Grapevine: Jerusalem of culture and much more...

“Color Gone Wild: Fauve and Expressionist Masterworks from the Merzbacher Collection," opens at the Israel Museum.

July 11, 2013 21:00
Israel Museum

Israel Museum. (photo credit: Courtesy Barak Aharon for the Israel Museum)

There was a time when Jerusalemites found every possible excuse to go to Tel Aviv for the shopping, the nightlife, the relative abundance of food outlets, and of course, the culture.

But in recent years the tables have turned, and loads of people from Tel Aviv and environs make their way to Jerusalem – to shop, believe it or not, and not just in the Arab market in the Old City. They also come to events such as the Jerusalem Festival and the upcoming opening of the Maccabiah Games; and are frequently in town to eye the merchandise at Jerusalem’s stunning boutiques; pamper themselves in one of the newer hotels; or treat themselves in older hotels within easy walking distance of the cinematheque, Yemin Moshe and the Liberty Bell Gardens – where Jews and Arabs sit by side without encroaching on each other’s space.

They also come to visit holy and historic sites, leaving a message for the creator in one of the crevices of the Western Wall; remark on the extraordinary number of synagogues in a 1-kilometer radius; dine handsomely from the culinary mosaic of eateries, which are often so close to each other that each course can be had in a different restaurant; and experience the variety of cultural offerings.

The jewel in the crown of Jerusalem’s culture is, of course, the Israel Museum, which is the temporary or permanent home not only to magnificent collections of art and artifacts, but also provides a platform for the performing arts, lectures, gallery talks and workshops. It is not at all uncommon for non- Jerusalemites and non-Israelis to mingle at a prestigious art opening at the museum – and that’s exactly what happened last Friday, at the opening of “Color Gone Wild: Fauve and Expressionist Masterworks from the Merzbacher Collection,” which will remain on view through November 2.

The Merzbacher’s impressive private collection is highlighted by the vibrant colors that have so much appeal for Werner and Gabrielle Merzbacher, and reflect the optimism which characterizes their personalities.

The nucleus of their collection was inherited from Gabrielle’s grandfather Bernhard Mayer, who not only acquired the paintings of promising artists destined for fame, but also supported them and frequently hosted them in his home.

Mayer died in 1946, having stipulated in his will that each of his two children could choose what they liked best from 12 of the paintings in his collection. The love for art was apparently genetic, passed down from father to son to daughter.

When Gabrielle Mayer met Werner Merzbacher, he fell in love not only with her, but with the paintings in her father’s house. As newlyweds, the young couple soon became avid followers of art exhibitions and collectors, adding to their own collection along the way.

Over the years, works from their collection have been on loan to museums and galleries in different parts of the world. This is the second time that part of the Merzbacher Collection is being shown at the Israel Museum; the first was in 1998.

Since then, the Merzbachers have expanded the collection, and several of the works currently on view have never been seen in Israel before.

The founding president of the Swiss Friends of the Israel Museum, Merzbacher has a strong attachment to the museum and to the Jewish state. During the planning stages of the exhibition, he said: “Gabrielle and I are deeply grateful for the opportunity to share our collection with the Israel Museum’s public, and to spread the joy that emanates from these works. As longtime friends of the Israel Museum, we consider this exhibition a kind of homecoming, 15 years following our collection’s public debut in Jerusalem, and a gesture of our ongoing support for a museum that is dear to us.”

It was more than a gesture.

Merzbacher brought with him to the opening 40 guests from Switzerland. Swiss Ambassador Andreas Baum, who was present, said he hoped that thousands would come to the exhibition and avail themselves of the opportunity to see these masterful works.

Merzbacher revealed that his first purchase had been Wassily Kandinsky’s Murnau-Garden II (1910). “I am a realistic optimist. I saw an exhibition of Fauvism in New York and saw that the paintings were so colorful and optimistic. I felt that people should collect works that are like them, so I bought a Kandinsky,” he said.

Among the Israelis in attendance were Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat; Labor MK Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal; former ambassador to Washington Zalman Shoval and his wife, Kena – who have quite an eye-catching art collection of their own, on top of the works her parents donated to the Tel Aviv Museum; Cinema City owners Moshe and Pnina Edri, who will soon have more reasons to visit the capital; and Israel Trau, general manager of Bank Otsar Hahayal.

Museum director James Snyder disclosed that aside from the opening, there was an additional cause for celebration: It was Merzbacher’s 85th birthday!

■ IF HE had thought to bring his saxophone with him to the Lithuanian National Day reception at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv, Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri could have accompanied opera singer Yaniv D’Or, who spent three months with the Lithuanian National Opera.

D’Or was chosen by Lithuanian Ambassador Darius Degutis to sing the national anthems of Lithuania and Israel, as well as that of the European Union. It has become customary for member states of the EU to include its anthem “Ode to Joy,” based on the final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, in their National Day and other official ceremonies.

Soft and melodious Lithuanian voices joined in for the rendition of Lithuania’s anthem. Several louder and out-of-tune voices joined in for “Hatikva”, and there was mostly humming to the EU anthem – though a few people did know the words.

Although Degutis is very pro-Israel and opened his address in Hebrew, he has not yet mastered the lyrics of “Hatikva,” but he joyfully joined in the singing of his country’s national anthem. Both the Lithuanian and Israeli anthems were sung by Emanuelis Zingeris, a member of the visiting parliamentary delegation headed by Gediminas Kirkilas, a former Lithuanian prime minister and currently the deputy speaker of the Seimas, the Lithuanian parliament, as well as chairman of the European Affairs Committee. Zingeris, who is Jewish, is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Seimas; chairman of the Lithuania- Israel Parliamentary Friendship Association; vice president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; and president of the Parliamentary Forum of the Community of Democracies.

The delegation also included basketball- player-turned-politician Sergejus Jovaisa, who together with Sarunas Marciulionis, the first Lithuanian basketball player to join the NBA, had a happy reunion with former Israeli basketball star and current goodwill ambassador Tal Brody, who attended the National Day reception. The former hoopsters got together again the following evening at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque for the screening of The Other Dream Team, which tells the amazing story of the 1992 Lithuanian basketball team, which symbolically paved the way for Lithuania’s independence.

Also among the guests at the National Day festivities were Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, and President’s Office deputy director-general Yona Bartal, who was there not only because President Shimon Peres is scheduled to pay a state visit to Lithuania at the end of July.

Bartal was born in Vilnius, and in traveling to Lithuania with Peres, will have a chance to revisit her roots.

Because the hoopsters stood so tall in the crowd, Degutis mentioned several times that basketball is the religion of Lithuania. Turning to a subject more pertinent to the Lithuanian expatriates present, both Degutis and Peri referred to the global Litvak congress, which will take place in Vilnius from September 22 to 25. In the traditional Jewish manner of combining joy and sadness, the congress will also commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto.

The event will bring together native Lithuanian Jews and descendants of Jews from the Litvak lands, which are now part of modern Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia, northeastern Poland and beyond. It is because of these changes in sovereignty that the Poles, the Lithuanians and the people of Belarus all claim Peres as their own.

Among the events in the extensive congress program will be a ceremony commemorating the victims of the Holocaust at the Ponár (Paneriai) Memorial, with Kaddish to be sung by Joseph Malovany, the honorary cantor of the Vilnius Choral Synagogue.

Awards to rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust era will be presented at a special ceremony at the presidential palace.

In their separate remarks, Degutis and Peri also spoke of the rich and vibrant Jewish community that once existed in Lithuania, and of how Vilna had been known as The Jerusalem of Lithuania.

Kirkilas, who was born in Vilna, noted that next year, Lithuania will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of a famous Jewish native son – Roman Kacew, a great writer; a heroic, highly decorated fighter pilot during World War II; and later, a diplomat. In his travails, Kacew fled to England and joined up with the Free French Forces under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle, changed his name to Romain Gary, and after the war, settled in France.

The reception hosted by Degutis was not only in celebration of the 760th anniversary of the coronation of King Mindaugus, the founder of Lithuania, but also of the commencement of the Lithuanian presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Not only is Lithuania the first of the Baltic countries to serve in this capacity, but as Kirkilas pointed out, it is presiding over the largest-ever EU, with the accession of Croatia as the 28th member state. Listing some of Lithuania’s priorities during its six-month presidency, Kirkilas said that the main focus would be on peace, energy and security. He added that Lithuania wanted to ensure a safe, growing and open Europe, and pledged the country would work towards fostering closer ties between the EU and Israel.

As far as Lithuania’s own interests were concerned, said Kirkilas, the most important priority was to ensure the success of the eastern partnership initiative, which aims to strengthen political association and economic integration between the EU and Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Ukraine. Kirkilas also urged Israelis to invest in Lithuania, especially in new technologies, underscoring that Lithuania had successfully survived the economic crisis – with an economic growth rate this year of 3.5 percent, and a projected growth rate of 4% for next year.

In congratulating Lithuania both on its National Day and its assumption of the Council of the EU presidency, Peri observed that it was a challenging role not only for those within the EU, but also for those maintaining economic, political and scientific relations with the body.

He reminded the Lithuanians that during their presidential term, crucial discussions will come up on upgrading the EU-Israel Association Agreement, and asked that Lithuania lend its support to Israel.

By the way, other ambassadors should take note of the Lithuanian custom of speeches first and food later – which ensures that noise is kept to a minimum during the speeches. Fearing that they might leave hungry if they open their mouths during the speeches, invitees tend to keep their mouths shut till they can put something in them.

There was also some good news for travelers at the close of formalities.

Wizz Air’s Daniel de Carvalho announced that the low-cost airline is introducing a twice-weekly flight from Tel Aviv to Vilnius in October, with one-way fares including taxes starting at 49.99 euros. This, he said, was slightly more than he was charged by the taxi driver who took him from Ben-Gurion Airport to Tel Aviv. The flights will leave on Wednesdays and Sundays.

■ IN THEIR desire to eliminate ignorance and false impressions that people have of Israel, without ever visiting the country to judge for themselves, mega-philanthropists Sheldon and Dr. Miriam Adelson happily sponsor not only hundreds of Jewish young men and women coming via Birthright-Taglit, but also influential non-Jewish personalities – who without an invitation might never think to come to Israel.

Case in point are Dr. Mehmet and Lisa Oz and their family, who are due to arrive for their first visit to Israel on July 25.

Oz is vice chairman of the Department of Surgery and a professor of surgery at Columbia University. He also directs the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and performs 100 operations annually. The Dr. Oz Show, which is now in its fourth season, has had the highest ratings in daytime television over the past nine years, and is currently seen in 118 countries.

Oz was actually invited by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whose syndicated column appears in The Jerusalem Post. Boteach heads This World: The Values Network, which is one of the many causes supported by the Adelsons. Oz and Boteach appeared together on Oprah and Friends; Boteach, who has frequently visited with Birthright groups in Israel, will be the Oz family’s guide.

Oz, who is a Turkish Muslim and an American citizen, said that he has always appreciated the deep ties of friendship between the Turkish and Israeli peoples. As an American, he has also appreciated Israel’s friendship with the American people, and noted his own close friendship with the American-Jewish community. He was grateful to his friend, Shmuley, for organizing the trip and equally grateful to the Adelsons – with whom he was recently honored – for their unparalleled generosity in helping to facilitate it, he said.

Boteach said that for a long time, he had wanted to bring the Oz family to Israel in recognition of their friendship with the Jewish community, and Oz’s global impact on the saving of human life. Like Oz, he was grateful to the Adelsons for enabling that invitation to evolve into meetings with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who was widely-known as a human rights activist long before he took up his present role.

On Sunday, July 28, Oz, Boteach and Sharansky will participate in a panel discussion at the Jerusalem Press Club, moderated by Post Editor- in-Chief Steve Linde. In addition to popular tourist sites such as the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Cave of the Patriarchs, Oz will also visit the Tiberias tomb of Maimonides, the 12th-century rabbi, physician, astronomer, jurist and philosopher, who was the personal physician to Sultan Saladin, the ruler of Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Palestine.

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