Myra Mandel has changed the direction of her life so many times since arriving alone at 17 that she feels she has been in a process of "arriving" all these years.
Myra Rudnitsky came after finishing high school in Montreal to spend a year on the Bnei Akiva Hachshara program on Kibbutz Tirat Zvi in the Beit She'an valley, rising at 4:30 a.m. to pick olives. It was one of the turning points in her life. "I had always felt that Canada wasn't my real home, as though it was just a temporary stopover. As soon as I arrived in Israel, I knew this was home."
She had always liked math and science and knew she wanted to study computers. While in high school, her interest had been sparked by an Israeli emissary who told her about the Technion in Haifa, describing it as "the highest level university for studying engineering in Israel." During her year on kibbutz, Myra announced to her family back in Montreal her intention of staying to pursue her dream of studying there - an announcement which did not really come as a total shock.
Myra's parents had raised their children with a strong Zionist background, so when their oldest daughter announced that she was putting the ideology she grew up with into action, they chose to join her and, one year after Myra was accepted to the Technion, her parents and two younger sisters arrived at the absorption center in Ra'anana and eventually settled in Petah Tikva.
Myra's process of arriving was just starting. While studying for a degree in industrial management engineering, specializing in systems analysis, she met Joel Mandel, another ex-Montrealer, who was finishing his studies in physics at Bar-Ilan University, and they married just as she began her career as a systems analyst with a software start-up in Ramat Gan. After a few years, they moved to Moshav Hemed, near Or Yehuda.
But something else was demanding Mandel's attention, even while studying, then working, becoming a mother to Zvi and then Avital - her burning desire to become an artist.
Myra had painted from a very early age and attended art classes throughout her high-school years. During her early years here, she had to put her ambition on hold, but eventually she found the time to take painting lessons and study silk-screen printing at the Ramat Gan College of Painting and Sculpture, then completed a course in computer graphics.
"I enjoyed my work in computers very much," Mandel says, "but every time I would look out the office window and see a graceful tree with sunlight glowing through it, part of me was torn in a different direction."
In 2000, following a 15-year career in computers, she took another step in her arrival process. She decided to follow the voice that said, "Paint!" She left her job and devoted herself to art. Six months later, her first solo exhibition opened in Petah Tikva, and since then she has displayed her work at numerous exhibitions here and abroad.
The family's modest home in Moshav Hemed is a wonderful place to raise children, with lots of room outside to run and play, and of course a treehouse. Mandel's studio is in a renovated barn next to their house. "My studio is an artist's dream," she says. "Private, airy and large."
Still continuing the arrival process, Myra and Joel bought and renovated an old stone house in the Artists' Quarter of Safed some 10 years ago. In the course of the renovations, they uncovered an ancient water cistern and turned it into an art gallery, where Myra paints during July and August. Last year, the Second Lebanon War ruined those plans when Katyushas rained down right next to the gallery but, after repairing the damage, she hopes to reopen this summer.
Working in a style of contemporary, spiritual art, Mandel sells her originals as well as giclee - an invented term for the process of making fine art prints from a digital source using ink-jet printing - prints on canvas to galleries all over North America, and through her Web site, artfromthewell.com. The name alludes to the "well" of Jewish sources. Most of her paintings incorporate verses from Psalms, prayers, words of the prophets and the Song of Songs, which are then woven into and merge with landscapes of Galilee and the Judean Desert, wildflowers and collages. She has painted with acrylic on canvas and watercolors and acrylic on paper, but switched to oil on canvas and is very happy with the change.
After Joel leaves for work and the children for school, Myra paints in her studio, or sometimes paints the landscape wherever she finds an inspiring view not too far from home. Her favorite spot is in the hills of the Neot Kedumim nature reserve. In the afternoon, she spends time looking after the business aspects of being an artist. Sometimes groups of visitors will come to see the studio, where she gives lectures about her art and the process of giclee printing.
Myra and Joel's friends on the moshav are Israeli, but they keep in touch with their Anglo friends as well. Their favorite entertainment is folk music, as well as "hassidic rock with a Carlebach influence," and they try to make time to enjoy both. On vacations, Myra loves to hike in nature reserves, while Joel prefers to lounge by a pool.
Having studied in Hebrew day schools before aliya, both Myra and Joel are fluent in Hebrew, but try to talk to their children in English, ending up with a mixture of both.
"I want my work to encourage people to explore the spiritual dimension of their lives. As Chaim Nachman Bialik said: 'I believe that we can create... art which nourishes not only the senses, but the spirit as well - art that elevates and refines man instead of debasing him.' I hope looking at my work, and reading the explanations which accompany each one, will inspire people to learn more about Judaism, to bring them closer to our sources, to motivate them to love God and to bring more holiness into their lives and homes."
Myra's plan is to achieve recognition as an artist, here and abroad. For the long term, Myra and Joel see themselves one day spending part of the year at their home in Safed since, as Joel puts it, "Safed is made up of three types of people: the hassidim, the artists, and the crazies; I've always thought of myself as a bit of a hassid, Myra is an artist and we're both a bit crazy, so Safed is perfect for us."
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