By EMILY HOCHBERG
To an untrained eye, the endless cluster of Judaica stores, lining several major Jerusalem streets, is nothing more than crowded, old-fashioned shops, filled wall-to-wall with sterling silver menorahs, hamsa symbols, mezuzas, and the like. But to a born collector, like famed documentary filmmaker Willy Lindwer, it's a treasure trove full of historical possibilities.
That's why, after nearly 40 years of collecting, he has amassed over a thousand pieces, warranting a new exhibit at the Biblical Museum in Amsterdam "To Jerusalem with Love," which features artifacts from Palestine dating from 1799 through till 1948.
"I bought my first piece in 1969 and what was just a private hobby grew into a really serious thing. And now, this is the first time such an exhibition has shown the historical line and story of the Holy Land from Napoleon until 1948 through objects of art," he told The Jerusalem Post. "I started collecting Judaica and Jewish art... around the same time I started filmmaking and this is the first time it's being shown to the public." The installation opened on December 9 in Amsterdam, and will run till September 2010.
Lindwer, an author and director, is best known for his films, which include the Emmy-Award winning documentary The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank, as well as other documentaries exploring social issues, history, Israel and the Middle East, Africa, and the Holocaust, to which he has a very personal connection. Lindwer and his parents fled Nazi-occupied Poland in the 1930s to return to his birthplace in Amsterdam. They were among the small minority Dutch-Jewish population to survive the Holocaust.
He later settled in Israel where his love of collecting grew even further. "I always say that people are either born as collectors or they don't collect at all. I'm a born collector of Jewish ritual art. I get that from my mother; she was also a collector," he told the Post. As time passes, "it grows so much that you end up with a thousand items in your home, in boxes, and in storage,"
And, in Lindwer's case, eventually a museum. "A few years ago, I ran into the curator of the Biblical Museum in Amsterdam who saw the collection and wanted to make an exhibition, and I said I would think about it... and that was almost three years ago," he said. After thinking it over, and agreeing to share his passion with the world, Lindwer loaned the museum about 700 pieces from his collection, which were flown to Holland in 10 El Al crates.
"When I saw this week how they built it up into six large halls in the museum, I was amazed that this is my collection and couldn't believe it. They arranged it so wonderfully, and it was something I never could have seen fully in my house," Lindwer said of the exhibit.
The collection includes Judaica, ritual Jewish art, photographs, jewelry, paintings, and other crafts produced by local and visiting artists to the Holy Land.
"1799 was the year that Napoleon came to Israel and opened it up and put attention on the Holy Land, and since that time, all kinds of artists made the pilgrimage and produced artifacts that were products from the land, which is the basis for my collection," he explained.
"But there's so much more." His collection also features folk art, such as the large collection from Moshe Mizrachi, who came from Persia in 1880 to own a small shop at Damascus Gate. It also includes photography of Jerusalem, Armenian pottery, local jewelry from Christians and Arabs, and many items done in Bauhaus style. Bauhaus is well known from Tel Aviv's architectural structures, but artists have also been doing menorahs and household objects in Bauhaus since the 1930s. "You can see the whole development of new immigrants coming to Israel who brought their own background with them in the art they produced," said Lindwer. "Through these objects I discover the history there, the development of Jerusalem, and Eretz Israel."
Although the items in the museum's exhibition end at 1948, Lindwer didn't stop there. "I have a huge collection of all that was produced after '48 - art, Hanukka lamps and all kinds of material produced until 1970. But those were mostly mass-produced pieces with the stamp of Israel on them. I hope that's the next stage, to one day make an exhibition for the years between 1948 and 1970."
But for now, he's remaining focused on the current collection being shown at the Biblical Museum, and how to find it a permanent home outside of the one he shares with his wife in Jerusalem.
He jokingly remarked about the hundreds of collectibles at his home in boxes, drawers, cabinets, and storage units: "My wife almost threw me out of the house."
Lindwer said he'd really like the collection to stay here in the Home Land. "I've had interest from New York, Paris, and Berlin, but my aim is that it will come back to me in Jerusalem and end up in a permanent museum exhibition for tourists coming to Israel."
In March 2010, Willy Lindwer will publish a companion book to his exhibit. It will feature essays from historical experts and information on exhibit artifacts.
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