Jewish nomad woman

LILIANA KLEINER, 69, Buenos Aires to Haifa, 1964, Sunshine Coast, BC (Canada) to Jerusalem, 2010

 LILIANA KLEINER holds her book, ‘Female Nature/ Sacred Matter.’ (photo credit: Jerusalem Fine Arts Prints, 2019)
LILIANA KLEINER holds her book, ‘Female Nature/ Sacred Matter.’
(photo credit: Jerusalem Fine Arts Prints, 2019)

Liliana Kleiner – a psychologist, visual artist and filmmaker – says she is a nomad person who cannot stay in one place for long. Each part of her life’s journey (Latin America, Israel and later in Canada) opened a new chapter of her professional career, and like in a vicious circle, these chapters influenced her personal path. In all of her professional activities, she focuses on the feminine factor and eco-feminism.

Kleiner functions in three languages: Spanish, Hebrew and English. Spanish is the language of her childhood and her heart; Hebrew she “feels in her body,” as it represents her teenage years in Israel plus the time spent in the IDF; and finally English, her adult language, which represents her mind. 

As a Jungian psychologist, she works with dreams. In her private life, she writes down all of her own dreams, each day. Interestingly, they are not in any particular language, more in images, but when she writes them down, there comes the question:

Which language?

Kleiner was born in Buenos Aires in 1952. Her father moved there, with his parents, as a three-year-old child from the then-Polish city Lviv (now in Ukraine). Her grandparents on her mother’s side came to Argentina from Odessa in 1890. 

 ‘JERUSALEM PORTRAIT,’ oil on canvas, 2012. (credit: Liliana Kleiner) ‘JERUSALEM PORTRAIT,’ oil on canvas, 2012. (credit: Liliana Kleiner)

“My mama was born in Entre Rios, an agricultural province in Argentina, among the ‘Gauchos Judios’ (the ‘Jewish cowboys’) – a project of the famous Baron Hirsch, who bought farming lands in the New World (in the middle of nowhere) and moved Jews there from their old countries, saving them from pogroms,” says Kleiner. 

Although both of her parents had a good life in Argentina, in their forties, they decided to move to Israel. “They were declared Zionists,” says Kleiner. To 12-year-old Liliana, however, Israel was a complete unknown. She didn’t know where she was going (“was being taken”), she didn’t speak any Hebrew and didn’t have any image of Israel. She had a very happy childhood in Argentina, spending time on the roof of their home; it was a time filled with many creative activities. Each summer they spent family vacations on the beach.

So, going to Israel seemed like going on a long vacation. The trip itself was a fun adventure for her, “a magical time and the cruise of my life,” she recalls. “We boarded the Theodor Herzl ship in 1964. The journey from Buenos Aires to Haifa took 28 days,” she says with nostalgia. “I was painting on the boat. We watched movies and there was a pool on board.” 

Kleiner, who had already been taking art classes for six years, took part in a talent competition during the cruise. She painted a landscape of the sea and won (along with a group of singers from Brazil) the first prize. 

She arrived at Haifa’s port with her brother and parents. To little Liliana, the coast looked like a holiday destination, and for the first year, it felt like it. They lived by the sea in Kiryat Yam, next to Haifa.

Liliana attended school, learned the language, and enjoyed the beach and flying kites. (Kites stayed with her, expressed in her art, in the future, and as a metaphor of the supporting relation she had with her mother, all her life: “I was the kite, my mother let me fly, but was holding the thread”.)

Soon after, the family moved to Petah Tikva, where her father found a job in the textile industry. The city “bored” Liliana. In 1966, she was sent to a boarding school connected with Hanoar Hatzioni, the Zionist movement in Jerusalem. “I was a gifted child,” she says, “and my mother looked all over for a place for me to continue my art education.” So after school, she attended art classes at the Israel Museum, in the special program for talented youth.

From this period, Kleiner remembers well the Six Day War and the moving moments just after it. “I proudly walked through the liberated Old City of Jerusalem with my 6th-grade classmates, singing “Yerushalayim shel Zahav,” [“Jerusalem of Gold,” by Naomi Shemer].” 

After years in Jerusalem, came her army service, where she was a sergeant in the army during the Yom Kippur War. She continued her education at the University of Haifa, studying art and psychology. 

Soon after receiving her master’s diploma in psychology, there was another important shift in her life: She moved to Montreal, where she had received a fellowship from Queen’s University, and graduated with a PhD in clinical psychology in 1986. She became a Canadian citizen and stayed there for most of her adult life.

She worked as a psychologist (specializing in Carl Jung’s theories and work on dreams), but simultaneously, as a very curious person, she didn’t stop learning and being engaged in different artistic fields. She learned to tango and studied film production. 

“I produced a few art films afterward, combining in my work art, dreams, female mythology, and feministic theory,” she says. As we talked, Kleiner also emphasized that in her short films she always loved working with musicians, “because music is the only thing I could not do by myself.”

IN HER WORK, both as a psychologist and in her various artistic activities, Kleiner focuses on the female aspects, including their sexuality. “I was among the first scholars to teach at the Women’s Studies program of the Simone De Beauvoir Institute of Concordia University in Montreal. One of the courses I created, in 1989, was: ‘Jewish Lesbians – conflicted identities for women?’” Her films were also inspired by Jewish and female mythology and include: Female nature, in 1992, and Lilith and the Tree, in 1993.

Later, she also published four art books dedicated to women. “In 2005 I began creating handmade artist books from organic materials, mostly inspired by my research of female mythology – the Greek Psyche and Amor, the Hebrew Lilith, and Inanna, the Sumerian goddess.”

“In 2005 I began creating handmade artist books from organic materials, mostly inspired by my research of female mythology – the Greek Psyche and Amor, the Hebrew Lilith, and Inanna, the Sumerian goddess.”

Liliana Kleiner

All were published in Israel. “My books had become a good integration of my artwork and Jungian psychology”, says Kleiner. Her latest publication, The Songs of Inanna, just came out in May.

But before the books, Kleiner continued her life in Canada; painting, making short movies, and working in the field of psychology. Yet, it was not enough for her. After 15 years in Montreal, she moved to the Pacific West Coast. 

“The cold winters were unbearable,” she recalls, “so I drove across Canada and fell in love with the natural beauty over there.” She moved to Victoria, British Columbia, where she opened the alternative Argentine Tango School (1995-1998). She grew up with tango music, hearing her mother singing it when she was young. What was unique about Lillian’s tango school was its feminist approach: “In my school, I taught tango my ‘feminist way’ – all the students learned both roles, of leading and following, regardless of their gender.”

Her nomadic nature pushed her to explore new territories. In 1998, after three years in Victoria, she moved to a small island on the Pacific coast called Galiano. She bought a piece of land there, and found a woman carpenter. 

“With her guidance, I built myself a little home, a very simple studio. I was collecting rainwater, using an outhouse, a wood stove.” When she describes her life on the island, it all sounds like a movie set. But she did not stay constantly on the island. During that time, in the winters she worked in Mexico and Argentina on art projects – reconnecting with her Latin early years.

IN 2010, Kleiner, after years of changing places of residency, decided to return to Israel. As she says, she made aliyah twice in her life. For the first time at age 12, in 1964, from Argentina, when it was her parents’ decision; and for the second time in 2010, from Canada, completely consciously. 

“I moved back to Jerusalem in order to be close to my elderly mother, as well as to reconnect with my Jewish roots.” 

Since then, she has lived in Israel. For the last five years, her home base is Klil, an ecological community settlement in the north, where she enjoys the winters and the freedom of an alternative society

“But I am continuing the tradition of the Jewish nomad to some extent,” she says. She still spends some time in Latin America and Canada, but Israel is her base. In May, she opened her new art exhibition in Tel Aviv, of the same name as her book: The Song of Inanna.■

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LILIANA KLEINER, 69, Buenos Aires to Haifa, 1964, Sunshine Coast, BC (Canada) to Jerusalem, 2010