NEW YORK – Along the edge of Washington Square Park in New York City, Artists 4 Israel organizers set up easels with blank canvases and offered pastel crayons to passersby to create art.
Craig Dershowitz, the organization’s executive director, planned to fly to Israel a few days after Thursday night’s protest and take with him the finished canvasses, which are meant to decorate bomb shelters.
In addition to sending the canvasses over to Israel, the organization is helping to assemble Healing Arts Kits, which they hope will reach every child within the first half-hour of experiencing trauma.
Having a distraction from the crisis around them and a way to express themselves, Dershowitz said, will help children better process traumas that could later lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Passersby lingered to add to canvasses, or to create their own, kneeling down on the concrete to draw the Star of David and smudge pastel with their fingers.
Two friends, Natasha Bassalian and her former roommate Mazal-Tov Amsellem, were engrossed in the work they were doing on a canvas, every once in awhile stepping back to regard what they’d done.
At the corner of the block, where Fifth Avenue dead ends into Washington Square Park, Artists 4 Israel parked a truck carrying an art installation called the Bomb Shelter Museum.
Earlier in the week they’d taken it to Washington and parked it on Capitol Hill.
The shelter is meant to simulate the experience of being inside a real bomb shelter – the dark, cramped, very hot or very cold climate.
Spray-painted on the side of the shelter is the question, “What can you do #in15 seconds?” For about four or five years, Artists 4 Israel have assisted in the creation of the Bomb Shelter Museum. They only use it when, in Dershowitz’s words, “the situation in Israel gets too intense.”
Dershowitz said that to create the installation noise and sound engineers pitched in – artists who knew how to create experiential art. “We’re trying to shock people out of their ideological mindsets. We want to show the human element.”
There are so many rallies and anti-rallies and anti-anti-rallies, Dershowitz said. “It’s a failed concept that a rally’s going to change anything,” he said. “We wanted to lower the volume of the conversation.”
Across the street, underneath the arch in Washington Square Park, a group of protesters danced and sang “Am Yisrael Hai [The Israel Nation Lives].” They carried signs saying “What if the bombs were falling here?” and “Kick Hamas’s Ass” and “Israel and IDF fighting terror since 1948.”
Bryce Gruber, a TV personality and organizer handed out bracelets with the hashtag #hummusNotHamas. As the crowd around her began to swell, Gruber was pulled into conversation with seemingly everyone.
Gruber, 30, who appeared on season four of Millionaire Matchmaker, said she felt like a lot of other protests were too aggressive.
A man, standing by the arch with his young daughter, shouted that the pro-Israel protesters should be ashamed of themselves, supporting the incursion into Gaza. The protesters responded that he should be ashamed of himself, and his daughter began to cry.