ART: Our Last Day in Haifa

We filled our last day in Haifa with art. First we went to the Haifa Museum of Art to see “Dangerous Art,” a profound, powerful, painful, and provocative exhibit (with several sub-exhibits) representing the struggles of oppressed populations and addressing issues including those of sexuality, poverty, race, and displacement, including the current African refugee situation — the room of work that was most painful for me to witness. (By the way, last night’s rally in Tel Aviv in support of the African refugees was 20,000 strong and got good press.)

I learned a new term, “artivism,” referring to the intersection of art and social activism.

Note: It will be impossible to do justice to this vast collection of work with a handful of photos, so let me know if you are interested in more, and maybe I’ll put together a slideshow or something. The section on refugees was vast and particularly evocative and challenging.

Highlights of this panel: “I can’t breathe,” a reference to Eric Garner’s death in NYC (Chaim and I attended a big demonstration about that act of police brutality in 2014) and Women’s March with pussy hats (I had my very own to wear at this year’s march.)

One part of the exhibit was devoted to masks and headgear — police in riot gear or protestors hiding their identities by wearing masks. These paper masks were for the taking — just in time for Purim.

This art is by Dede, one of the street artists we’d seen on our street art tour in Tel Aviv three days ago. His giant birds, yearning to fly, are drawn symbolically with wood scraps and found objects, representing the transient shelters that homeless people constructed in Tel Aviv from furniture scraps. Bringing Dede off the street and into the museum the curator explained was “an act of protest against the art world’s conservative attitude toward the urban neighborhood.”

Women from the Kuchinate Collective — Eritrean asylum seekers and rape survivors living in Tel Aviv — earn a living by making traditional crafts like these bean bags. They are pictured on the back wall with their corresponding creations.

“First Day in Israel” from the series “Darfur/Maror,” 2009, color print by Asaf Kliger

“We Refugees,” the title of this section of work, “challenges the demographic self-perception of Israel as the Jewish state” by contributing “to a pluralistic view of the Israeli population as a diverse, multicultural society.” The contemporary  pieces were paired with older pieces of art depicting refugees, including one by one of my favorite artists, Samuel Bak.

Samuel Bak, “Journey, ca. Second half of the 20th century”

“Lampedusa” — artist Vik Muniz himself came to the US in 1982 as an undocumented immigrant from Brazil. The image of a paper boat is playful and optimistic, but in this case, the floating installation highlighted the deaths of 360 immigrants who died during their journey from Libya to Italy. The 14-meter-long boat was coated with a giant reproduction of the Italian newspaper that reported the tragedy. This is a photo of the installation (Venice).

Benjamin Reich (originally from Bnei Brak!), “Tefillin shel Yad,” photo. There was a whole room devoted to portrayals of gay sexuality.

Untitled painting by Ethiopian painter Nirit Takele depicts the beating of an Ethiopian Jewish man, most likely the 2015 event that led to a huge protest against racism and police brutality.

As if that weren’t enough art for one day, Chaim and I then (after lunch) went to the studio/gallery of Tamar Messer, a friend of our dear artist friends Nancy Katz and Mark Liebowitz. What a repertoire of media Tamar works in! From mixed media creations and furniture to painting to illustrated biblical books, originally done in silkscreen, to gorgeous b’nai mitzvah invitations tailored to the specific Torah portion.  I couldn’t resist and bought a set of her beautifully illustrated megillot, each one uniquely reflective of the book it represents (Esther, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes).

Tamar with Chaim in her gallery

Sample bar/bat mitzvah invitation representing Parashat Vayetze and Jacob’s dream.

This is Tamar’s breath-taking depiction of Akedat Yitzchak (the binding of Isaac), in which his body IS the wood.

Have a seat! (These are chairs.)

Now it is time to pack as we have to be up by 4 AM to get to the airport. I imagine I will have one or two more posts when I get back to the US, to tie up some loose ends and add some more photos!

L’hitraot!

Shuk ha-Pishpeshim and the 2 Wadis

Before we departed for our morning adventure to Haifa’s famed Shuk haPishpeshim (flea market), we read up about Wadi Salib, the neighborhood where it is located, now mostly deserted and in ruins. Before the “Nakba,” Wadi Salib used to be an Arab neighborhood. (“Nakba,” literally “catastrophe,” is the Palestinian/Israeli Arab term for the exodus in 1948 in which more than 700,000 Arabs were either expelled or fled from their homes throughout the country during the Israeli War for Independence.) After 1948, the neighborhood was home to Moroccan Jews. Chaim and I located a couple of Moroccan synagogues that remain in that neighborhood.

In 1959, David Ben Haroush, one of the Moroccan Jewish residents there, started a protest movement of Jews from Arab countries against the white European (Ashkenazi) establishment that discriminated against them. The civil disobedience and protests that started in Haifa soon spread to the rest of the country. This was an important historical moment in Israeli history vis-a-vis relations between Jews from Europe and Jews from Middle Eastern countries (who often grew up speaking Arabic at home). The buildings in that neighborhood are still beautiful, but sadly abandoned.

We were delighted to spot a “David Ben Haroush Street” named after this protest leader. The biography reads “A resident of Wadi Salib, he was a social activist who organized the residents of the neighborhood in the Wadi Salib events of the ‘50’s. (1924-1999).” You have to love Israeli street signs — history at every corner!

Abandoned building, Wadi Salib. The modern building behind is my favorite building in all of Haifa. I’ve taken lots of photos of it from different angles. (Each time I take another, Chaim asks, “What would Dr. Freud say?)

Shuk haPishpeshim is Haifa’s vast flea and antique market comprising multiple streets, most active on Saturdays and Sundays. It was safe (financially speaking) for us to go on Shabbat since we wouldn’t spend any money, but it also meant that Chaim wouldn’t take any pictures of me, so I had to resort to a selfie.

There was a great playground/ropes course just outside the market that I had fun climbing.

View of the busy market with my favorite building (again) in the background.

If you want an antique Chanukah menorah, seder plate, or kiddish cup, this flea market is definitely the place to come.

Wares were laid out on the ground on this street

On our way home we passed a secular school whose logo is taken from the prophet Micah’s exhortation to “walk humbly” (hatznea lechet). I love finding Biblical quotes all over the place.

A poster in a cafe window quotes from Deuteronomy 10:19, “You shall love the stranger for you were strangers” and then says, “This business opposes the deportation of those seeking refuge.” As I’ve mentioned before, such signs in support of the African asylum seekers are everywhere, and a big demonstration will take place in Tel Aviv tonight.

At the front seat of every bus, Torah is also quoted: “Stand before the aged” (Leviticus 19:32)

We were also taken by seeing these Gerer Hasidim (recognizable by their garb) in such a secular city as Haifa.

After returning home to eat Shabbat lunch and taking the requisite Shabbat shluf (nap), we went out for another walk. This time we visited the Gan haZikaron/Memorial Garden, honoring Israel’s fallen soldiers. At the stone in honor of the Sinai Campaign of 1956, Chaim reminisced about his memories of that time, when his father was drafted (his job was to keep watch for Egyptian planes), and at home they weren’t allowed to keep lights on at night.

We meandered home (it does feel like home!)  through the now-familiar Wadi Nisnas, an Arab neighborhood, filled with public art at nearly every turn. This time we discovered Poetry Lane with four poems by Hanna Abu Hanna written in Arabic, with both Hebrew and English translations.

Here is one, entitled “Fear,” that seems appropriate in this week following the horrendous events in Parkland, FL:

Fear

When fear prevails,
woes follow in rapid succession.
To lose the sense of shock,
the horror of horror,
to become sedated
and indifferent to suffering
to become immune to the spilling of blood,
the killing of a fellow human!

Woe to the target of the gun,
and woe to him who aims the gun.
Because with the sacrificed whose blood flows in the squares,
the sniper murders his conscience,
the very conscience of humanity.

Art installation in Wadi Nisnas

We also noticed xeroxes plastered everywhere notifying the neighborhood about deaths that had taken place.

Death notices posted in Wadi Nisnas

We wanted to be in Haifa because of the relative integration between Arabs and Jews and the spirit of coexistence that Haifa is known for. For instance, there is an Arab-Jewish pre-school downstairs in our very apartment building. And comparatively, I think the situation in Haifa probably is rosier than it is elsewhere in Israel. But my reading of what happened in Haifa after 1948 is rather sobering. The Arab population in Haifa was reduced to 3500 from 75,000, homes and neighborhoods destroyed, defenders killed, and those remaining urged to move to Wadi Nisnas. Remaining Palestinian homes elsewhere were confiscated and street names changed. Since most of the land is Jewish-owned, Arabs can generally only rent, not buy property. Legal discrimination in housing, at least, therefore remains even here.

In the words of Hanna Abu Hanna, I refuse “to become sedated and indifferent to suffering.” It breaks my heart that the world is filled with such injustice.

Tomorrow will be our last full day in Haifa, before we fly back to the U.S. on Monday morning. Two weeks has not been enough time to explore this city and its environs, but we are already talking about our next trip and our intention to be based in the south (Beersheba) for that extended visit, so that we can take day trips into the Negev.

Shavua tov!

Will the real cartoon character please stand up?

Eliyahu haNavi

We welcome Elijah the Prophet at three unique Jewish rituals: annually at our Passover seders, every Saturday night during havdalah when we conclude Shabbat, as well as at every briss/brit milah when a son is welcomed into the covenant. As the harbinger of the messianic age, Elijah infuses each of these three Jewish rituals with hope for that future time of peace.

Just as Passover speaks to a historic past of exodus and redemption, so do we hope for such a future. Just as we experience a mini-Eden each Shabbat, so do we conclude it with hopes — to be heralded by Elijah — that every day may feel so blessed and filled with shalom for body and soul. As for the briss, why settle for a  Jewish doctor when you can aim for the Messiah him/herself? Each baby has that potential, and Elijah is there to welcome him. (We will need to infuse further feminist spirit into the tradition and invite Elijah to the babynamings for daughters, as well.)

In Jewish folklore, Elijah is the prophet who comes to earth in various guises, performing miracles for communities and individuals in need.

In the Bible, Elijah was a miracle worker and healer. He was also a curmudgeon, derisive of the Israelites and their faithlessness.

Joseph Telushkin teaches (in the name of his grandfather, as I recall) that Elijah visits each Passover, havdalah, and briss as a punishment for his doubt in the future of the Jewish people. In other words, God is forcing him to do teshuvah (repentance) every single day for his own faithlessness. Brilliant Torah! (I wrote more about Elijah earlier in the month — February 6, “Meeting the Other” — during my visit to a different Carmelite monastery on Mount Carmel dedicated to Elijah and his murderous tendencies.)

But there is another Biblical story (1 Kings 18) about Elijah that is beloved: that of his hiding in the cave to escape the wrath of Ahab and hearing “the small, still voice” of God. That cave is believed to be a grotto on Mount Carmel that is sacred to Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze. After dropping off our rental car, Chaim and I took a cab to the top of a trail that would lead us to that cave (starting at the monastery Stella Maris and ending at the Bat Galim beach). The cave was certainly the holiest place I’ve experienced thus far in Israel this trip. The devotion I witnessed there reminded me of what I’d seen in the Western Wall tunnels five years ago in Jerusalem.

Looking down from the top of the trail to our destination at the beach. You can see the cable cars for those who leave their cars at the top and need a return trip. (Or as Chaim joked, perhaps Elijah ascended heaven in this cable car and not the chariot that the Bible described.)

On the trail

Through forest

Outside Elijah’s cave there are places to light candles in his memory.

Inside the cave. The women’s section is on the left, the men’s on the right. They were praying very devotedly. It was quite moving to witness.

The women’s side of the cave contained 2 large bookcases of prayerbooks and other holy books, and the wall was hung with prayers of all kinds: for health, livelihood, for finding your soulmate, for miracles, for old age, and even for finding or purchasing an apartment! Elijah is clearly considered the kind of intermediary who can make good things happen!

Lying on a stone lounge chair at the beautiful beach.

Gorgeous, clean, warm water and beach.

From the beach we took a bus to our Talpiot shuk to replenish our food supply, came home to cook for Shabbat, and are sadly too exhausted to walk the hour (uphill) to Reform synagogue Ohel Avraham at Leo Baeck for Shabbat services, though we loved them last Friday night.

Shabbat shalom!

L’havdil: B’nai Brak and Tel Aviv

We began our day in the very insulated ultra-Orthodox community of B’nai Brak in order to visit Chaim’s brother. We then walked to the cemetery to visit Chaim’s mother’s (and grandmother’s) gravesites. Chaim and I were both pleasantly surprised that, except for one child who stared at me, no one in that community seemed bothered by the fact that I was wearing pants rather than a skirt. (I had braced myself for rude comments, sneers, and my own righteous indignation in response!)

Chaim with his brother Tzvi. It was an emotional reunion.

A collection of tzedakah boxes on the wall outside the cemetery (euphemistically called a Beit Chayim, a House of Life). Tzedakah boxes were also planted all over town like skinny mailboxes with slots  (like the tall yellow one in the photo).

I was excited to see a street named for Rav Eliyahu Dessler, author of the Mussar text Michtav Eliyahu. Among other teachings, Dessler is the one who brings the idea of bechira (choice) points to Mussar practice.

We travelled from the world of B’nai Brak to the very different world of South Tel Aviv (Florentine) to take a tour of street art/graffiti with Guy Sharett of TLV1’s fun and informative “Streetwise Hebrew” podcast (for those who want to improve their spoken and slang Hebrew skills). He advertises this tour on the podcast, and we were very excited to take part! We learned about street art, architecture, Hebrew slang, linguistics, and contemporary Israeli culture. We also learned about the acceptance (or not) of street art. While some landlords enforce its removal as an illegal act of vandalism, others welcome it. We also saw examples of different artists responding to each other, or collaborating, on the same walls.

Here’s Guy pointing out a tactile “petting zoo” on the corner of a building, with different textures one can touch.

Theodor Herzl as hipster.

Portrayal of Rabin’s assassination, based on a photograph. The middle arrow points at Rabin, and the one at the right to his murderer Igal Amir. The community fought against the removal of this piece of street art.

We learned the names of some of the regular street artists and how to identify them: They tend to sign in English so they can be easily found on Instagram or Facebook and gain a following: Frenemy, Murielle Street Art, Dedes, Sened, #Miss-Question-Mark, and so many others. Some are playful, some political.  269Life posts PETA-type graffiti, like a picture of a cow that said “I died for your sins” and another that read “Shoes are murder.”

Another one I liked was “If I forget you, Jerusalem, it will be because of Tel Aviv” (in Hebrew), a linguistic piece of street art that plays on the Biblical text from Psalm 137. But in this particular case, a disgruntled Jerusalemite perhaps (or someone disturbed by changing the traditional text) took umbrage, because the second, non-Biblical, clause was blotted out.

“Without fear, without regret, know that it’s in your power to change the world.”

This artist who calls himself “Ometz” (Courage) is an ultra-Orthodox father living a double life as a middle-of-the-night street artist. Notice the narrow and tenuous bridge he walks in this piece of art.

Street art which is mocking our street art tour. This foreign woman (“Berlin” is written on her purse) is either taking a selfie of herself as art or photographing the street art on the other side of the window (not pictured because I couldn’t get a big enough view.)

A wall containing pieces by multiple artists, including Bob Dylan’s song lyric transliterated into Hebrew: “Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s doors” with devils, above which is a work by an artist who “contemporizes” classical pieces. In this one, the little girl is frustrated that she hasn’t received any Facebook messages.

It’s been difficult to decide which photos to actually post in this blog as there are so many wonderful examples to choose from. You should know that I have chosen G-rated images only, though I could have added some X-rated possibilities.

Not street art, per se, but all over Tel Aviv, as well as in Haifa and everywhere else we’ve travelled, we have seen loads of signs protesting the proposed deportation of the African asylum seekers from Israel. There will be a big rally in Tel Aviv Saturday night against the deportations, and as I wrote about previously, my friend Rabbi Susan Silverman started an organization to help hide refugees in danger of being deported.

This one says “Help: This deportation kills.” We saw one earlier that said “Deportation is a sin.”

This is a neighborhood of small businesses and workshops. For all I knew this cutie is on the wall of a plumbing business.

Back in Haifa, I saw this on the side of a garbage can. (I could do a post just on painted garbage cans!)

My Chevruta, My Kibbutz, My Poem

Several months ago, Chaim and I signed up to take an online course in Psalms, sponsored by our local Jewish Federation of the Berkshires through an organization called Project Zug. Though we asked to be paired together as study partners, we were told that we were each to be matched with someone from the Afula/Gilboa area in Israel, that this was part of a relationship-building venture, which includes art projects and other cultural exchanges, to strengthen ties between Israelis and American Jews.

I received contact information for Keren, my chevruta (study partner), and my first online course material shortly before I left for Israel, but I did nothing about it. Then lessons 2 and 3 arrived, and I still did nothing. Chaim had already studied with his chevruta (a local, and not someone in Israel, as it turns out) and was impressed by the materials, being taught by Rabbi Shai Held of Mechon Hadar. But having already fallen behind, I wondered how I could — and even why I would — spend my time in Israel with this project. Besides, my chevruta seemed no more interested than I was, since I hadn’t heard from her.

But then while I was in week 1 of my Israel trip, Keren emailed me, apologizing for not contacting me sooner, explaining that she had just published a book and things were quite crazy. When could we speak? Well, I’m in Israel on a tour, I replied. I won’t be available until I get to Haifa and my husband and I settle into our apartment there.

And so it was that Keren and I spent an hour and a half on the phone last week studying Psalm 19 and getting to know one another. We had a lot in common, and after I got off the phone with her, I was inspired to write a story-poem and a prayer dedicated to her and our study together. When I sent them to her, she was so moved, she insisted that we meet, saying that she had written a story that had begun the same way as mine! It was bashert (destined) that we had been paired.

Today was the day. She met us at Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek (halfway between Haifa and her home in Afula) where I had spent five months in 1981 (spring semester of my junior year of college), splitting my day between learning Hebrew in the Ulpan program and working on the kibbutz. I was very excited to return to this place that was so formative to my understanding of my Jewish identity and my relationship to Israel. I was particularly anxious to see the view of the Jezreel Valley that had occupied my dreams, been the source of such joy during my forest runs on the kibbutz, and spoiled me so that I actually never ran again.

And Keren would be joining us for this reunion!

On Kibbutz Mishmar haEmek

Sculpture in the kibbutz cemetery

Chaim and Keren reading the gravestones along one of the beautiful pathways in the cemetery

It wasn’t clear we would have a view of the valley from the cemetery, and we weren’t sure where the trail I used to run even was, though I remembered it went past the cemetery. Then Keren showed me that we did have a view, and I cried with joy, nostalgia, pain, overwhelm! We found a bench, and I read Keren and Chaim the poem I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks (below). I started it at the Kinneret Cemetery with my rabbis’ tour; we had been asked to write a poem inspired by the poet Rachel’s poem about Mount Nevo, while sitting by her grave.

I was truly overwhelmed with emotion to have this view again. So grateful for Keren for helping to make it happen.

What a view this “Tomi” has for eternity.

From the kibbutz, we travelled to Keren’s home in Afula for a lovely lunch, where we met two of her three sons (aged 7 and 11; the oldest is 15 but wasn’t home) and saw her artwork (both paintings and sculpture), some of her mother’s sculpture, and received an inscribed copy of her hot-off-the-presses book, part memoir/part fiction about her brother’s death by a Hezbollah sharpshooter during a military exercise thirteen years ago and her healing.

I am so blessed to have this new friend in my life! Part of the Psalms project will include making art together. We don’t yet know how this will play out, but are thrilled to be on the journey together.

Keren posing in her home with her just-published book El haOlam Shelach/To Your World. Three of her paintings are on the walls behind her.

With Keren on her penthouse balcony in Afula where she served us a beautiful lunch. My newest friend!

My Israeli Brigadoon
@ by Pamela Wax, February 2018

In former days, bayamim ha-heim,
I would run through the forest past the kibbutz cemetery,
up
then further up
until a summit and a view
grabbed my eyes and yanked my heart

It was not yet my Mount Nevo,
a placeholder for unrequited dreams of the past.

Rather it was a screen upon which I watched
my future dreams unfold before me
in the Jezreel Valley
below:

where I would take my place as an olah,
connected to the land,
a language,
a people,
an opportunity
to belong to something larger than myself.

But if what goes up must come down,
that idealistic aliyah to the summit
culminated in a descent.

It was not inevitable
but a choice made of fear
to run from that high place
to make a life
in relative safety
and unconventional convention

Yes, I belong at times
to something larger than myself.

But, if you ask, I will tell you:
I never again laced up my sneakers and ran anywhere.
Even when I lived half a block from a California beach
or Manhattan’s Central Park
amongst the rolling hills of the Berkshires
or near the park in the Bronx
where cross-country runners from Africa come to train,
I would not join them.
Could not.

I was caught ever after in the thicket of Mount Nevo,
homesick
for a place I had been
and a dream yet to be.

 

* Mount Nevo was where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land but told that he himself could not enter there.

Ancient Sites: Bet Shearim and Tzippori

Both archaeological sites we visited today, Bet Shearim (a UNESCO world heritage site) and Tzippori (Sepphoris), have rich and unique histories. What connects the two is the personage of Rabbi Yehuda haNassi (Judah the Patriarch). He was head of the Sanhedrin (which was headquartered in Bet Shearim after the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem and the failure of the Bar Kochba Revolt — and before it moved to Tzippori), key leader of the Jewish community during the Roman occupation of Judea, and compiler of the Mishnah (3rd century, CE). Bet Shearim became renowned as a great center of Torah study after Yehuda haNassi (or just “Rabbi” in the Talmud) resided there. Though he spent the last 17 years of his life and died in Tzippori, the Talmud (Ketubot 103b) says: “Rabbi was lying on his sickbed at Tzippori but a burial place was reserved for him at Bet Shearim.”

Burial cave of Rabbi Judah HaNassi in Bet Shearim.

The well-known story of his death is one of my favorite teaching stories for end-of-life work with families who may have differing opinions about keeping their loved one alive “to the end” (Talmud Ketubot 104a). Rabbi Yehuda haNassi was basically being kept alive by life support, which were the prayers of his disciples. His maidservant, realizing how he was suffering, threw an urn on the ground to interrupt the prayers and put Rabbi out of his misery. He died in that split second when his “life support” was momentarily suspended.

Because he was buried in Bet Shearim and because the Roman authorities had prohibited Jewish burial in Jerusalem, the cemetery in Bet Shearim became the “in” place of burial grounds both for those living in the land of Israel as well as for those in surrounding areas like Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Lebanon, Phoenicia, and Yemen. We only entered one burial cave, but there were about 135 sarcophagi there! And there are many other burial caves that we not only didn’t visit but that haven’t even been excavated yet.

This burial cave contains about 135 sarcophagi

Well-preserved sarcophagus featuring two lions.

Ancient synagogue site in Bet Shearim. Today’s most faithful congregant is a cat. Can you spot him?

I was so happy to carry on my friend Billy’s hobby of photographing wildflowers. Red anemones.

From Bet Shearim, we travelled about 13 miles to Tzippori National Park, with remains of an ancient city and gorgeous mosaic floors. There were ruins from Roman and Byzantine periods, as well as a fortress from the Crusader period. Yehuda haNassi’s grandson is buried in Tzippori. The Sanhedrin (and Yehuda haNassi) moved there from Bet Shearim at the beginning of the 3rd century CE and the Mishna was compiled in Tzippori.

Entrance to Tzippori (Sephoris), harbinger of magnificent mosaics to come.

“The Mona Lisa of the Galilee”

Coincidentally wearing my Women’s March t-shirt and posing (my best Amazon imitation) with one of the two mosaics we saw depicting Amazon women.

Portion of the mosaic floor of the ancient synagogue in Tzippori. Can you see the menorah?

This photo captures only a part of this vast archeological site.

A beautiful view from Tzippori.

Our day concluded with a drive to the top of Mount Carmel to try the touted hummus at Hummus Berdichev (worth it!) and to catch the nighttime view from on top.

A magnificent night view from the Louis Promenade on top of Mt. Carmel. The Baha’i shrine is bottom far left, and the rotunda-topped building on the bottom right is the Baha’i archives (where over 100 different translations of the Baha’i holy book are kept). The line of lights at the very top of the photo on the other side of the (black) bay from Haifa are in Akko!