspect lacking for religious women artists: community. No more than 10 artists have been chosen to participate in each year’s program spanning two years, each with a degree from a professional level art school or demonstrated ability, resulting in close to thirty artists who have overlapped in its activities. Studio of Her Own has had four exhibits under its auspices since its inception over its short three year existence at The House of Quality, Barbur Gallery, Jaffa 23, and the 2012 Jerusalem Design Week.(In the name of full disclosure, I serve voluntarily on the Advisory Board of Studio of Her Own).
Haya Feirstein-Zohar, "Interior- Living Room 2" acrylic on paper 29.7 cm x 42
Haya Feirstein-Zohar, "Interior- Living Room 2" acrylic on paper 29.7cm x 42cm

The seven women in this exhibit took the initiative to organize this exhibit on their own and is an independent effort as a result of their finding each other (and, perhaps, themselves) through the wider opportunities of the program.

Rachel Radishkovich, "Seeing the Unborn" mixed media, 18 cm x 22 cm
Rachel Radishkovich, "Seeing the Unborn" mixed media, 18 cm x 22 cm

Drawing, painting, and etching served as the common glue adhering these particular artists together in this exhibit, whose works were selected by the in-house curator, artist Pnina Ramati Frank. She sees her role in selecting artists and exhibits as broader than that originally envisioned by founder Yisraeli. Frank says,
"I am showing artists whose work is appropriate for Haredi eyes, religious and secular and in-between. I’m trying to broaden the artistic language for the Haredi viewers, without offending, and hopefully creating a cultural bridge through art."

Avigayil Fried, "House Under Construction" oil on canvas 20 cm x 23 cm
Avigayil Fried, "House Under Construction" oil on canvas 20 cm x 23 cm

Julia Aaronson, Adelle Dahan, Avigayil Fried, Haya Feirstein-Zohar, Lea Laukstein, Rachel Radishkovitz and Yael Shimoni have combined to make this a varied viewing experience, and while nearly all the works shown are within the realm of representation, that is not necessarily their exclusive art focus beyond this exhibit. The art selected is a reflection of each artists’ own world, both the exterior landscape as well as some reflections from more inner thoughts. Straight-forward, without 'artspeak' jargon or agendas, the offerings are the result of individual searches and subjective viewpoints.

11. Blocks2
Julia Aaronson, "Construction Leftovers" oil on canvas 20 cm x 20 cm

These are emerging artists in every sense of the word. They are certainly taking the first bold steps away from their teachers, taking themselves seriously as artists, stepping beyond the traditional roles expected of them by family and society.

Did the earth move for me? The Richter scale would not have registered an earthquake. However, the solid work evidences sincere choices and results in some pleasurable viewing. Presented in a stripped bare, accessible and approachable exhibit, the viewer will not miss the pretensions of some more mainstream gallery experiences, and the level of accomplishment will far surpass any preconceptions.

Yael Shimoni "Gate" offset print mounted on MDF 80 cm x 120 cm (detail from a series)
Yael Shimoni, "Gate" offset print mounted on MDF 80 cm x 120 cm (detail from a series)
When starting below the surface, up is the only way to go. This exhibit is sure to set off some ever-so slight tremors that will bring about shifts on the ground. Through June 23, 2013.

All images courtesy of the artists.

Shelter for Art, 7 Yehuda HaMacabee Street, Makor Baruch, Jerusalem, hours 7 p.m.- 10 p.m. to confirm contact
Menachem 050-8846843

This blogpost was originally published on Times of Israel here: