Road Of Revelations

Short In Distance, Bialik Street Is Long In History

By David E. Kaplan

There was sound reason why the organizers  of Israel’s 2019 Eurovision Song Competition in Tel Aviv chose to hold the  Semi-final Allocation Draw at the city’s former City Hall in Bialik Street.

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Beit Ha’ir (Hebrew for City Hall) overlooking the charming Bialik Square is today a museum drawing thousands of tourists.

While Bialik Street does not project the grandeur of Paris’ ‘Avenue des Champs-Elysees’, or the allure of New York’s 5th Avenue, it personifies the cultural journey of Tel Aviv – a journey where visitors require not tough shoes but adventurous minds.

image003 (58).jpgBialik street can take five minutes to casually stroll or five hours for a true experience – it all depends on your pace, for each pause is poetry. A side road off the pulsating Allenby with its cafés, pubs and restaurants, one exits the traffic and tumult of one world, to enter another of tranquility and charm. With its fine examples of Bauhaus architecture, Bialik Street is a UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Starting at the T-junction of Allenby and Bialik, we began its tour. The writer strolled down the little brick road, admiring the diverse architectural styles of the buildings, until arriving at the former home of one of Israel’s most celebrated artists, Reuven Rubin (1893-1974). Today it is the Rubin Museum and the writer met with its curator, Carmela Rubin, the daughter-in-law of the late artist.

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Bialik Street in the 1920s.

Street-smart

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Hayim Nahman Bialik (1873 –1934), was a Jewish poet who wrote primarily in Hebrew but also in Yiddish and was one of the pioneers of modern Hebrew poetry. Although he died before Israel became a state, Bialik ultimately came to be recognized as Israel’s national poet.

Established in 1909 on desolate sand dunes, Tel Aviv in the 1920s drew like a magnet, many of the leading writers, artists, musicians, actors and journalists. Carmela attributed this to the arrival in 1924 of one man – Chaim Nachman Bialik, who would emerge in his lifetime as Israel’s National Poet and the celebrated resident of the street that would take his name.

 “That he chose to settle in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem influenced others to follow him. People today are hardly aware of the monumental impact Bialik had on his generation.”

Why?

Firstly, he arrived with such stature, a towering intellectual whose poetry and prose, calling for a reawakening of the Jewish people, resonated with a new breed of emerging Jew in Eastern Europe,” explained Carmela.

In this quest, language was the key and “Bialik was in the forefront in the renewal of the Hebrew language. Jews in Eastern Europe at that time spoke Yiddish; Hebrew was the language of the prayer book, reserved for the Sabbath. The Zionist movement had its central platform, the revival of Hebrew as the conversational language of Jews and Bialik was the spearhead in this mission.”

The generation of Hebrew poets who followed in Bialik’s footsteps, notably Jacob Steinberg and Jacob Fichman, would be referred to as ‘the Bialik generation’.

“Bialik was so much more than a renowned poet – he was a leader, and by choosing to settle in Tel Aviv in the 1920s, he transformed a small parochial city in Palestine into the center of contemporary cultural activity.”

Acknowledged as a leader of his city’s renaissance – as the Medici were to Florence  –  it was little wonder that his good friend, Meir Dizengoff, the mayor of Tel Aviv, not only assisted him to acquire a mortgage to build his house but also to rename the street in his honor before even the first brick had been laid. To so honor a person while still alive is rare in Jewish tradition – only for exceptional human beings.”

Bialik was one such person.

It was through the likes of Bialik that a fledging city transformed from sand dunes to cultural oasis.

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Artist Reuvin Rubin on his balcony in Bialik Street.

Portrait of an Artist

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Reuven Rubin’s ‘Self Portrait with a Flower’ (1922)

It was into this milieu that the artist Reuven Rubin arrived in Palestine in 1923, this time to settle. At an exhibition in Tel Aviv in 1927, Bialik wrote in the catalogue: “Blessed is Rubin who has had the privilege of bonding with Eretz-Israel while his talent is in bloom. Eretz-Israel, presented as Rubin sees it – with its mountains and cities, its gardens and valleys, its old people and women, its Jews and Arabs, its donkeys and goats, its stones and plants, joined in unexpected combinations on one small square of canvas – looks like the legend of Eretz-Israel.”

But it’s Rubin’s art of Tel Aviv that provides “a visual documentation” of a strip of land transformed from sand dunes to city,” explains Carmela. “When I show groups around the museum, I talk less about the theories of art and more on that thin line where art meets and reflects life so that when visitors leave the museum, they will feel they have touched the soul of Tel Aviv. After all,” asserts Carmela, “art is long, human life short; Rubin is dead, but his art is alive and tells a story for future generations.”

The narrative of a city emerging out of sand dunes is poignantly portrayed in the two paintings Carmela shows this writer. In Self Portrait with a Flower, painted in 1922, the young artist with black curly hair stands proudly in front of the barren yellow sand dunes from which the city of Tel Aviv is still to arise. There are three small homes and the Mediterranean coast is seen in the background. Rubin is holding in his left hand a vase with a white lily symbolizing fertility and in his right, his paint brushes. “The painting is a commitment to the future; both hands visually express the promise of the artist to impact upon the barren landscape of Tel Aviv – through his personal life and through his art.”

He succeeds in both.

In Les Fiancées, painted seven years later in 1929, the artist appears – still with his paint brushes in his left hand – but now, seated on his right is no longer a vase of with a lily but his beautiful bride-to-be. They appear regal in dress and demeanor on a balcony overlooking an established city; conspicuously absent are the barren sand dunes. A small plane is seen flying over the Mediterranean, symbolizing modernity and civilization. Clearly, the personal life of the artist and the development of Tel Aviv have merged and matured – the fruition of the idealism that embodied the earlier 1922 painting.

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Reuven Rubin’s self-portrait and fiancé with Jaffa in the background. ‘Les Fiancées’ (1929)

These paintings reflect Rubin fulfilling the Zionist dream and when the artist’s work was exhibited in New York and bought by Jews in the 1920s, “It was bringing a visual image of Jewish enterprise in Palestine to a Diaspora who had little idea of what was happening here,” asserts Carmela. “Rubin’s work was performing a pivotal role. If the content of his paintings portrayed Jews physically planting seeds and cultivating the land, the ideological impact of his work was achieving precisely the same result in the mindset and perceptions of Jews abroad.”

What Bialik had achieved in literature, Ruben set out to enhance and enrich through art.

The Rubin Museum is on three floors, where apart from the works of the artist and his splendidly preserved studio on the top floor, the second floor presents a pictorial lifeline in photos of the artist. There are also rooms allocated to temporary exhibitions unrelated to Rubin. On the day of this writers visit, on exhibit were photographs of the different architectural styles prevalent in Israel.

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The Rubin Museum on Bialik Street. (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Cultural Cauldron

I leave the Rubin Museum and walk to Kikar Bialik (Bialik Square) which is encircled by architectural diversity – the former Tel Aviv City Hall, the Felicja Blumental Music Centre and Library, the Bauhaus Museum, (sponsored by Ron Lauder, displaying Bauhaus-designed furniture, graphics, lamps, and glass and ceramic-ware by Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, Christian Bell, Willhelm Wagenfeld and others) and the Jewel in the Crown, the Bialik House Museum.

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Dining room at the Bialik House. (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Ayelet Bitan Shlonsky is the curator of the Bialik House Museum and manager of the Bialik Center, which includes running eight major “happenings” a year, notably in mid-summer, the annual White Night celebrations that attracted thousands to the square, as it does each year when local Tel Aviv musicians entertain till the early hours of the morning. “The concerts in the square are free and we celebrate Tel Aviv’s birthday each year with a different theme or genre of music from all over the world. Not only are we establishing Bialik Street as the city’s center for culture and history but also as a place for music and fun.”

Standing in the middle of the square, Ayelet points out the buildings in Bialik Street and explains the variety of architectural styles, notably Neo-classic, eclectic and Bauhaus.  “In one short road,” she says, “we have it all – the phases and faces of Tel Aviv architecture. It’s all staring at us!”

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On Tel Aviv’s enriching Bialik Street, architecture ranges wildly from eclectic to Bauhaus.

Entering Bialik’s house is like opening a treasure trove. The eye feasts on a kaleidoscope of diverse designs and colors. The architect, Yosef Minor, a disciple of the Eretz-Israel school, integrated European and Arab architecture, and Bialik’s house is an outstanding example of a merger of contrasting styles. “This pleased Bialik,” explains Ayelet, “who preferred not to simply transplant western culture as the Bauhaus architects would do a decade later but rather integrate western concepts with the east.”

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The ambiance of the orient with its arches and columns beatify every corner of Bialik’s home.

Despite the influence of the Orient with its arches and columns that beautify every corner of the house, the architect does not allow one to ever doubt that the house was built for one who was revered as one of the main spokesmen of the yishuv (the pre-state Jewish community of Palestine). The hearth and pillars on the reception floor are covered in tiles decorated with Jewish themes, the products of the Bezalel workshop in Jerusalem. The hearth depicts the journey of the Ark of the Covenant and the story of the spies Moses sent to scout the land, while the pillars are illustrated with the twelve tribes and the months of the Hebrew calendar. And if this was not enough, a further element underlines the connection between Jewish history and Zionist belief: On one side of the pillar appears a replica of the Roman coin Judea Capta and on the other, a coin of captured Judea freed from chains with a caption reading: “Judea liberated”. This theme of Jewish courage and revival are at the core of Bialik’s philosophy.

In 1903 Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg) sent a firsthand report to Bialik on the Kishinev pogrom where Jews were massacred.  Based on Ahad Ha’am’s detailed account of the bloodbath, “A year later,” says Ayelet, “Bialik published his epic masterwork, ‘The City of Slaughter’, a searing condemnation of Jewish passivity.”

… the heirs

Of Hasmoneans lay, with trembling knees,

Concealed and cowering—the sons of the Maccabees!

The seed of saints, the scions of the lions!

Who, crammed by scores in all the sanctuaries of their shame,

So sanctified My name!

It was the flight of mice they fled,

The scurrying of roaches was their flight;

They died like dogs, and they were dead!

The Kishinev pogrom was instrumental in convincing tens of thousands of Russian Jews to leave for Palestine and became a rallying point for early Zionists.

It is said that Bialik’s onslaught on Jewish passivity in the face of anti-Semitic violence,” says Ayellet, “inspired the idea of founding Jewish self-defense groups in Russia and later the Haganah in Palestine. You can see why Bialik was so important on so many levels.”

In 1922, Ahad Ha’am, now himself an established philosopher and writer and resident of Tel Aviv, attended the foundation stone-laying ceremony for Bialik’s house.”

Bialik’s original ‘The City of Slaughter’ is housed in the museum.

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Exquisite tiles on exhibit at the former City Hall on Bialik Street (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

City Hall

Across the square from the Bialik Museum is Beit Hair – Hebrew for ‘Town Hall’. The writer’s guide is Ruthie Amoma an instructor at the Bialik Center. Beit Ha’ir is both a museum and a cultural center. Here visitors will find a permanent exhibition focusing on the life and work of Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv’s first mayor, alongside a photo exhibition that sets out to reflect and debate different aspects of the city’s history. Entitled ‘Revealing the Hidden City’, Ruthie explains that “the idea was to tell the story of Tel Aviv not from the writings and studies of historians but from the pictures and interviews of the residents of Tel Aviv. We set out to not only record what is known but to explore that which was unknown, hence the title of the exhibition.”

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Mayor With A Mission. Meir Dizengoff’s office in City Hall on Bialik Street. (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Who better to tell the story than the people themselves?

“An appeal went out to Tel Avivians,” continues Ruthie, “to submit photographs and to be interviewed. We anticipated receiving from some 3000 residents, which would have been sufficient to open the museum. But we were not banking on the enthusiasm of the residents of Tel Aviv. We received a staggering 28,000 photographs leading to new insights on the history of Tel Aviv!”

It is this enthusiasm that so characterizes the personality of Tel Aviv today.

The magnitude of the transition from the sand dunes of 1909 to the city of the 1930s is brought home when Ruthie guides me to Mayor Dizengoff’s majestic office that overlooks Bialik Square. Hung upon the wall behind the solid desk of Tel Aviv’s first mayor is a giant size original 1930s plan of the city, depicting in detail the spread and sizes of land ownership. Some of these lots would have been owned by those very founding families that participated in the beach lottery on the sand dunes in 1909 and seen in the iconic photograph, also in his office.

Clearly, if Tel Aviv of the 1930s was a ‘City on the Move’, it is even more so today, testifying  to the best definition I have heard of Israel’s cultural capital:

A city that wakes up every morning deciding what’s it’s going to be.”

Continuously evolving and redefining itself, Tel Aviv is a smorgasbord of ideas and it’s all captured in one short street called Bialik.

It’s well worth a visit.

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Famous For Fun. Revelers enjoying a ‘White Night’ festivities outside old ‘City Hall’, Bialik Street.

 

 

* Title photo: Bialik Street viewed from the plaza with Bialik’s house on the left. (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Mothers With Meaning

Meaningful ties with a sacred mission

By Rolene Marks

Few things in the world are more sacred than the bonds between mothers and daughters.  

This is a bond that is only made even more special with shared experiences.  Now imagine this incredible experience while exploring your heritage and roots as well as growing your special bond as you step back in time and follow in the footsteps of the matriarchs and then get a glimpse into the future as one can do in Israel.

It is with this in mind that Michelle Melamed Cohen who recently passed away from cancer formed Mothers with Meaning.

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The MAD’ing Crowd. A mother and daughter (MaD) proudly experiencing Israel’s enriching history – together.

Mothers with Meaning is an extraordinary organization that aims to grow the bonds between mothers and daughters while giving them the unique experience of forging unbreakable ties with Israel.

So where did this all start?

Melamed Cohen had a vision to create a programme which would create a space for secular women to form a sense of community in Israel.  She felt that the more religious women already had events and structures in place that connected them to Israel and their Jewish roots, so why not create the same for their secular sisters?

And so, Mothers with Meaning was born.

This vibrant not-for-profit was founded with the aim to connect women to their Jewish roots, Israeli history and the Land of Israel. Something great and bigger than them that they could feel a part of. The best way to do this was to create national and local events that would be meaningful, unique and above all create community.  Melamed Cohen believed that connecting hearts and brining Israeli women together through fun and meaningful activities was the best way to grow unity between Israel’s myriad of different cultures.

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Resounding Message. Ask this crowd of mothers and daughters and they will bellow: “We’re MAD about Israel”

It is heartbreaking to note that Melamed Cohen passed away before she would see the organization grow as it has, but she left a tremendous legacy.

Creativity is a great motivator and Melamed Cohen’s enthusiasm and passion for her vision proved infectious. This motivated one of the Israeli members of  Mothers with Meaning member, Orly Tesler, to come up with an idea that could include future generations. And so, the Batmitzvah programme for mothers and daughters was started.

https://www.facebook.com/MADaboutIsrael/videos/325452814524477/?t=10

There are three parts to this programme – the opportunity connects with your daughter, your Judaism and to Israel”, says Tesler. Orly was motivated to include women from abroad. “This is about connecting them to Israel from an earlier age and is totally non-political – it is about their identity as a Jewish woman,” says Tesler

Yehudit Novick agrees, “Going on this mothers and daughters tour was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life – what a privilege to be able to wake up every day with just me and my youngest daughter sharing a hotel room, and then sharing breakfast together. Even though I have been to Israel so many times, we experienced so many activities I have never done before. I loved every moment, from the inspirational and moving talks, to dancing, laughing and even crying together.”

Mothers with Meaning aims to stress the importance of Israel as a Jewish homeland. Over the last couple of years, many tours to Israel have become highly politicised and in the current climate where showing a proud Zionist identity often leads to intimidation and harassment, Mothers with Meaning hope to instill a sense of pride and confidence in identity. The hope is that participants on returning home will become involved in women’s Zionists organisations and  in their communities.

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Reaching New Heights Together. Mothers and daughters on the top of the ancient fortress of Masada in southern Israel’s Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea.

Some of the young girls who have participated have been so impressed and turned on by what they have seen and experienced  that they are making plans for their futures in Israel. They have expressed hope to either study or join the army!

Throughout the programme, they are encouraged to come out from their comfort zones and enjoy unique and enriching encounters  from training at army bases to meeting with Holocaust survivors.  These unforgettable events have been life-changing and have only enhanced the ties that bind generation to generation.

Everything is about connection – Shabbat at the Kotel, exploring Israel’s future in Tel Aviv, learning the importance of continuity and bearing witness with Holocaust survivors and so much more.

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The Young Ones. An experience that will impact on their lives forever.

Israel is more than simply a country that has conflict with her neighbours. There is a rich tapestry of cultures and history and while some may not be attracted to religious aspects, there is something for everyone.

Michelle Melamed Cohen may not have lived long enough to enjoy the rich fruits of her vision but the gift that she has created will pass down from generation to generation. Mothers with Meaning is transforming lives and building last bonds between moms and their daughters and instilling love for Israel – there is no greater legacy than that.

For more information about Mothers with Meaning visit: https://www.facebook.com/mwmisrael/

 

 

Art On The Move

The man and his art constantly ‘on the move’

An interview with Israel’s celebrated sculptor and experimental artist –  Yaacov Agam –  widely considered the father of Kinetic Art.

His message:  “Words divide us; sight unites us”

By David. E. Kaplan

The finest description I ever heard of Tel Aviv is “A city that wakes up each morning wondering what it’s going to be.”  Like its city – change, vibrancy, uncertainty and promise – are all characteristics that Yaacov Agam’s ‘Fire and Water Fountain” in Tel Aviv’s recently rejuvenated Dizengoff Square celebrates.

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Colourful Character to Colourful Art. Yaacov Agam in front of his ‘Fire & Water Fountain’ in Dizengoff Square, Tel Aviv.

After decades of public outcry, the iconic site frequently referred to as the “Times Square of Tel Aviv” – finally returned in 2018 to its original glory. Originally constructed in 1986, the kinetic fountain celebrates life, as well as unity-in-diversity, an important feature of Tel Aviv’s ethos, considered one of the most free and tolerant cities in the world.

To learn more of this evolving urban landscape and the man and his art, Lay Of The Land sat down for an exclusive interview with the 90-year-old artist at the new Yaacov Agam Museum of Art in the city of his birth – Rishon LeZion. In the words of the artist, “it is the only museum in the world that is dedicated to art in motion.”

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“We Have A Lift Off”. From above, the Yaacov Agam Museum of Art appears in the process of about to take off. The art has literally “taken off” with the public who are flocking to view in record numbers.

Apart from motion within the artist’s work, there is plenty of motion in the artist himself.  Picking up on my South African accent, the artist revealed, “I went on a travelling exhibition to South Africa in 1977 when Anton Rupert,” the South African billionaire businessman, philanthropist and art collector, “bought a number of my works. As an innovative entrepreneur he was fascinated by the ever-changing nature of my art – that perspective varies from the position you look at it.

Before meeting the artist, I ‘met’ his wife Clilla – without even realising it.

From the moment you step onto the grounds of the 3,200-square-meter Yaacov Agam Museum of Art (YAMA), one is engulfed into the rainbow world of the artist – surrounded by a sculpture garden of twenty multicolored pillars all dedicated to Agam’s late wife, Clilla.  She remains so much part of his life, his world and his art.

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Delightfully Dazzling. Interior to the 3,200-square-meter Yaacov Agam Museum of Art in Rishon LeZion dedicated to the colorful works of the world-renowned kinetic artist. Photo by Sophie Weinstein/OhSoArty.com

Looking every inch an artist with long gray hair under a well-worn hat and a full beard, we sat down for over two hours of animated conversation. Abounding in energy – “I’m off to Paris in a few days’ time” – I came quickly to understand how this diminutive man was a giant in the art world, transforming city landscapes and influencing people’s perspectives.

It was apparent from the answer to my first question that the interview would be as challenging as understanding the man’s art.

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City Of Lights. Further ‘lighting’ up Paris, is Agam’s underwater colourful “Fontaine Monumentale” in the La Defense district, Puteaux, Hauts de Seine.

Where do you live?

“I live on my shoulders. As you can see, I am here now in Israel. Next week I will be in France. I live wherever I am at the moment.”

The answer incapsulated the character of the man, his art and the museum, which had greeted me with twenty multicolored pillars at the entrance, and nine more inside, all changing as you walk by. The artist explains:

Usually, when you see a painting in a museum, you stand in front, you look at it, and then you move on. With my work, you will never see everything. I want people who come to the museum to be able to see the paintings from every angle, so it’s also changing the way you look at art.”

The foremost pioneer of optical-Kinetic art, Agam encourages spectator participation. When I revealed that I received a stiff rebuke when I got too close to a painting in a renowned museum in New York, he replied “that will never happen with here – I want people to physically connect with my art.”

It is little wonder why children love Agam’s art and why the artist honours children by appealing directly to them.

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The Art Of Politics. Israeli artist Yaacov Agam sandwiched between French President Emmanuel Macron (left) and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the Élysée Palace 2019.

Kinetics for Kids

The “Agam Method” for which the artist was awarded in 1996 the Jan Amos Comenius Medal for the non-verbal visual education of young children by UNESCO, teaches children to identify, analyze, and create with the visual building blocks that make up our world. Together, these building blocks – such as shapes, patterns, directions, and symmetry – form a universal “visual language.” The Agam Method has a long history of classroom implementation, research, and refinement dating back to the 1980s. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel led experimental studies to determine its impact on young children’s learning. Data from 1990 through to 2007 indicate that children who engaged with the method, improved significantly in early geometry and visual-spatial skills, including shape identification and deconstruction, visual acuity, and mental rotation of objects. Children also demonstrated significantly higher problem-solving and school readiness skills, particularly in the areas of writing and math.

Do you have any grandchildren?” Agam asks.

Two,” I reply.

On happily hearing that are both aged in months rather than in years, he asks, “If I gave them a pencil, what do think they will do with it.”

All my answers wrong, Agam demonstrates grabbing a pencil and thrusting up and down making points on the table.

Points is the most primary act of creation and is born out in the first drawings found in prehistoric caves.”

What about the line?” I ask.

Now you are talking evolution – that came much later; could be 1000 years later or even 10,000 years. We do not know. The line is the most significant advancement in the history of evolution.”

Following my rudimentary lesson in the history of art, we jump many millennia forward to Dizengoff Square 2018.

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Enriching Encounter. An animated 90-year-old Agam (centre) welcomes and addresses in the Museum’s auditorium in May 2019, a group of former South Africans living in Israel. (Courtesy TELFED)

 

Carousal of Color

So what is Agam’s response to the major transformation of Dizengoff Square which in the 1930s was the fashionable hub of the city but as the years passed, became seedy? Many blamed it on the square’s elevation above the street below and so what gave the Hebrew slang verb “l’hizdangef” (“to Dizengoff”), coined to describe strolling down the Tel Aviv’s iconic north-south artery, by the 1980s exposed not only a disconnect from vehicular traffic, but a disconnect from people.

Reinstalled back to street level, with traffic proceeding around rather than beneath, Tel Aviv center is again living up to its image of change.

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Carousal of Colour. The famed Artist Yaacov Agam ‘Fire & Water Fountain’ in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square. Photo by Linneah Anders

What did you aim to express with your fountain at the very epicenter of Tel Aviv?

“Firstly, the buildings surrounding the square are German – designed by architects fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s – and I wanted to brand the square distinctly Israeli with vibrant colours expressing life to contrast with the stark utilitarianism of the Bauhaus architecture. This I achieve with over 1000 colors visible through the water!”

Noting my disbelief,  he said: “Come with me now; I’ll show you!”

Like his art, there was something ‘kinetic’ about this 90-year-old!

The fountain combines fire and water – two contrasting elements. Is this not unusual?

“More than unusual; its unique No other artist in the world has combined water and fire together.  It was once said in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) during a tough debate:

If Agam can make fire and water, what’s the problem?”

Agam explains how the fountain comprises several big jagged wheels – coloured geometric shapes, which are perceived as different images from different angles. A technological mechanism automatically activates at different times of the day and night that turns the wheels on their hinges, shooting fire and water upwards accompanied to music.

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Shifting Imagery. Moving from side to side, both image and colour transform profoundly.

The artist’s vision is for people across the globe to be able to activate the fountain through an app. “I don’t want it simply like before; we have to move forward with technology – combining science and art making it globally accessible.”

Why is global interest so important to you?

“Because the fountain’s message is universal. I believe it provides Dizengoff with gravitas; the miracle of fire and water with over 1000 colours, ‘reflects’ diversity. The fountain sends a message to the people of the world that although we are different, we are one.”

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Riveting Revelations. Artist Yaacov Agam (right) and the writer, David Kaplan at the Agam Museum in Rishon Lezion.

Over the Rainbow

What influence did your father – a rabbi – have on your perspective on life and your art?

“My father was an orthodox rabbi and a Kabbalist; I am a visual rabbi and every work of mine is a visual prayer.

Is this why symbols of the bible like the rainbow are integral in your art?

“After the flood, God promised Noah never to destroy the earth again, and placed the rainbow in the sky as a symbol of that covenant. It is a visual prayer of peace, reminding that everyone is a party to the covenant to protect our environment.”

Showing me a painting of a rainbow, Agam continued:

“The rainbow is one of the loveliest sights in God’s creation as the colours stand out individually and yet merge with the colour next to it reflecting unity in diversity.”

You seem to suggest that the visual trumps words in our understanding of reality?

“If the message of the rainbow was only in words, only those who understood the language would understand – some would understand, others would not. Words divide us, sight unites us. Children are born into a world of seeing before speaking. When they start to talk, that introduces separation and disunity. Seeing is so important that when God wanted us to understand him, he provided visions and so when the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, it is written that the People of Israel “SEE” not only hear the word of God.”

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Agam’s Wife. From the moment visitors step onto the grounds of the Agam Museum in Rishon Lezion they are engulfed into the rainbow world of the artist as they are ‘greeted’ by ‘The Pillars of Clilla,’ named after his late wife. These columns transport visitors into the mind of Agam and lead you into the museum’s central space, which boasts his ‘panorAgam’ work, originally displayed on the bow at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City in 1981.

Is it the same with the vision of the rainbow – the need to SEE rather than read of God’s communication with man?

“Yes; following the flood, it is written in Genesis that whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, “I will SEE it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” The problem today is that people do not know how to see; they rely too much on language to understand – and the soul of reality alludes them.”

Through The  Prism Of Prison

While Agam trained at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem before moving to Zurich, Switzerland in 1949 where he continued his education at the Kunstgewerbe Schule, he cites the unexpected and unplanned as no less instructive in his education as an artist.

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The Artist And His Art. The artist explaining a work at the museum in Rishon Lezion, the city he was born in 1928.

Who would have thought that such education included prison?

“Yes, I was imprisoned by the British in Latrun, and who would join me there in 1946 was Moshe Sharett who would later become Israel’s second Prime Minister. He taught me Hebrew and grammar and he told me over and over that while there is a past and a future, there is no present in Jewish thinking. The present is fleeting; gone forever in a flash. Through our discussions, I formulated a perspective of time that is at the core of my art that is mobile, in a state of constant change; nothing is static. I met all the great artists at the time – Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Jean Arp – but they were stuck in the past, and the past does not exist, I prefer to be in the state of becoming, like the true meaning of Shabbat (Sabbath) – resting to prepare for the coming week.”

I interrupt and suggest that Marcel Duchamp’s famous Nude Descending a Staircase (no 2) painted in 1912, is not static, that it captures the movement of a figure in descent.

So why, one hundred years later, is she still descending the stairs?”

I had no answer!

“Like Abraham leaving his father to create a nation,” Agam too feels he has “created something new; a new way of thinking different to the other artists,” a far cry from the early 1950s then with his young wife in Paris “we literally starved and had to go to the Salvation Army for food.” In 1953, he had his first one-man show and sold his first panting to the famous surrealist artist Max Ernst.

When Robert Lebel (1901–1986), the famous French art critic and writer, “saw my work, he said, “We have a new prophet.”

He was not wrong.

Victor Vasarely, the Hungarian-French artist, widely accepted as a “grandfather” and leader of the op art movement, “told me you have no right make static work. Young artists, particularly from South America were attracted to my style and started to imitate me.”

In time, Agam’s art would attract the attention of President Pompidou of France. “When he was the Prime Minister, he went to see my show. I later received a call from the Secretary General of Artistic Creation who asked me, “What did you do to our PM. He went back and forward in front of your painting; he could not understand it but was fascinated.”

Later, when he became President, “he wanted a sculpture in his office and asked for a presentation of modern sculptures without the names of the artists.

“I will decide,” he said.

He chose mine because he could move it.” This led to a commission by the President of a moving salon environment at the Élysée Palace in 1972, where the environment shifted according to the viewer’s position. Enjoying tea with President Pompidou, “He revealed to me that he guided Queen Elizabeth through the salon and that she said she loved it.”

Asked to make a work commemorating the peacemaking efforts of the president of Egypt, Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Agam created in 1978 a mesmerising Star of Peace. A kinetic sculpture, it appears from one direction to be the five-pointed star of Islam, from another, the six-pointed Star of David, and from a third – a new star formed from their fusion.

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Holocaust Memorial – New Orleans A slow walk-around of Yaacov Agam’s Holocaust Memorial in New Orleans, Louisiana, captures in an artistic visual prayer the memory of the Six Million Jews of Europe and those millions of other victims murdered by the Nazis from 1933-1945.The sculpture is composed of nine panels, each with different designs. As you view the sculpture from different angles, the designs on the panels meld to form distinct images. Ten images come into view as you walk around the panels.

Other public projects include a 1987 memorial at the Western Wall for the victims of the Holocaust, and the world’s largest menorah: a 32-foot, 4000-pound structure at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in Manhattan and based on the original menorah in Jerusalem’s Holly Temple, “not the fake version you see on the Arch of Titus in Rome.”

Concluding the interview, I ask:

Is there any one of your work you prize most?

“It’s impossible. My art is about movement and you can’t have all movement in one work of art. It’s like prayers in Judaism; there is no one prayer but many.”

Fair eneough; is there at least one artist that influenced you the most?

“Yes, the Almighty!”

 

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A Light Unto The People. An illuminated Agam Museum in Rishon Lezion at night.

To learn more about the Agam Museum of Art visit:

https://en.yama.co.il/

 

 

* Title Picture credit: Reuven Castro

 

Out Of This World

The week that was Eurovision in Israel

By David E. Kaplan

Shifting from the salon sofa and watching the buildup to the 2019 Eurovision Song Competition on TV to actually immersing oneself in the swelling  crowds at the Eurovillage in  Tel Aviv’s beach front was an eye-popping opener or as one says in Hebrew:

Ein milim” – “no words”.

For a press that usually obsesses with covering Israel in a negative light, what a refreshing change:

Britain’s The Independent ran with a headline reading:

This year’s Eurovision was one of the best in recent memory,” praising the broadcasts “general splendor” and calling it “an incredible show.”

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Stunning & Spectacular. An extravaganza of sound, sights and light at the Eurovision final in Tel Aviv.

CNN called the grand final “a showpiece that would have disappointed few Eurovision fans.

The New York Times, which only recently published a vile antisemitic cartoon anchored on Israeli politics, said the show had “enough glitz, plumes of fire and special effects to invigorate even the blandest Europop.”

Even the BBC was captivated by the special atmosphere. Its newsreader Graham Norton during his live commentary  said of the 2019 rendition of Israel’s 40th anniversary of “Hallelujah”  by Gali Atari accompanied by previous top Eurovision contestants – Conchita Wurst, Måns Zelmerlöw, Eleni Foureira and Verka Serduchka:

What a real treat for Eurovision fans… a really special moment. A gorgeous moment.”

The BBC was spot on – it was a “gorgeous moment”. However, the entire week was a compilation of “gorgeous moments.”

Off course, there were still those who could not resist ‘aiming’ their pens in describing Eurovision in Israel as  “Tel Aviv caught between partying and politics” but so be it:

The event lived up to its expectations; the theme of Israel’s Eurovision was “Dare To Dream”,  a theme espoused by Israel’s founding father Theodore Hertzel, who defied the naysayers over 120 years earlier with “If you will it, it is no dream.”

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Alive & Electrifying. The writer was amongst the 100,000 plus in this aerial view of the Eurovision Village in Tel Aviv during the second semifinals of the Eurovision song contest on May 16, 2019 with Jaffa in the background. (Courtesy Tel Aviv Municipality)

The results were there for all to celebrate as the eyes of the world – some 200 million viewers – were on Israel and seeing:

How you can build a country in 71 years and that despite the immense challenges, despite being surrounded by enemies desiring our extinction, despite a biased  global media in perpetual assault mode against the Jewish state, saw the curtain rise on a modern, fun-loving, exciting, enterprising, entrepreneurial and hi-tech behemoth that can also show the world:

How to party

And party Israel did.

Tel Aviv lived up to its reputation of the “City That never Sleeps” or as I like to describe it, “as the city that wakes up every morning  and decides what’s its going to be”.

Yes, the people of the “Start-Up Nation” know how to “work hard” but they also know how to “play hard” and  the multitude of visitors from abroad were swept away by the euphoric atmosphere.

Three Swiss visitors I spoke to, agreed, “The atmosphere here is special; you will never see anything like this in SwitzerlandEurovision or no Eurovision

A twentysomething from Germany remarked, “It’s funny; I’ve been here a week and even with the time change, Europe is fast asleep when you guys are still partying.”

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Sea’ing Is Believing. Adjacent to the sea, ecstatic fans in the fans zone by the beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 18, 2019.REUTERS/ Corinna Kern

Euphoria in Eurovillage

The lingua franca of the people standing around me  near the main stage at the Eurovillage was a cross of European languages and many of them were holding aloft their country’s flags.  Facing me were the flags of Romania, Italy, Sweden and Denmark. Looking back, all I could see was a sea of people, gyrating to the music of an Abba Revival band from Sweden. The four singers down to their dress looked like Abba and if you closed your eyes, you could be back in the seventies – they sounded exactly like Abba.

Most the people around me were probably not even born when Abba won with Waterloo in 1974, but tonight was Tel Aviv’s “Waterloo” as it won in victoriously emblazoning to the world, if you want to know us, come and see Israel for yourself.

Clearly, the thousands of overseas visitors were happy they did.

Party Poopers

BDS failed abysmally in sabotaging the event. Despite their appeals for countries to boycott – notably by their flagbearer, Roger Waters – not one European country pulled out. Noted for flying a balloon of a giant pig with a Star of David at his concerts and then denying “I’m NOT an anti-Semite”, Ranting Roger made a last ditch-11th hour incoherent rant on social media following an appeal “from my friend Omar Barghouti”  for contestants to boycott Tel Aviv. A co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, Barghouti does not believe in a two-state solution as he believes that the “creation of a Jewish state was a crime” and calls to restore the name of “Palestine” for the entire area from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea.

Waters’ appeal met on deaf ears.

Where once people listed to his music, today, few were interested in hearing what he had to say.

Even the pro-Palestinian Icelandic ‘Hatari’ participated albeit displaying Palestinian flags. They received no thanks for doing so!

The Iceland band’s gesture cut no ice with BDS who wrote on its Twitter account:

Palestinian civil society overwhelmingly rejects fig-leaf gestures of solidarity from international artists crossing our peaceful picket line.”

At a press conference, Hatari offered a purely positive message saying, “We need to unite and remember to love – hate  on the rise in Europe.”

Yes, that hate is manifesting itself in the worst outbreak of antisemitism in Europe since WWII.

And happy to join that hate fest  are Fatah and the  Palestinian Authority (PA).

During the week leading up to the final of the Eurovision, Fatah and the PA campaigned vigorously and visually for countries to boycott  Tel Aviv as reflected in its cartoons published daily linking Israeli music to violence – including the visual depiction of the common PA libel that “Israel intentionally kills civilians”.

Fatah posted the cartoon below on Facebook, showing an Israeli soldier shooting at Palestinians in Gaza. Musical notes are flowing from the “Eurovision” but turn into an ammunition belt for the soldier’s machine gun.

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In a second cartoon posted by Fatah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is dressed up as Israeli singer Netta Barzilai who won last year’s Eurovision and brought the competition to Israel. Netanyahu is holding a missile in each hand:

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Missiles? What the PA and Fatah neglects to advise its gullible readership is that it was the Palestinians in Gaza that only two weeks earlier had launched nearly 700 missiles at southern Israel, killing four  Israeli civilians, injuring many and causing severe structural damage to property, including moving motor vehicles.

Never Stop Dreaming

Israel’s message to the world was so poignantly encapsulated by the Shalva Band. Shalva (The Israel Association for Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities) is a registered non-profit organization that supports and empowers individuals with disabilities and their families in Israel. The eight-piece band, which includes Israelis with blindness, Down syndrome and other physical and developmental disabilities, called on spectators “to never stop dreaming.” The band performed a rendition of A Million Dreams from the film The Greatest Showman.

The band made it to the finals  of The Rising Star, the local Israeli contest that determines who represents the country at the Eurovision. Predicted to win by judges and audience members, they dropped out because performing at Eurovision would have necessitated violating the Sabbath in order to participate in the Saturday night final broadcast.

At a press conference they revealed that they were living out their dream.

“When we first started playing together people wouldn’t listen to us, they would just leave the room,” said Band director Shai Ben-Shushan. “We worked hard, and we became better and better, and we believed in ourselves. After a lot of hard work, we got to Hakochav Haba (The Rising Star) – and in the beginning we didn’t believe that we were good enough to make it to the end.”

The Israeli public thought they did.

“We’ve made a huge change in Israeli society,” he said. “Today, when we walk in the street, the Israeli people want to embrace us – not because we’re a gimmick, but because we’re good at what we do.”

If only the PAHamas and BDS  would understand this message

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“I’m Not Your Toy”. Championing diversity, Eurovision 2018 winner Netta Barzilai performs at the Eurovision semifinal in Tel Aviv.

Wonder Woman On Wonder City

A quick lesson in “three minutes” about life in Tel Aviv was revealed in the back of a taxi by Gal Gadot, Israel’s famed star from Wonder Woman with taxi driver, famed Israeli comedian Yuval Semo.

“Three minutes,” says the Hollywood superstar it took for  Netta Barzilai in 2018 to bring the Eurovision to Israel with her winning entry “Toy”; “three minutes,’ she joked, “is the average an Israeli waits before getting personal – a little too personal,” and “Three minutes to understand the essence of Tel Aviv – Inspiration, innovation, big ideas and open arms. Come as you are, bring who you like, love what you do, day or night, daring and caring, outgoing and including everyone under one hot sun.”

At the end of the week – All Said And Sung – the real winner of Eurovision 2019 was – ISRAEL!

As Israel’s message in its 1979 Eurovision win: “Hallelujah

 

A Wee Dram Of Milk & Honey

By Rolene Marks

Israel is the “land of Milk and Honey” – and I am not speaking about biblical references!  It is all about the single malt whisky. Known as “the water of life”, Israel is about to join a small, elite group of countries that is licensed to distill whisky.  Not bad for a desert dwelling country!

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Secrets Out The Bottle. The first 100 bottles of Israel’s first malt whisky made by Tel Aviv’s M&H Distillery were auctioned off on a Scottish whisky site in August 2017 (Courtesy M&H Distillery)

Buying the cow?

Distilling whisky is quite a unique and specialised skill, and there are four main producing centres in the world. Scotland, Ireland, Japan and the USA have traditionally been responsible for sharing some of the finest scotches, whiskies and bourbons (yes, there major differences) but a tiny, powerhouse may be ready to challenge them.

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Inside Story. Inside Israel’s Milk & Honey Distillery.

Enter the Milk & Honey Distillery. Neatly nestled amongst the warehouses and buildings of Tel Aviv, this veritably hidden gem was borne out of the dream of six hi-tech entrepreneurs whose passion for whisky spurred them on to open their own distillery.

Speaking in an interview with a leading hi-tech publication, CEO Eitan Attir quipped “Founding the distillery was like buying a cow when you want milk.” The next logical step was to set up a company which they established in 2012. Construction of the distillery began in 2014 and the actual distillation started in 2015.

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The Distillers. High-tech entrepreneurs who share a passion for whisky, (l-r) Gal Kalkshtein and Eitan Attir (Photo by Kirk D’Souza)

In order to comply with strict Scottish standards, the Milk & Honey Distillery must ensure that they are involved in the distilling process from start to finish and that their single malt spirit matures for a period of three years.

Spirited Dedication

The Milk & Honey team spent two years studying the intricacies of producing top-notch whisky. Master Distiller, Dr. James Swan, who is also an expert on producing whisky in warm climates recognized the exciting possibilities that Israel has to offer and helped the team come up with a truly winning formula.

While in colder climates in can be claimed that a wee dram can warm the cockles of your heart in icy weather, Israel’s summer climate (and hair curling humidity!) presented a whole new challenge.

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The Israeli Whisky Revolution Happening Now. Visitor’s pub at Israel’s Milk & Honey Distillery. (Photo by Lior Goldsad)

This dedicated distillery did the research and discovered that maturation happened much faster that their colder climate dwelling counterparts.

Israel also offers five geothermic regions, allowing for the opportunity to experiment with maturation in other areas, such as the mountains, the desert, and of course – The Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth.

Couple this with opening a distillery in Tel Aviv – the city that never sleeps and is a vibrant hub of good food and booze appreciation – and the result is a winning formula.

While Milk & Honey may offer other products, it is the whisky that occupies a point of pride and in May 2017, they launched Israel’s first single-malt.

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All Over The World. The ‘spirit’ of Israel is global.

This marked quite a historical moment not just for Israel but for appreciators of fine single malts around the world.

Sadly, no whisky was imbibed while writing this article.

Off to pour a wee dram now.

L’Chaim!

 

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Tel Aviv “the city that never sleeps and is a vibrant hub of good food and booze appreciation.”

50 Shades Of Gray

Rhino conservation is sexy

By Rolene Marks

The noble rhinoceros once roamed the plains of Africa in great numbers. South Africa once prided itself on great numbers of these creatures who attracted many around the world who visited the southern African state to see them as part of their safari experience. Sadly today, these modern-day unicorns are targeted and hunted for their horns; their killers believing the horns have medicinal or aphrodisiacal properties!

Poachers are predominantly from the Far East and as a result of their killing these “Big 5” animals, populations are dwindling at alarming levels and if nothing is done to protect and save endangered rhino populations, they could become extinct.

I cannot imagine a world devoid of these magnificent beasts!

South Africa has the largest remaining population of rhino in the world and is at the forefront of rhino conservation. There are a lot of concerted efforts of the ground to protect rhino populations as well as capture and punish poachers but there is an unlikely hero in this story – Israel.

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Safe & Secure. Ramat Gan Safari Park, Tel Aviv

Born Free

Rhinos are not indigenous to the Holy Land so how come they are finding a new lease on life and thriving?

The Ramat Gan Safari Park on the outskirts of Tel Aviv has successfully brought rhinos from South Africa.

These horny South Africans are thriving in their adopted country and are managing to breed successfully.

The Ramat Gan Safari Park started their rhino conservation programme in 1974 and to date an estimated 31 calves have been born in captivity. The first baby rhino, born in September 1978 was a girl named “Shalom”.  The birth of this little calf coincided with the signing of the Camp David Accords – the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

This rhino breeding programme is part of a global conservation effort to increase rhino populations. The white rhinoceros, also known as the square-lipped rhinoceros, is in the greatest danger. Some 78 zoos are taking part in a European breeding project that so far numbers over 300 rhinos. The Ramat Gan Safari has a larger herd than any in Europe! In October 2018, it was noted that the crash of rhinos at the Ramat Gan Safari currently numbers fourteen.

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Israel Provides Lifeline For Rhinos. A three-week-old White Rhinoceros stands next to her mother Tanda, 25, at the Ramat Gan Safari near Tel Aviv. (Photo: Jack Guez / AFP/Getty Images)

World renowned South African conservationist, Braam Malherbe, lauded the efforts being made by the Park and believes it is a model that should be implemented globally. As a commitment to breeding this highly endangered species, two young females were imported from Pretoria Zoo in 2012.

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Out Of Africa. His passport stamped, a new immigrant from South Africa arrives in Israel in 2012

In recent years, the park has celebrated the birth of baby Terkel, Tupak, Tashi and Timor, all rare white rhinos born to their South African immigrant mother, Tanda.  Calves have also been born to Keren Peles, one as recently as the 30th of December. The baby girl’s name is still unknown, but she made her entrance with a lot of energy and curiosity and decided to venture out of the maternity ward on her own. This was the second calf born to 31-year-old mother, Keren Peles, who was named after Israel’s singer-songwriter.

Celebrations have also been conducted for babies Rami, Kipenzi and many more!

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Rihanna Begat Rami. Israel’s zoo in Ramat Gan welcomed a baby rhinoceros in February 2017 named Rami, born to a rhino named Rihanna. Read more: https://forward.com/fast-forward/362544/meet-israels-super-cute-newborn-baby-white-rhino-his-moms-named-rihanna/

In fact, life for rhinos is so good in Israel that a few have tried to explore the sites for themselves. Rhinos have escaped their enclosures at the Safari Park and have sauntered out into the park or the street – much to the absolute astonishment of passers-by!

These horned South African “olim” (immigrants) do not have to worry about dealing with the challenges that others have to deal with like bureaucracy, language and navigating day-to-day life.

In the quite sanctity of the Ramat Gan Safari Park they are assured that the only place a horn belongs is on a rhino.

Christian Perspective from the Heights of Mount Meron

By Margy Pezdirtz

Israel welcomed an estimated 150,000 Christians for the festive 2018 Christmas season, according to the Tourism Ministry, with many joining the celebrations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, and visiting the very locations where the Christmas story unfolded.

More than half the tourists – some 56% – who visited Israel in 2018 were Christian. By denomination these Christians were 41% Catholic, 27% Protestant, and 28% Orthodox.

One such recent visitor was award-winning author and novelist and third generation Oklahoman, Margy Pezdirtz, a leader in the Christian Zionist movement.

Below is her report from her recent visit to a Christian town, Gush Halav, on Mount Meron in northern Israel.

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Thriving Christian Life In Israel. A view of Gush Halav (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

A Village Called ‘Jish’

In nearly every country in the Middle East, Christians are persecuted, frequently killed at the hands of their Muslim neighbors. The only country in which this does not happen is  Israel, where Christians are welcome and free to worship. A classic example of this freedom of worship is the lovely village of Gush Halav, ‘Jish’ for short, sitting atop a steep hill in the foothills of Har Meron (Mountain of Meron), thirteen kilometres north of Safed, in Israel’s Upper Galilee. This small village of 3,078 citizens – according to the last census – proudly worships as Maronite Christians, a branch of the Catholic Church.

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Modern church, Gush Halav (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

The village is a center for the Aramaic revival, an initiative by local Maronites. In Israel, we can speak of ‘revival”, elsewhere in the Middle East, only of Christian ‘suppression’.

We visited Jish just prior to Palm Sunday, the Christian feast falling on the Sunday before Easter commemorating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We found teenagers happily preparing for the upcoming Easter parade, which they will lead with a full corps of drums escorting a large cross carried by leaders of the village. Almost every citizen will joyfully line the streets to pay silent tribute to their Savior as the cross weaves its way upward to the top of the hill where it will rest for the holiday. Looking down on this parade from the rooftop of St. George’s Church, will be the three permanent crosses that bear witness to the faith of the village. All of these crosses are lighted every night – not just Easter – to testify to all around that this is a Christian community.

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Old church, Gush Halav (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

There is frequently confusion as to where these Christians came from. Are they Arabs? Christian Arabs? No, not really. They are quick to make it clear that they are Aramean Maronites, not Arabs. According to Wikipedia, Arameans are a Semitic people who originated in what is a combination of the western, southern and central parts of Syria generations ago.

As to where the Christian portion came to fit, generations ago a priest by the name of Maroun felt drawn to isolate himself in the mountains of Syria to meditate and draw closer to God, the Father, through his Savior, Jesus Christ. In doing so, others were attracted to his dedication to God and began following him. Thus the name “Maronite” was attached to his followers who, today, remain dedicated in their worship of the Heavenly Father through the auspices of the Catholic Church. All Maronites are Catholics.

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Following tradition: Schoolgirls study Aramaic in the Arab village of Jish, northern Israel (credit – AP)

Originally, the Maronites spoke and prayed in Aramaic; however, over the years, the language was lost other than for prayer which only the very elderly could speak or understand. In recent years that has changed. Now students are offered the ability to learn the Aramaic language in public school through to the 8th grade, which is encouraged by the Israeli government.

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Passion: Atif Zarka, 64, a volunteer Aramaic teacher’s assistant, plays the violin to forth grade students studying Aramaic in Jish (credit – AP)

While the United Nations lambasts Israel with resolutions accusing it of false human rights abuses and unfair treatment of her minorities, a hilltop in northern Israel tells another story – a beacon of truth. Here at ‘Jish’, a religion other than Judaism and a language other than Hebrew is encouraged and promoted by the Israeli government. The village youth are proud Israeli citizens. While Christians are not obligated to join the IDF, many chose to do so as volunteers upon graduating from high school. And, those who prefer not to serve in the military are quick to volunteer for Sherut Leumi an alternative national service where participants engage in programmes such as working in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, health clinics and disadvantaged communities. These are young Christians giving back to a society that has given to them – a phenomenon unheard of elsewhere in the Middle East other than in Israel.

Life is good in Gush Halav. Those interviewed expressed: “we have everything we want or need” and “are happy to live where we live and to be Israelis”.

Life is good indeed, in Gush Halav, Israel.

 

About the author

Margy Pezdirtz.jpgMargy Pezdirtz has been a leader in the Christian Zionist movement for over twenty-five years. Born a third generation Oklahoman, the granddaughter of pioneers who were the first to break the sod on their homestead in Grant County, she learned early on the significance of establishing a foundation toward building a future. Coming from a family of farmers she was taught self-reliance and the value of standing strong during the wildest of storms and hard times. She believes the lessons learned from her farm family taught her the values and determination that is necessary to establish her support for Israel. An award-winning author and novelist, Mrs. Pezdirtz is an avid student of the Bible.

 

 

 

Celebrating Co-existence in Haifa

By Rolene Marks 
The northern Israeli city of Haifa is a model of integration and tolerance. Every year, thousands of revelers descend on the city to celebrate the highly anticipated, Festival of Festivals. This 25-year old festivals takes place every December and is a celebration of the country’s three main religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Haifa is festooned with twinkling Christmas lights, chanukiot for Chanukah and Islamic symbols. It is a rare opportunity to be exposed to and enjoy the timeless traditions of these three religions. Rolene Marks filed this report for Channel News Asia:
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https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/israel-s-haifa-festival-a-model-city-of-integration-and-11064894

 

A Donkey Named Hope

By Rolene Marks

Jester loves to greet people.

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Look Who’s Talking. “Hee-haw,” says Jester, the self-appointed spokesdonkey for Safe Haven.

If donkeys had a public relations spokesman, Jester would be it. A nuzzle of the nose is all the payment he requires.  Gali is the beauty queen with her grey coat and elegant black markings. She is also a bit of a maternal figure. Sooty has the longest ears and wiggles them proudly and Chicco has a long memory for kindness. Yalon steals your heart with his large foal eyes and gangly legs and Hope is a movie star with a penchant for a little something sweet. She is also in for a surprise because on Christmas day she will turn one year old and there is a party planned in her honour.

These are just some of the 250 cast of characters that call Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land their home.

Nestled in the serene moshav of Gan Yoshiya close to the seaside city of Netanya in Israel, Safe haven for Donkey’s in the Holy Land is more than just a sanctuary for these rescued animals – it is a real community of caregivers and their equine charges, and the healing that they receive.

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Dinnertime For Donkeys. Open air restaurant for rescued donkeys at the ‘Safe Haven for Donkeys’ on moshav Gan Yoshiya in central Israel

The gentle and noble donkey is an iconic image that had long been associated with the Holy Land. Since the time of the Bible, donkeys symbolise peace, conciliation and humility and are ingrained into the imagery of all three of the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Kings David and Solomon revered donkeys; Kind David kept a royal she-mule and King Solomon chose to be anointed on one instead of a grander animal like a thoroughbred horse or elephant. Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey as a symbol of peace. In Islam it is believed that a donkey who had the power of speech, told Muhammad that it was the last in a line of donkeys ridden by prophets and was a descendant of the donkey ridden by Jesus in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which was also called Ya`fūr.

Sadly today, in a region that is often volatile and mired in conflict and conflagration, these humble, gentle creatures are often a casualty.

Donkeys have often been referred to as a workhorse, not because of their shared equine features but because of their ability and patience to bear heavy loads. This ability is sometimes exploited by some who use these sweet creatures as construction workers, over-burdening them with weight and materials.

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Rustic Royalty. Gali the beauty queen.

Safe Sanctuary

In this region that can sometimes be a tinderbox waiting to explode, donkeys have been brutally abused by terrorists who have exploited them to make a political point. During the second intifada (Palestinian uprising) it was not uncommon for terror entities to pack these sweet creatures with explosives and direct them towards soldiers at checkpoints. In the last few months, as Hamas encourages rioters along the border between Israel and Gaza, so too have donkeys been used as weapons.  One of the first weeks of protest saw donkeys draped in Israeli flags and set on fire. This outrageous act of animal cruelty and depravity has barely registered in the media. Donkeys are just not “sexy” enough a story.

Thankfully, there is an organization that is dedicated to the well-being and upkeep of these humble and noble beasts.

Founded in 2000, Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land is a not-for-profit organization that helps thousands of working donkeys in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

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The Lucky Ones. These donkeys are all praise for their loving care.

The sanctuary provides life-long care to over 200 unwanted and abused donkeys of all ages, but the work does not stop at the sanctuary gates. Safe Haven for Donkeys operates a mobile clinic that treats around 500 working donkeys, mules and horses across the Palestinian Territories as well as a permanent clinic in the city of Nablus.  The mobile vet treats injuries such as those from poor harnessing, overgrown hooves and bad teeth are easily treatable and this goes a long way in helping to improve the lives of the animals who work so hard for so little.

Safe Haven for Donkeys has realized that education is just as important and help teach children and adults how to treat these animals with humanity and kindness and through the work with the owners of these animals, the team has made many friends and is treated with trust and respect.

Our vets circulate and go to a different village every day to ensure that as many are treated as possible” says Abed, a caregiver whose dedication and love for his charges is evident.

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Making ‘Hay’ While The Sun Shines. Safe Haven donkeys enjoying a snack before a snooze.

The work done by this organization is evident in the happy, braying donkeys who despite all that they have endured, are friendly to the visitors who come to either volunteer or check out the sanctuary. The donkeys just love a cuddle and a scratch – and maybe a good old roll in the sand. After enduring so much abuse, Safe Haven’s over 200 personalities who proudly carry their names on their harnesses, get to live out their lives in peace and serenity in the gorgeous heart of Israel.

For a donkey called Hope and all the cast of characters, Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land is more than just a sanctuary, it is home. It is a veritable heaven for donkeys – and that is worth braying about.

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Rise & Shine. Nothing like an early morning stretch before breakfast.

For more information about the sanctuary and to contribute, visit their website:

https://www.safehaven4donkeys.org/

 

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Love Is In The Air. Writer Rolene Marks snuggles up close to Jester.

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