Eizenstat Grantee Blogs
Welcome to the blog page for Frances Taylor Eizenstat '65 Israel Travel Grantees.
These are first-hand accounts of our grantees' time in Israel.
Yael Jaffe, Blog post 2: September 7, 2017
These past few weeks at the Hartman Institute have been truly challenging and enriching. Final sessions from the Community Leadership Program focused the various and often contentious narratives surrounding landmark moments in Israel’s history, often exploring these through energetic panels. The Rabbinic Training Seminar brought yet more recognizable and exciting faces through the institute, and it has been a privilege to sit in on classrooms where colleagues in the rabbinic profession taught and learned from one another. And although we did not get to participate in the programming of the Christian or Muslim leadership programs, we did have the opportunity to hear from the director of the Muslim leadership program, Abdullah Antepli, who provided critical insight into the world of Muslim-Jewish interfaith work, in Israel as well as America.
The seminars just for us interns have constituted the bulk of our programming. These featured several sessions with Elana Stein Hain, who provided a thorough introduction to the Hartman Institute’s iEngage philosophy and methodology for promoting more enriching, values-based conversations through which Americans can engage with the modern State of Israel. We also had two seminars with the president of the Hartman Institute, Donniel Hartman, including a lively Q&A which allowed interns to ask questions on subjects of all kinds, from his father’s material and worldview, to contemporary Jewish community politics in America and Israel. With Chaya Gilboa, we spent three seminars investigating different sectors of Israeli society, particularly “New Charedim,” “Religious Zionists,” and Mizrahim as well as other marginalized ethnicities. We had several sessions with Yehuda Kurtzer, who provided a great deal of perspective regarding the overarching goals of the Hartman Institute, and finally, we were fortunate enough to have two private seminars with Tal Becker.
I have been incredibly grateful for this cohort of interns, who consistently challenge and motivate me. As students, they are critical thinkers who ask thought-provoking questions, and as interns, they are dedicated research assistants, seeking to truly engage with and contribute to their scholar’s work. And outside of the classroom, we have developed a wonderful group dynamic that has really enhanced the summer for me overall.
Working with Dr. Ronit Irshai, the scholar I have been assisting, has been a pleasure, as well. Her research focuses on sex and gender in Halacha (Jewish law), and she is currently conducting research for a book she is writing on the conceptualization of gender in modern Halachic discourse. Using Halachic literature related to homosexuality and transgenderism as test cases she plans to read this writing – mostly in the form of rabbinic responsa – and to analyze their approach to gender through various feminist philosophical frameworks. To begin this process, while she was at Brandeis, I collected a wide variety of materials for her, mostly focused on feminist philosophy, but also works related to Rabbinics, queer theory, and gender and sexuality in Halacha. For this month at Hartman, we are reading together Cressida Heyes’s book, Line Drawings: Defining Women through Feminist Practice – a critical, in-depth survey of philosophies of gender across feminist theory and activism. I have been reading and summarizing chapters on my own, then meeting with Dr. Irshai to discuss them once or twice a week. Naturally, we tend to relate the content to the world of Judaism and Halacha, and it has been extremely rewarding to help Dr. Irshai tease out this material for perspectives and categories that may aid in her research and writing process.
Yael Jaffe, Blog post 1: June 26, 2017
It’s Monday night, June 26, which means I arrived exactly one week ago today. After a delay in New York and a missed connection in Istanbul, I finally landed in Ben Gurion airport around midnight. I went straight to the apartment in Katamon where I am subletting a room, and walked in around 2:00 AM with my roommates already sound asleep. I unpacked, settled in, and tried and failed to sleep. I got up just a few hours later to start my first day at the Shalom Hartman Institute. The iEngage Summer Internship program had begun the day before, Monday June 19, and I arrived a day late due to a prior commitment in New York. Having missed that first day, I found myself a bit disoriented, and struggled to find the right places to be and people to talk to. Ultimately, I met with one of the staff members overseeing our program, got a rundown of what I had missed, and made my way to our primary classroom, where we were having our first session of the day.
I met the other fifteen interns for the first time as we went around the room to share our names and schools with that day’s teacher – Noam Zion, a senior research fellow at Hartman. We spent that class reading, analyzing, and discussing some of David Hartman’s writings on what Noam described as “The Body as Spiritual Teacher.” This class was one of a few sessions meant to introduce us to the thought world of David Hartman and thereby of the institute as a whole, which he founded. This included a seminar entitled “One Heart, Many Chambers: Pluralism in David Hartman’s Thought,” with Hartman faculty scholar Leon Weiner Dow. These seminars were rooted in Hartman’s own writing, and included other sources from the Jewish tradition and Israeli history, as well. It’s been an eye opening to see how familiar texts are interpreted and used in the context of the Hartman philosophy. Hartman has also already taken us on two tours – first, one of important Christian sites in Jerusalem (which was especially interesting to experience alongside the three Christian students from Wheaton College participating in the internship), and second, a tour of Har Herzl with Hizky Shoham, a professor at Bar Ilan University. Both tours provided fascinating and truly unique insight into sites to which many Jews visiting Israel are desensitized.
In addition to these intimate seminars and tours just for interns, we have the opportunity to participate in the much larger activities currently operating at Hartman as part of the Community Leadership Program (CLP). Catered primarily toward Jewish community lay-leaders from the US, this program mostly includes lectures and panels featuring some of Hartman’s most esteemed faculty and leadership, as well as exciting guest speakers. Each year, this program has a different theme, and this year’s focuses on watershed moments in Israel’s history, to commemorate the various anniversaries we recognize in 2017: the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the 1947 Partition Plan, and the 1967 Six-Day War. Donniel Hartman, son of David Hartman and president of the institute, spoke about 1917, addressing the very idea of a Jewish homeland and its impact of Jewish identity. Elana Stein Hain, faculty member at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, spoke about the Partition Plan; namely, how it was received and interpreted by various nations, which demonstrated the variegated relationships between “Jews and the World.” During this lecture, we were given substantial time to study the relevant texts in chavruta (study pairs/groups) – a model of study very important to the Hartman Institute. Special events this week included a panel entitled, “Can We Be One People?” with Chaya Gilboa, Yoav Schaefer, Leon Wiener Dow, and moderated by Yehuda Kurtzer (president of Hartman North America), as well as a lecture from Tal Becker, deputy legal adviser at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affair and a fellow at Hartman. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to participate in this invaluable programming alongside Jewish community leaders as well as my fellow interns.
Looking forward, I am excited to continue developing relationships with my peers inside and outside of the classroom, to connect with the Shalom Hartman faculty and staff, and to hopefully see and participate in some of the other programs Hartman will be running over the course of the summer. These include week-long seminars catered toward religious leadership from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities, respectively. Of course I am also thrilled to begin my work as a research assistant to Ronit Irshai. Dr. Irshai a research fellow here at Hartman who specializes in philosophy, gender, and halacha. I previously served as her research assistant while she was a scholar in residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute in Fall 2016, so I am looking forward to picking up where we left off, assisting in her work, and developing a relationship with her as my mentor.
08.02.2017 Rebecca: "It was not until this night that I understood the demand for this type of cross-sectoral dialogue"
Rebecca Hersch, Blog post 2: August 2, 2017
Despite my pretty impressive sandal tan, journal full of new memories, and immensely improved sense of direction, it is hard to believe that my internship and time in Israel is coming to an end! For the past few months, the Yerushalmit Movement, the organization with which I am interning, has been planning a memorial event for Shira Banki, a sixteen year old who was stabbed by a haredi man in the 2015 Jerusalem Pride Parade. The event, Eicha Yotzrim Sicha (translation: How Do We Create Dialogue), took place in Zion Square on Erev Tisha B’av. Every day leading up to the event was incredibly hectic, but I am thankful to have been in Israel to see the end result. While I have attended the Movement’s Meeting Place project before, and have seen dialogue circles in action, it was not until this night that I understood the demand for this type of cross-sectoral dialogue. In addition to commemorating the past and reading Eicha, the night was spent working toward a more tolerant future. Instead of joining one circle, I spent the night wandering from one to the next, observing the conversations and trying to understand the Hebrew. I watched as people eagerly and passionately voiced their opinions and (sometimes) listened patiently to others.
The last circle I stumbled upon was formed by a group of young adults who chose to continue their conversations past the end of the event. If the size of the crowd was not enough, this circle proved that there is an immense desire for cross-sectoral dialogue and that people are simply seeking an opportunity to engage. I watched as secular, religious and haredi participants passionately argued with each other about the purpose of the pride parade in Jerusalem, but I also watched as these heated conversations turned into handshakes and smiles. The night was not about agreeing; rather, it was about respecting each other and building a more tolerant society. While political action is often seen as the way to achieve societal change, I now see dialogue not only as a step toward a more tolerant future, but as the step. I am thankful and proud to have spent my summer with the Yerushalmit Movement.
Just as planning and attending this event allowed me to engage with some of Israel’s more challenging issues, I have also been busy outside of my internship trying to better understand the conflicts that divide Israeli society. With other Onward participants, I visited Gush Etzion—a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Throughout the day, we listened to different perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a specific focus on the issue of the settlements. We began the day by visiting Pina Hachama (cozy corner), which is a locally run meeting and support center for Israeli soldiers. After a delicious lunch at a local winery, we went to Shorashim (Roots), a grassroots organization that works to bring Palestinians and Israelis together through dialogue and face-to-face interactions. We heard from a religious Jewish settler and a Palestinian man who told their personal narratives, but also stressed the importance of recognizing that all knowledge is partial. The day opened my eyes to the tensions and complications of the settlements and left me with more questions than when I began the day.
While I have spent a lot of time trying to better understand issues in Israeli society, I also took time to explore Jerusalem or, more accurately, to find the best food. After weeks of serious searching, I have found the best shakshuka at Tmol Shilshom, the best crepes at Sabayos in Machane Yehuda and I am still torn between Aldo and Katzefet for my favorite ice cream. In addition to exploring with Onward, friends and family, I had a yom keif (fun day) with my coworkers to celebrate the success of the Eicha Yotzrim Sicha event. We started the day at an escape room in Jerusalem and escaped with fifteen minutes to spare despite something of a language barrier! We then enjoyed a delicious lunch in Beit Zayit, a suburb of Jerusalem. Just as it was challenging to feel comfortable in the Israeli workforce and to adjust to Israeli culture two months ago, I know it will not be easy to readjust to life in New Jersey. The streets of Jerusalem feel like home. I have grown accustomed to the convenience of city life, to the peace and quiet of Jerusalem Shabbatot, to sunny days, and so much more! While there is much more to explore and learn, and while I would love to stay for another two months, I am thankful for the time I have had here and the connections I have made, not only to Israel, but also to my coworkers and to the other Onward participants.
Rebecca Hersch, Blog post 1: July 25, 2017
While I have been to Israel several times, each trip has provided me with vastly different experiences and exposed me to different parts of Israeli society. In ninth grade, I traveled with my class on a ten-day trip to see the “main” tourist sites and to begin to understand and experience Israeli culture, during my senior year of high school, I spent three months traveling more of the country and developing a better understanding of the various conflicts in Israeli society. And now, thanks to the Eizenstat travel grant and through the Onward Israel program, this summer I have had the opportunity to develop a better understanding of the inner workings of the nonprofit world and to be more independent and explore and understand Israel for myself. While I spend most days interning with the Yerushalmit Movement, I have also traveled to Tel Aviv, Tzfat and Tiberias.
The Yerushalmit Movement is a nonprofit that nurtures cooperation between diverse sectors of Jerusalem civil society by empowering hands-on cross-sectoral activism to reduce conflict and build a shared society. By turning public spaces into places for interaction and discourse, the Movement works to bridge the gap between different sectors of Israeli society, including secular and religious Jews, Palestinians and Israelis, and right wing and left wing individuals.
The Movement’s Meeting Place project serves as an example of this kind of hands-on approach to building a shared society of understanding. This initiative began in 2015 to honor the memory of Shira Banki, a sixteen year old who was stabbed by a haredi man in the 2015 Jerusalem Pride Parade. Meeting Place uses dialogue circles, a tool used to create face-to-face interaction and conversation to facilitate discussion of controversial issues in Israeli society, often with an LGBTQ+ focus.
While it’s challenging to engage with individuals whose beliefs differ from your own, the Yerushalmit Movement has demonstrated the centrality demonstrates the cruicial importance of engaging with difference in building a shared society. I look forward to attending Meeting Place in the upcoming weeks! With the Yerushalmit Movement, I have spent several Friday afternoons engaging with residents of Kiryat Menachem—a diverse and often neglected peripheral neighborhood of Jerusalem. Through community organizing, the Movement assisted the residents in creating a public arts and culture event thereby giving members of the community an opportunity to interact with one another. I learned from my co-workers that the residents of Kiryat Menachem tend to self-segregate by old and new immigrants. Since I was wearing the Yerushalmit Movement’s shirt at the event, many residents approached me about the organization and, through my basic Hebrew, I did my best to explain the Movement’s goals. Since attracting all members of the community is key to the success of this type of event, I not only spent the day meeting members of the community, but I also helped entertain the children by blowing bubbles. I even know the Hebrew word for bubble—buat sabon!
In addition to learning more about the tools of community organizing, grant research and the importance of dialogue, I’ve learned that coming to work at 9:00 a.m. really means 10:00 a.m., jeans or shorts are often acceptable work attire, texting your boss is much more common than emailing and addressing your email as “To Whom It May Concern” is way too formal. Outside of the office, I have also learned where to find the cheapest, but still delicious, falafel, to bring my own grocery bags to the supermarket to avoid paying for each bag, how to travel to and from my internship without using Google Maps or Moovit, how to use my RavKav (bus pass), and not to eat Marzipan rugelach while typing a blog post because chocolate will get on your computer keys. I’ve spent Shabbatot with friends and family in Jerusalem and I’ve also traveled to Tzfat to daven Kabalat Shabbat in the city in which it originated.
When I traveled North, I went on a water hike on the Marjrase River and rafted down the Jordan River. After spending the night in a hostel overlooking the Kineret, I learned about HaShomer HaChadash (New Guard) and the importance of protecting farmland. I spent a few hours working in the field and discussing personal connections to the land of Israel. I also toured Tel Aviv, learned about the history of the LGBTQ+ community in Israel and celebrated the Fourth of July at the rehearsal for the opening ceremony of the 20th Maccabi Games. Living in the center of Jerusalem gives me easy access to Machane Yehuda, Ben Yehuda and the old city. After long workdays, I always look forward to exploring Jerusalem with my friends and experiencing the nightlife. I’ve spent nights in the old city at the light show, walked up and down Yafo street looking for the best desserts and met with old friends in the IDF. I’m eager to continue to get more involved with the projects at work and I look forward to seeing what opportunities and adventures the rest of the summer brings!
Doron Shapir: Summer 2017
Shalom from Jerusalem
After two wonderful years of studying in the United States, I am so happy to be back in Israel for my summer break and get professional experience as well as better understanding of live in Jerusalem and the West Bank area.
As a native-Israeli, I have come to Jerusalem countless times in the past. With my high school, I visited many holy and historical sites in the city. During my military service, I passed through it on weekly basis as part of my commute, and also participated in countless activities, seminars and events that took place in this beautiful, yet complex, city.
Nonetheless, I have never had the opportunity to live in Israel’s capital. I never wondered around it, never met a wide variety of its people, never asked myself questions about it, and never truly felt at home here. Nonetheless, thanks to my dual-internships project with both the Knesset and Roots this summer, I was already able to all of these things and now I do feel more knowledgeable about the city and more connected to it.
From my point of view, the two internships truly complement one another. They both demonstrate the importance of public service and the ability of individuals to do better for the common good. At the
Israeli parliament, I learn about the know-hows of the Israeli politics and gain a better understanding of the decision-making process at the national level. With Roots, I encounter the sensitive reality of life in the Jerusalem area and the Wes t Bank and see how a grass-root movement can and does affect people’s lives for the better.
As part of my work with MK Yoel Hasson, I take part in writing bills, formulate responses, analyze information and attend committees’ meetings as well as the General Assembly. Throughout this work, I have already learned a lot about the Israeli political system. For example, I now understand that many of bills rely on bipartisan partnership and support. To my surprise, Hasson, despite being a loud opposition member, works with prime members of the coalition to promote their mutual agenda and improve the life of the citizens.
In a sense, this idea reflects the very nature of the Roots movement as well. Roots is run by a joint Palestinian-Israeli committee of activists, who are committed to provide a space for understanding,
where hates and suspicions are challenged and enemy is transformed into neighbor and partner. Having spent my military service in the West Bank, I became well-aware of the complex life of both populations in the shadow of the ongoing conflict. Thus, I truly value the activity of Roots and proud to take part in it. As part of my work, I teach Israeli settlers the Arabic language and help them communicate better with their Palestinian neighbors and partners. I also attend local events and learn more about civil life in the West Bank and the good work that many people do in order to improve it.
I would like to use this short mid-way essay to thank Ambassador Eizenstat and The Schusterman Center for enabling me to explore my homeland’s capital and become more connected to it this summer. I am looking forward for more experiences in Jerusalem and the West Bank and hope to do my part in making things a better bit, for the benefit of Israelis , Palestinians and everybody else.
Mya Goodman: August 2017
The second half of my summer did not disappoint.
Around the end of July, Beit HaGefen – Arab-Jewish Cultural Center was accepted as an organization for Taglit-Birthright groups to visit. I was given the opportunity to help develop educational content for these sessions, and it was by far one of the most exciting projects I worked on this summer. I was able to use my background as an Israeli-American who had participated on a Birthright tour to add my ideas on how the Beit HaGefen tour could be made even better.
I pointed out that Birthright is the first time many Jewish Americans think about Israel, so it’s important to give a clear picture of who lives here. I told them it’s important to clarify how 20% of Israeli citizens are Arab, and though the majority are Muslim, there are also sizeable amounts of Christian Arabs. I explained how many Jewish Americans are third or fourth generation Americans with Ashkenazi backgrounds—especially from Russian or Polish backgrounds—so it’s important to describe how half of Israelis are of Mizrahi or Sephardic origin and come from countries like Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Morocco, Egypt, etc. I also told them to not be afraid to get into the complexity of life in Israel with the Birthright participants. It was validating to see the Beit HaGefen employees listen to my opinions and implement them into their tour.
Another highlight of my summer was continuing to teach English and soccer at the local summer camp in Wadi Nisnas, one of Haifa’s oldest Arab neighborhoods. The woman in charge of the camp made it clear she just wanted the children to get to know a little bit of English—she understood that I didn’t speak Arabic and that I was only with the children for two days out of the week. These realistic expectations made me a lot less nervous, but I was surprised at just how much English the children picked up during the summer. I learned how important body language is in teaching foreign languages, and I was lucky to have the help of one of the female campers who went to an English school in Jerusalem.
On one hand, teaching soccer to the children was easier because soccer is a language on its own. No one has to know the nuances of a language to jump into a circle and pass a ball around. However, I had a different challenge: how to get the girls involved. I quickly realized that if I didn’t go out of my way to bring the girls to the soccer field, they wouldn’t come. However, once they got onto the field, they were eager to learn how to play. I was thankful —quite literally—to pass my love of soccer to these girls, but I hope that people in the future encourage them to play as well.
I’ve also participated in many educational seminars organized by the Yahel Social Change program. My program and I were able to speak to Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in South Tel Aviv, Bedouin women’s activists, and leaders on the forefront of solutions for Israel and Palestine. Through these seminars, I’ve learned about the challenges groups in Israel face, but I’ve also learned so much about the change people are enacting to address these issues.
Now after a week of being home, I think I’ve finally processed just how incredible my summer in Israel was. It was exactly what I needed: the people I met, the work I completed, and the places I saw pushed me to think much more critically about my ideas of—well, everything. The simple fact that I was lived in Israel made me reflect on Judaism, Israel, and my role in all of it, but the timing of this experience was equally as important to me. As a rising senior without a clear direction of what I want to do post-grad, this summer gave me the opportunity to see what kind of future I want to start building for myself. It reinforced how much I love being in educational environments, collaborating with other people, and using soccer to break down barriers. It also made me realize how much I value listening to people’s stories and how I have to push myself to learn more languages. I left Israel with more questions than answers, but I’m excited to continue on this journey. And I know it’s only a matter of time before I’m back.
Mya Goodman: July 17, 2017
It’s Friday morning in Haifa, and I’m reminded of why I decided to come to Israel this summer. As I step outside of my apartment, I’m instantly hit by the Mediterranean sun and a dizzying mix of Hebrew and Arabic. Israel is a complicated place, but at this moment, there’s no place I’d rather be.
I knew I needed to come to Israel this summer to experience the country on my own terms. I’m fortunate to have been to Israel several times to visit my mother’s side of the family, but I never felt like I had contributed anything meaningful to the country that has given me and my family so much. However, I knew whatever contribution I made to Israel had to fully engage with the serious challenges here.
There are so many programs for Jewish Americans to intern in Israel for the summer, but none of them spoke to me the way the Yahel Social Change program did. The Yahel model has three main components: in-depth learning, hands-on service work, and cultural immersion. I wanted a program that wasn’t afraid to ask the hard questions, and now that I’m half-way through the summer, I’m happy to say that Yahel has given me this.
I decided to intern at Beit HaGefen – Arab-Jewish Culture Center. Based in Haifa, one of Israel’s most diverse cities, Beit HaGefen is a place where Jews and Arabs work to create a shared and equal Israeli society. Beit HaGefen organizes youth clubs, festivals, and workshops that promote intercultural dialogue and manages a library, art gallery, and theater that empowers the Arab community in Haifa.
At Beit HaGefen, my internship is a combination of administrative work and field work. Half of my time is spent developing English materials and researching potential donors while the other half is spent teaching English and soccer to seven and eight-year-olds at The Achva School. The school is in the surrounding Wadi Nisnas neighborhood, one of Haifa’s oldest Arab communities, and I’ve been able to learn so much from the children and my co-workers there.
When I’m not at interning at Beit HaGefen, I participate in educational seminars organized by Yahel. These seminars explore different identities in Israel, and most recently we’ve met with members of the Druze community and learned about the complexity of their army service. I attend these seminars with the other Yahel participants on my program. We live in the same apartment building, so it’s been rewarding to be able to come back after one of these sessions and reflect with people who are genuinely engaged.
I’m so thankful for the Eizenstat Israel Travel Grant to have allowed me to intern in Haifa this summer. I always love visiting Israel, but this summer is different. I’ve been given the opportunity to have a meaningful impact on the local community while contextualizing my Jewish identity—I’m glad the summer is only half-way over.
Tova Perlman, Blog post 2: January 24, 2017
Wednesday and Thursday were a continuation of busy days running from meeting to meeting and learning from a diverse group of people. Wednesday started out at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art where I met curator, Tal Lanir. Tal curated a show in 2011 about Tel Aviv street art and told me about the process for creating the show and picking various artists. In her opinion, the first wave of street art is over and newer waves feature less quality work. She viewed tags (people writing names) and street art murals on the same artistic level and discussed the importance of all types of graffiti in an urban landscape. Tal offered a fresh perspective from an academic source on the ways that street art has been institutionalized. In some ways, my research on street art also institutionalizes the subject and diminishes the covert nature of the work.
After hearing from Tal, I rushed to meet Rami Meiri, the “grandfather” of the street art movement. He started working in 1980 and his work is commissioned and legal. He does illusionistic murals throughout Tel Aviv and Israel. Rami’s work in contrast to other street artists focuses on beautifying areas with the municipality’s permission. He does large scale murals and encourages community members to get involved with his projects. I sat with him outside on his porch while he sketched designs for a new work he was doing in a park. Later he showed me around his gallery located in the city center right next to the beach (different from other street art studios located in Florentin and Neve Tsedek). His age, art practice and location sets him apart from other street artists and makes him an outlier in this sense.
After meeting with Rami, I walked to the beach for a quick lunch and then set off on my way to meet with Judy Kopelman at Neve Schecter. Judy is a graphic designer by training who does street art with permission and commissioned through organizations. She mostly uses stencils in her work and makes designs in her studio before she sprays them on walls. She recently did a project with 929, an organization that encourages secular and religious people to learn Tanach (the bible) together. She took various phrases from Tanach and made pictures featuring modern life as the commentary. For example she had the phrase “it is not good for man to be alone” from Genesis with a picture of three people sitting on their phones. Judy does not recognize the beauty in vandalism and prefers that street art be legal. She also did some community projects that engaged Israeli and Arab youth in painting a mural. Judy and Rami both exclusively create commissioned murals yet also use street art to engage and build diverse communities in ways that other artists do not.
On Thursday, I met with Murielle, an example of a street artist that builds in the community. The discussion surrounding street art in America centers around the importance of artists being local and from the community they paint in. Murielle focuses on the community aspect because she owns a small gallery in Florentin where she chooses to display a different street artist every month. In addition, she asks each artist to paint something on the next door wall to build a visual representation of the street art community. In August, a man from the neighborhood came and painted over the wall because he was annoyed at the amount of foot traffic that has increased in Florentin since the growth of street art. This man exemplifies the parts of the Florentin community that are not appreciative of the new tourism street art has brought to the neighborhood. After the incident, Murielle got her friends together to repaint the wall with new street art. Murielle’s ability to redo the wall proves the strength of the street art community yet potentially the lack of understanding of the challenges the Florentin residential community faces.
My last interview was with Know Hope who preferred not to use the term street art and instead discussed “art in the public eye”. In the past few years, he has drifted away from “traditional street art” in favor of conceptual art in galleries and other public places. He was among the first generation of street artists, an immigrant like Klone, and started using art to explore its impact on public space when he was 18. Know Hope provided another example of an artist who began his career with street art but has moved on to other artistic pursuits proving that street art is not a static career choice.
Overall, on this trip I learned a lot from the artists and enjoyed seeing their work on the walls of Tel Aviv neighborhoods. From this trip, I’ve concluded that there are huge differences in the urban landscape of Tel Aviv and Harlem that impact the development of street art in each city. Tel Aviv is a smaller city, with less diversity and less segregated neighborhoods. There is a wide diversity of artists that do legal and illegal, commissioned and uncommissioned work in the Tel Aviv scene and all have different definitions of what street art entails. My future research will focus more on the differences between city planning and the variety of art present in the streets.
Tova Perlman, Blog post 1: January 17, 2017
I arrived in Israel on Sunday and was immediately rushed into a hectic week filled with interviews with a variety of artists. Sunday night I went to the shuk in Jerusalem and got my first taste of Israeli street art. The art in the shuk has had a huge impact on the night life which has grown since I was there three years ago. I went to sleep that night thinking about the impact of art on public space.
Monday morning I made my first trip into Tel Aviv on the 405 bus which goes to the Central Bus Station, the notoriously worse designed bus station in all of Israel. The bus station is located in South Tel Aviv in an Ethiopian neighborhood. As I walked towards Florentin (another South Tel Aviv neighborhood) to meet my graffiti guide, I was reminded of the similarities between Harlem and this neighborhood and how street art plays a part in both communities.
My first introduction to Tel Aviv street art was through a woman named Dina who gave me a tour of Florentin and surrounding neighborhood graffiti. She started with a stenciled image by Kis Lev of an artist holding a paint brush and balloons in the shape of hearts. She explained that this image was inspired by Bansky’s images but with the job of an artist in mind. The character painted was an artist who used art to escape and float away from the city surroundings. In general, the tour introduced me to the work of many artists I planned on meeting later in the week. One person I was unfamiliar with was an artist named Ometz. Dina explained that he came from a Charedi background that encouraged conformity. He started putting up slogans around his neighborhood encouraging people to be different and pursue their dreams. He found that people began talking about his slogans and reconsidering new options for their lives instead of the typical pursuit of Kollel (Yeshiva learning) common in Charedi communities. In Tel Aviv, he put up various scrabble tiles with messages in both Hebrew and English like “Life is Complex”. Ometz uses street art to express himself yet maintains a Charedi lifestyle. He adds to the diversity of backgrounds of street artists working in Tel Aviv.
Diversity in backgrounds comes from various religious backgrounds as well as immigrant backgrounds. In conversations with an artist named Klone, I found that many artists came from places outside of Israel like Russia or America. Klone explained that painting the streets in the late 90’s, early 00’s was about claiming the space, saying “I deserve to live here too”.
Another thing I noticed on the tour that uniquely identified Tel Aviv art was the longevity of the pieces. I noticed pieces dated to 2012 and 2013. Street art does not last this long in other cities like New York. In Tel Aviv the works stay up because it is good art, in low traffic areas, newer artists respect the “old masters” like Klone, Dioz, Know Hope, and the municipality does not clean it up. A rare case of artwork ruined was a writer named Kizer who drew his name over Klone’s works. My tour guide, Dina was upset at Kizer for ruining a great piece of art. I asked Klone about Kizer’s destruction of his artwork and he responded that his pieces are ephemeral and he does not care if Kizer writes over them.
The lack of innovation in the Tel Aviv street art scene was shocking to me. People did not redo each other’s work once it was done. They left it alone and moved on to a new space. It seems that there may be more wall spaces available for graffiti than in other cities like New York. Lack of space and room leads to innovation and Tel Aviv does not lack space. Additionally, the work was concentrated in commercial areas like Abarbanel street. This street features many bars and galleries and every few months they host a day for street artists to do work on the walls of the buildings. These events are examples of the blurring between illegal and legal work. Thus, businesses and neighborhoods encourage this art instead of cleaning it up.
Overall, the last two days were a great introduction to the street art scene in Tel Aviv, the history behind it, the reasons that made it what it is and the various players that are a part of it.