Arts community protest uses Tel Aviv light show to call for aid

Aviv Geffen, Shlomo Artzi, Shalom Hanoch and Berry Sakharof were among those who signed a petition calling for the government substantial relief for those who work in culture and arts.

Aviv Geffen at a demonstration at Rabin Square (photo credit: Courtesy)
Aviv Geffen at a demonstration at Rabin Square
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Even before the lockdown’s heaviest restrictions took effect, the arts and culture community in Israel was badly hit by the earliest sanctions against the coronavirus and Thursday night, artists and those who work for cultural organizations held a demonstration in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv calling for the government, “Not to turn the lights off on culture.”
While there were many artists on hand — musicians Aviv Geffen, Shlomo Artzi, Shalom Hanoch and Berry Sakharof were among those who signed a petition circulated by the rally's organizers calling for the government to give immediate and substantial relief to those who work in culture and arts and related industries — there were  no performances at the demonstration. The organizers, who emphasized the fact that the demonstrators would follow social distancing rules strictly by keeping two meters apart and that all participants would wear masks, held a light show of 150 lanterns that were meant to symbolize the more than 150,000 Israelis who work in industries related to culture, arts and events who have been put out of work for nearly two months by the pandemic.
Protesters gathered for the light show at about 8 p.m. and at 8:30 p.m. there was a press conference at which artists and others affected spoke about the gravity of the situation.
Ariel Reidman, who runs the catering company Daily Events and is one of the organizers of the protest, said in an interview ahead of the event that, “Hundreds of professionals were put out of work when the virus regulations first took effect, at the beginning of March.” Among the earliest restrictions were strict caps on how many could attend events, which closed down plays, movies and much more.
“It isn’t only the big-name artists who are affected. There are those who do the lighting, the caterers, the ushers, the costume designers and dozens of other jobs. We all lost our livelihood in one swift blow, everything stopped in a moment, and we’re not entitled to any financial relief.” While he said that various branches of the government have mentioned possible measures, “No one has done anything to help us yet.”
He said that cultural events are a 25 billion shekel industry, “not less than tourism. And we are likely to be out of work for a year, even when the most of the other lockdown restrictions are eased.”
At a hearing on Thursday morning held by the Knesset Finance Committee, a number of artists and representatives of arts organizations addressed their concerns to MK Oded Forer, the committee chair. Among those who spoke were movie director Avi Nesher; Lena Kreindlin, director general of Gesher Theater; Yaniv Biton, an actor with Beit Lessin; singer and acting chairman of the Israel Artists Association, Hanan Yovel; and director general of the Ministry of Culture and Sport, Yossi Sharabi. They asked that financial help to individuals and institutions be made available without further delay.
Nesher referenced the New Deal in the US during the Great Depression, which provided government support for artists. He was quoted by Calcalist as saying, “Roosevelt realized that the catastrophe was big and there was a huge emphasis on financial support for culture, with the insight that culture gives hope and nourishes the American dream. . . Culture is not a luxury, it’s a national strategic asset.” The arts community is a “key component of national resilience,” he said. Citing the classic movies Israelis traditionally watch on Independence Day, he said, “We are at the forefront of bringing Israel back to its future.”