‘My dream is to create works of art in Israel and to be recognized as a Jewish artist,” says Mark Forman, who made aliya in April 2011 from South Africa.
“My art is not so much a commercial venture as a passion.”
What drives him is an intense feeling that in some previous incarnation he lived through the Holocaust. “I resonate with the Shoah,” he says, and this overpowering feeling is what inspires many of the sculptures in which he tries to re-create the lost world of the shtetl – a place he feels he once knew and lived in.
Unlike his well-known father, jeweler Sid Forman, whose brilliant works of art made in gold, bronze and semiprecious and precious stones usually depict wildlife scenes from the South African landscape, Mark’s work takes its inspiration from a different place altogether – the once-vibrant world of destroyed Jewish villages with their Torah learning, their fiddlers, cobblers and water carriers.
He grew up in South Africa and studied jewelry design and manufacture, joining his father in the established family business.
Mark Forman won many awards for his work from an early age, including the coveted De Beers Diamond International Award in 1992.
A frequent visitor to the family store near Johannesburg was Nelson Mandela, who once commissioned a gift for the president of Botswana. Sid Forman made him a magnificent ostrich in 18-carat gold, built around a tourmaline body on a rose quartz base. Mark’s father also worked for several years on a gold model of the 1932 Chevrolet Tourer with working parts, which, like many of his other pieces, was of museum quality.
While Mark Forman can still produce his beautiful pieces of jewellery, it is clearly the sculptures that are closest to his heart.
Through them he is able to express his intense feelings about his religion and his fascination with his Jewish heritage. It was partly his experiences serving in the South African army and his run-ins with anti- Semitism that led him to become more religiously observant.
“It caused me to reflect on who I am and what I will teach my children,” he says.
He and his wife, Helene, followed their three children to Modi’in and fell in love with the place.
“I’d actually never heard of it, although I’d visited Israel many times,” says Forman. The first member of the family to come was the older son, Ari followed soon after by Yoni and then their daughter Batsheva.
“They were guinea-pigs for the project,” he says with a smile.
Having learned all they needed to know about Modi’in from a Zionist Federation project that encourages South African Jews to move there, they eventually followed their children and set up home in the growing town.
The plan now is to buy a house in which Forman can have a studio to continue creating his sculptures. Until he has somewhere to put everything, the full engineering workshop is still in its container and is staying put – although he does have enough equipment to continue producing small projects.
Meanwhile, he and Helene are trying to learn Hebrew, commuting to ulpan in Tel Aviv and realizing that if they want to become productive and happy Israelis, knowing the language is a hugely important prerequisite.
Even before he made aliya, he brought many Judaica pieces he had already made and these were displayed and sold in the Michael Ende Gallery in Jerusalem next to the King David Hotel. He believes there will always be a demand for such pieces, into which he puts his heart and soul.
While waiting to resume work on his sculptures, he is not sitting with his arms folded.
“I’m still connected with the family business on the Internet and this is quite a big commitment,” he says. He’s also starting a diamond website. And for relaxation he has taken up the violin.
Ari, who is now 28, carried on the family tradition and is working at the Israel Diamond Exchange. Yoni, who is 26, has just finished studying at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya after serving in the IDF’s Mahal Nahal volunteer program for 14 months. Batsheva, 24, is an interior architect and recently married an Israeli of South African origin. She left Modi’in and moved to Even Yehuda. Helene, whose background is in the fashion business, is also planning to work at the Diamond Exchange.
Mark’s parents, a brother and sister are still in South Africa and would love to come to Israel but find it difficult to contemplate leaving the business.
“Maybe one day,” says Forman.
He and Helene are determined to make it work.
“It’s a huge thing to start one’s life all over again at our age,” they say. “The biggest problem is that we are not known here, whereas in South Africa, the company was very established.”
But the attitude is positive and Forman believes he will achieve the recognition he craves.
“What you give off is what you get back,” he says.