After the whirlwind
The dust is not really settled
Yesterday it snowed in Sfat. It poured in Jerusalem. It continues to be cold and windy and occasionally the brilliant desert sun pours through the clouds and everything glows in the incredible Light of Jerusalem (thank you Davidson Norris.) Someone said it is the coldest March in Jerusalem in 100 years!!! Sadly for our Fellows it has been too cold for them to enjoy their beautiful garden. Not that they’ve had much time.
I promised to try and capture the last few days of “disorientation” week. Which actually ran about 10 days when you include Purim plus an incredible tour of the Israel and Contemporary Galleries of the Israel Museum by their respective curators, Amitai Mendelson and Adina Kaiman. Each of them spoke SO eloquently about several extraordinary works of art, explaining the thinking behind the collections and the ways they are exhibited. I have a radical new understanding of Nimrod , the sculpture by Itzhak Danziger, which is the connector between the archaeological wing and the contemporary Israeli wing.
But I am ahead of myself.
We last left our heroines at Ruth Cummings’ beautiful Shabbat table (some for their first shabbat). The next day was intense. Artist and guide Raya Hallak took us to several important institutions in East Jerusalem, from the Ibdaa school, where the students spoke and performed and gave each of the Fellows beautiful bouquets (Photos on IG:), to the Palestinian Heritage Museum to the Duban Dance School in Beit Hanina. Their young director, Hana, talked about his struggles to build the company and school – based on the traditional Dabka but expanding to contemporary dance – without taking any funds from any government agency. And the difficulties of being “on the seam” – between East and West Jerusalem.
From there we went to the El Hakawati theater and then to a sumptuous lunch followed by a conversation with two Palestinian artists — filmmaker Juman Darghmeh and visual artist Benji Boyadgian (yes Armenian, lives in Bethlehem) at the Educational Bookshop. It was an exhausting day both physically and mentally but it wasn’t over. After a quick rest at home, we were off to meet Elias Khoury – an important Palestinian lawyer. Elias and his wife and daughter, Aline – an important curator of Palestinian art – welcomed us into their home in Shuafat. His address was not findable on WAZE or Google Maps – a phenomenon that apparently is not unusual in these parts of East Jerusalem – and thankfully a kind man in a nearby town led us to Elias’ house. After tea, we were treated to a lovely dinner at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem and regaled us with tales of lawsuits and challenges (won and lost) on behalf of Palestinian homeowners. Aline, a member of our Advisory Board, also talked with us about difficult situations her peers experience. A very sobering day.
The next day we had a tour of several art spaces in West Jerusalem led by Elad Schechter, Director of CATAMON dance group and host of choreographer Claudia Lavista. Many of these small organizations are housed in old buildings that are waiting for developers to overhaul them. Notable was the beautiful old Shaarei Tzedek Hospital which is home to, among others, the Jerusalem Biennial. We met with its founder and director, Rami Ozeri, and learned about the extraordinary growth of his unusual endeavor, which focuses on Jewishly influenced art from around the world.
A delicious vegetarian lunch was had in the beautiful cafe of Hamifal (the Factory.) This collective of artists transformed another fantastic old building. And there were artists making and selling fabulous Purim costumes. The Fellows went home to prepare for the Launch Event at Feel Beit.
The launch was a huge success. The house was full, including young people from the Ibdaa School, local artists, and many arts supporters. I was especially delighted to see documentary maker Toby Perl who I have known since the FJC days (she was a recipient of a film fund grant) and Andi Arnovitz, an amazing artist and long time friend of this program. The Fellows’ presentations were quite moving and everyone fell in love with them!
Not content to rest, on Monday, we were led on a wonderful tour of Hamirpeset – the rooftop space of Muslala – the organization hosting artist Vibha Galhotra – by their director, Matan Israeli. Matan explained the complicated history of Muslala’s work in Musrara (the “No Man’s Land” neighborhood where the Fellows are living.) And we discussed Muslala’s different models for creating communities around sustainability.
Lunch at a local Ethiopian restaurant was followed by a visit to Sinsila, a kind of sister organization to Muslala in East Jerusalem, founded by architect and urban planner Tareq Nasser. Beautiful vegetables were in full bloom on their patio and honey – from the bees kept by Palestinian women trained at Sinsila – was on sale (and for the tasting – I bought quite a bit…)
Are you tired yet? They were. We had drinks at the beautiful American Colony Hotel and got to talk about so many things that have come up in the past complicated days. Which were further complicated when we went to Yad Vashem the next day. We were led by an incredible tour guide who is the daughter of survivors and an artist herself. Going through these difficult exhibitions with the thread of art connecting one wing to the next was profound. And the work in their Art Museum was astonishing in its breadth and depth. A drive through the Jerusalem Forest to a late lunch in Beit Zayit (in a room where the sun poured in from every side) made room for some transition out of that darkness.
Wednesday we had a peek into the Tower of David, which is under renovation but still has an astonishing view. Then through the Christian quarter and into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which was blessedly NOT crowded. My favorite moment was watching a sole nun sweeping the expansive floor in the center of the Church.
Andi Arnovitz then led us on a tour of the Jerusalem Print Workshop. Founder Arik Kelemnik held forth (at 80 years old), a bit on the history of the workshop including the new methodologies in printmaking devised by some of the artists working there over the last 50 plus years. He also took us through a stunning exhibit of the work of master printmaker Moshe Gershuni. I learned that Rakefet (Cyclamen) is another name for Jerusalem.
We should stop here but there really was one more incredibly interesting day. Our guide, Leah Kufield – formerly Haredi, now identifies as a Dati Leumi (Orthodox zionist,) explained, in detail, the differences between Haredi and Orthodox and Hasidism and so many other nuances of Orthodox identity. She took us through Mea Shearim where it was “erev” Shushan Purim. (Thank you Malcom Thompson for explaining that in walled cities, Purim is celebrated over 2 days.) Some children were in costume and there were odd masks for sale on the narrow streets. Like East Jerusalem, the streets were dirty, there was a lot of garbage, everything was badly maintained and the place read of poverty. The MOST surprising thing was to see the Palestinian Flag flying high in the middle of the middle of the neighborhood. Strange bedfellows.
Ok – I’m exhausted and that was a week ago. I promise to share more – thankfully this past week was about settling down a bit. Thank you YMCA for the Fellows’ free passes to the beautiful new Sports Center – they are all feeling SO much better.