Flowers for the people brighten Jerusalem

A group of artists finds a unique answer to what a florist can do with all their extra flowers when most weddings and events are canceled.

Florists Mookie Cohen and Sara Winter create a floral installation in downtown Jerusalem while Yitzchok Meir Malek plays piano for cheerful passers-by (photo credit: TZIPORA LIFCHITZ PHOTOGRAPHY)
Florists Mookie Cohen and Sara Winter create a floral installation in downtown Jerusalem while Yitzchok Meir Malek plays piano for cheerful passers-by
(photo credit: TZIPORA LIFCHITZ PHOTOGRAPHY)
What does a florist do with all their extra flowers when most weddings and events are canceled or drastically curtailed due to a pandemic? Where can musicians perform?
A group of artists decided to answer these questions by brightening up and bringing life to a popular Jerusalem hotspot, gracing the piano at Zion Square in downtown Jerusalem with a floral installation as local musicians performed.
The happening was the brainchild of Sara Winter of Sara Winter Floral Artistry & Event Design, Mookie Cohen of Pine & Clover Floral and Event Design and Yitzchok Meir Malek, a popular local musician who often performs under the name YM. Completing the team were painter Miriam Serkez, videographer Demid Istomin and photographer Tzipora Lifchitz.
The six friends spent the late afternoon cheering up the busy downtown area as mask-clad passersby watched and even joined in.
“We want to try to make people happy. It’s our surprise gift to Jerusalem,” Winter said as she and Cohen draped colorful blossoms on the piano in the middle of the square.
Clad in white, the two spoke to In Jerusalem as they cut stems and arranged bouquets during their floral flash mob that took place on the evening of Tu Be’av, the biblical holiday of love.
Sara Winter (L) and Mookie Cohen decorate the piano in Zion Sqaure for Tu Be'av (Credit: Tzipora Lifchitz) Sara Winter (L) and Mookie Cohen decorate the piano in Zion Sqaure for Tu Be'av (Credit: Tzipora Lifchitz)
THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic has impacted the economy around the world – event planners and artists included.
“Every business in every country is affected,” Winter said, “and we know how happy flowers make people.”
Cohen said she and her fellow florist came together in challenging times. Not only is air travel diminished, but the number of participants at events has been limited.
“A lot of events got canceled,” Cohen lamented. “Most of my clients are from overseas. But some are doing garden weddings with 20 people in the backyard.”
Summer is usually their biggest season, with Tu Be’av being an ideal day for nuptials. Their usual schedule of bar and bat miztvahs and large public events has also been curtailed.
Winter was born in the United States, while Cohen hails from Australia. Both live in the greater Jerusalem area and the flowers were grown in the Jerusalem Hills and Mateh Yehuda region and donated for the project.
“Being a florist is an expression of art,” Winter explained. “There is nothing more beautiful than a flower. We are privileged to make these sculptures with natural elements created by God. It’s spiritual work – a godly gift, and we put our own expression in it. Every event is different, every client has a different taste and vision, so you’re always starting from scratch,” she said.
Cohen said she was impressed with the variety and scale of flowers in the relatively small Jewish state.
“I see new flowers all the time. The peony flower started two years ago during the winter and spring. Israel sells a lot of flowers to Holland. It’s incredible for this small country,” she stated.
Cohen also lamented what she called “floral waste” during the coronavirus lockdowns, prompting the pair to utilize leftover flowers for public benefit.
Yitzchok Meir Malek played piano and sang as the flower sculpture was steadily built around him. Known for his ShukShabbat project and other unity happenings, he has limited his events to small rooftop gatherings in the Old City and backyard concerts that comply with the latest Health Ministry protocols. He said that COVID-19 created a time for introspection.
“It was upsetting at first,” he stated, explaining he had performed internationally as a solo artist, hitting five continents last year and returned to form a full band. But the downtime has given him a chance to work on the release of tons of material he had put on pause. “It let me focus,” he said.
Flowers are a godly gift, and we put our own expression in it, said Jerusalem-based florist Sara Winter on Tu Be'av in Jerusalem (Credit: Tzipira Lifchitz)Flowers are a godly gift, and we put our own expression in it, said Jerusalem-based florist Sara Winter on Tu Be'av in Jerusalem (Credit: Tzipira Lifchitz)
THE TRAGIC loss of life that the virus has caused has also taken its toll. While missing the stage, he nevertheless relishes the opportunity to live-stream on Zoom and other online platforms.
“I have connected with many different communities and merited to meet new people around the world that I would not have met otherwise. Jerusalem in 2020 has been interesting. Since most events have been canceled, it has caused everyone to take a step back and look inward.”
The performer pontificated on what the scene would be like after things open up again in the future.
“We have been asking ourselves what message we want to give over and whether our work has been fulfilling a higher purpose.” Artists and musicians in Israel’s capital are “all about reflection and introspection and I feel that the art that will come out afterwards is going to be on a much higher level of intention and quality.”
The event was refreshing for Malek, and he praised his fellow collaborators, as “beautiful people creating works of beauty.” He and Winter are contemplating additional collaborative efforts that combine sound, sights – and in the case of the floral display, even smell.
Photographer Tzipora Lifchitz snapped away, circling the piano as the notes filled the air and the florists swept away excess clippings.
“August is a huge wedding season,” she said. She often crosses paths with Winter and Cohen. “With so many things canceled, this is a reason to get out and spend time with the florists I have worked with so often,” she stated. Lifchitz’s current work is limited to mostly fashion photography, family shoots and head shots.
Most flowers are locally grown. I see new flowers all the time. It's incredible for this small country, said florist Mookie Cohen. (Credit: Tzipora Lifchitz)Most flowers are locally grown. I see new flowers all the time. It's incredible for this small country, said florist Mookie Cohen. (Credit: Tzipora Lifchitz)
Ukrainian-born Demid Istomin videoed the event. He previously worked with Malek at his outdoor album debut concert last year in Jerusalem’s Horse Park, which at the time was graced with the Window Stories installation. Istomin also lamented the lack of clientele and relished the opportunity to capture a happy event. He captured Malek performing the “Let it Be” by the Beatles and intends to release the video online.
“We felt the lyrics were appropriate for the pain the world is going through right now and our message of seeing the beauty within,” Malek stated. The Beatles classic also seemed to bridge the gaps between Jerusalemites form different walks of life who gravitated to the scene, not necessarily speaking the same language, but recognizing the familiar melody.
MANY UNSCHEDULED guests dropped by, as was to be expected at such a public setting. One was a blind man who wandered up to the piano with a black guide dog. He asked the crew of florists and artists what was going on at his favorite downtown spot where he regularly played piano. Malek guided his hand to feel the flowers and then the two sat down to jam together to Beatles songs and other classics. The seeing-eye dog sat patiently under the piano bench as his owner performed and as photographer and videographer captured the unique moment.
Amid the hubbub, painter Miriam Serkez, who immigrated from the United States as a volunteer medic two years ago, quietly sat capturing the scene on canvas.
After the installation was complete, Cohen and Winter distributed extra blooms to pedestrians. As they cleaned up, Jerusalemites gravitated to the newly decorated piano to sing and play and night began to fall, amid the sound of the light rail from nearby Jaffa Road.
“I am really pleased with the installation,” Winter commented. “Every time I create something, I cannot imagine the final result until it’s finished. It’s the best feeling in the world to have a vision come to life,” she said.
“It’s such a beautiful opportunity to collaborate with fellow florists, photographers, artists and musicians,” Cohen added. “It feels like we have contributed to the spreading of love.”
On Tu Be’av, the Jewish maidens would dress in white, wear flowers in their hair and dance in the vineyards. Its roots came from a tragic event recorded in the Bible, but ends in a bid for unity.
Perhaps this event was a modern expression of days of old, as a way to look toward a brighter future.
After a few final songs, the crew left and new passersby arrived to enjoy the flowers, the piano and the warm feelings amid uncertain times.
 
For more information on the artists mentioned in this article: pineandclover.com, facebook.com/SaraWinterFloralArtistry and musicYM.com.